HAVE YOU EVER BEEN AWAKENED IN THE MIDDLE OF THE NIGHT by a neighbour’s car alarm? It’s so sensitive that all hell breaks loose if somebody so much as glares aggressively at the car! It’s only doing its job but it’s doing it a little too well.
Panic attacks are much the same. In the right place and the right time, going into panic mode can protect you and may even save your life. Your mind has quickly identified something as a potential threat and is getting your body ready to respond. The exact feelings experienced and their intensity, are a reflection of the level of danger your mind thinks you’re facing.
A question of evolution
Did you read this little story about Ugg the Caveman?
When he first encountered the tiger he wasn’t prepared. Caught off guard, he very nearly perished. The mind can learn extremely quickly, especially when a situation is accompanied by strong emotions. And that situation certainly stirred the emotions! Ugg’s mind took a snapshot of that first encounter and stored it in memory, along with all the feelings and bodily changes that kept him safe.
Better safe than sorry
The next time Ugg’s subconscious mind makes an approximate pattern match to that situation that has now been associated with danger, it instantly engages survival mode, panic mode (the fight or flight response) because it knows that worked and kept him safe the time before. Because it’s only a rough pattern match, mistakes can be made. However, in the face of danger it’s better to be safe than sorry.
That’s why feelings of panic can spread from one situation to another if left unchecked. Take the example of a person who experiences a panic attack in a busy supermarket. One supermarket can look not unlike another, which can spread to include all large stores. Then smaller shops can look similar, then town centres in general, then village centres... and so on. Very soon that person is afraid to venture far from the safety of their own home
How many symptoms of a panic attack did you spot in Ugg’s tale? Can you see how they all serve a very beneficial purpose in the right situation? There are others too, and if you think about them you can see how they can also give you the edge in the face of danger. For example: sweating can both cool the body and give the hands and feet a better grip, the tingling sensations are the result of oxygen-rich blood flowing to the arms and legs, and shaking is actually the major muscles being primed ready for action.
A million years ago the ability to experience panic was a very real advantage, but most modern situations are neither dangerous or life threatening, and there’s no fighting or fleeing to be done. However, mankind has created a new threat to fend against; one that requires a mental rather than physical response.
It’s called stress!
Clever thinking, not physical exertion, is more often needed today, but evolution takes thousands of years to catch up. So we’re left with our outdated survival mechanism; leaving us in that heightened state of readiness with nowhere to channel all that excess energy and adrenalin.
Panic is tiring
The panic response is intended for short-term survival not long-term existence, but so many modern worries can be ongoing. A constant state of stress and anxiety is very tiring because it puts the body into a continuous state of mild readiness. It also raises background stress levels that can make a person more susceptible to being pushed that little bit further into panic mode by some other seemingly trivial event.
More symptoms of panic
Some people ‘freeze’ momentarily in the face of danger, and that’s another survival tactic. Firstly it gives them a better chance to take in everything possible about the situation they’re facing whilst preparing to fight or flee. Secondly, remaining motionless might mean the attacker doesn’t notice them. Have you ever noticed how some creatures instinctively ‘play dead’ when threatened? It’s an involuntary reaction that can give them the best chance of survival when faced with an overpowering aggressor.
Many people fear they’re losing their mind when experiencing a panic attack. Do you ever feel:
- A loss of control?
- A sense of not being there?
- Unable to think logically and rationally?
In a way these are all true, but in a good way. You see, conscious thinking and logical reasoning take time, and in the face of real danger time is of the essence. You don’t need complex problem solving strategies; you need a quick ‘yes/no’ answer. Stay and fight, or get away fast! So the conscious mind is temporarily disabled, leaving the subconscious to take control for a while.
Faster than the speed of thought
The subconscious mind can respond extremely quickly – faster than the speed of thought – which is why you can sometimes react to a situation a split second before even being aware of it. It might not get it right every time but it can give you a head start, and it might just save your life.
Another reason why the conscious mind is bypassed during a panic attack is because the subconscious mind often knows best. How many times have you had a ‘gut feeling’ about something, then thought it through and did something completely different? And how many times would that gut feeling have been the best response? See, your subconscious is smarter than you give it credit for!
Hyperventilating – over breathing
Hyperventilation can produce most of the uncomfortable sensations experienced during a panic attack.
When experiencing panic, a person’s breathing changes. They begin to take lots of short breaths in an attempt to enrich the blood with oxygen, readying those muscles for fighting or fleeing. However, the trouble with most modern day panic inducing situations is that there’s rarely anything to fight or flee from, leaving them in the state of having too much oxygen. The body needs to retain a certain level of CO2 in order to effectively extract oxygen from the blood, and when hyperventilating, that balance is disrupted.
Paradoxically this can make it feel like you need to take in even more oxygen when in fact you need less, and steps are needed to redress the balance.
Many people feel faint during a panic attack, and a fear of fainting is very common. However, it’s also very unlikely. You now know how everything about a panic attack is geared to your survival, so it would be a pretty dumb survival tactic to go and faint in that situation, don’t you think!
But on a few very rare occasions a person may faint if hyperventilation goes unchecked. You see, the brain eventually gets the message that the situation isn’t life threatening after all, and all that over breathing just isn’t necessary. So if you’re not going to take steps to correct the situation then it will just have take charge and do something about it for you.
Fainting is the brain’s way of taking back control and rebalancing the oxygen/CO2 levels, but you can learn to take steps to do that for yourself with the ‘7-11 breathing technique’.
7-11 breathing technique
When experiencing panic, one of the first physical changes to occur is the way you breathe – taking in lots of short breaths to enrich the blood with oxygen. This one change then triggers most of the other physical symptoms associated with panic.
So you can see how something as simple as taking control of the way you breathe can stop a panic attack dead in it’s tracks, and one very effective way is the ‘7-11 breathing technique’.
This technique requires counting to 7 as you breathe in, then to 11 as you breathe out. It doesn’t matter how quickly you count, or even if you don’t do an exact 7 and 11. The important point is to ensure the ‘out’ breath is always longer than the ‘in’ breath. That will naturally regulate your breathing and allow the oxygen/CO2 levels to return to normal.
Try it now and see how it has an instantly calming effect...
Sometimes it can be hard to remember to do this when in the grip of panic, so listening to this 7-11 Breathing Exercise now while calm can help train your mind to respond automatically if ever you feel panic coming on.
Once a person attributes the feelings of fear or panic to a situation, it can be extremely difficult to override those automatic subconscious responses the next time. One approach is ‘de-sensitising’. This involves gradual exposure to the situation that causes the panic. It can work, but it can also be a long and arduous experience.
Sometimes it can even make things worse because you endure that panic-inducing situation only to come away feeling panicky again. That just sends the message to your subconscious that it was right to fear that situation all along, and you’re no further forward.
Beat panic attacks with self hypnosis
Wouldn’t it be great if there was another way; a way to just reprogram those faulty pattern matches that your subconscious mind has made in an attempt to protect you and keep you safe? After all, your conscious mind knows there’s no real danger.
Hypnosis is very effective at lessening the effects of panic because it can sneak up on the problem from a different angle; diffusing panic at the source by teaching your subconscious to respond to those situations in a totally new way. Instead of using brute force and ignorance to beat panic into submission, a little help from something like this Stop Panic Attacks download and that situation that once caused panic just isn’t a problem any longer.
Of course, the panic response hasn’t been permanently disabled. That would be foolish because one day it might be called upon to protect you from a real threat. It’s just that now the list of rules have been updated to include a few new exclusions. The sensitivity of that annoying car alarm has been turned down, and you can now get a good night’s sleep.
Relaxation is the antidote to panic and anxiety. The two states are complete opposites and cannot coexist. So doing things to feel more calm really helps diffuse a panic attack, and doing something as simple as learning to relax more in other areas of your life can reduce your background stress levels, thus lessening the likelihood of panic from occurring in the first place.
Self hypnosis is an excellent way to get you feeling more calm and relaxed, keeping stress at bay.
- Relaxation: why is it essential to relax and take time out?
- Unwind with one of these soothing relaxation downloads
A calmer stress-free life
Some simple steps you can take for a more stress free life include:
- Better time management – allowing a realistic time-scale for getting things done. There’s nothing more stressful that trying to do too many things in too little time.
- Dealing with problems as they arise rather than putting them off and letting them grow and fester.
- Improving diet and regular exercise helps reduce health related stress levels, allowing you to feel better. In fact too much refined sugar can cause a lot of psychological problems, including heightened panic and anxiety.
- And lastly, just taking a little time out of your busy schedule for that most important person in your life... YOU!
So with those things in mind, you might like to try one of these self hypnosis downloads designed to reduce stress and improve your general levels of health and well being:
- Better time management
- Overcome procrastination
- Loose that sweet tooth
- Exercise motivation
- Or choose one of these stress management downloads
Have you read any of the books by Dr Claire Weekes? Although most were written 30-40 years ago and the terminology in parts is a little dated, the information is as valid today as the day it was written. In fact, many people regard her first book – Self Help for Your Nerves – to be their ‘bible’, while others believe that had they found it earlier, they would’ve been saved from years of unnecessary suffering.
A fellow sufferer herself, Claire Weekes is internationally renowned for her special understanding and treatment of nervous illness. The strength of her step by step method comes from her belief that the mind and body react together. She believes that nervous illness can begin very simply – developing from stress and nervous fatigue – to produce a pattern of symptoms which can become more frightening than the original cause.
Sadly Claire Weekes died in 1990; however, her books have been updated and repackaged over the preceding years, and are still recommended by doctors and clinics all over the world.
Have a really long yawn...
How does it feel?
Are you beginning to feel more relaxed?
But what exactly is a yawn?
Think about it for a moment... a yawn is nothing more than a really long ‘out’ breath; just like the ‘11’ part of the 7-11 breathing technique. So should you ever find yourself gripped by panic and unable focus on the counting, just remember to have a few really...
Another useful tip
Your body will prepare for an emotional threat (ie. stress or anxiety) in the exact same way as a real physical threat because the mind cannot tell the difference. Your body gets all worked up but has nowhere to release that tension and energy.
Physical exercise – even a brisk walk or running up and down stairs – uses up all that tension and energy that has been built up to deal with the threat your body wrongly prepared for.
What do you want to do now
As nerve-racking as doing the splits naked over a live lobster!
What they are, why they happen, what to do about them.
Drawing on her own personal experiences, Christine Ingham provides many useful insights into the terror and misery of panic attacks, offering reassurance and help for a positive way forward.
As well as explaining the nature of panic attacks and their different causes, sensible guidance is offered on what you can do (and think) when having an attack, and steps you can take to avoid a recurrence. The clear explanation of the often indescribable conditions of ‘depersonalisation’ and ‘derealisation’ is reassuring.
A useful section for friends and families explains what’s happening and how to help the person deal with it. This makes ‘Panic Attacks’ a useful tool for panic attack sufferers themselves, for family members or friends, and for anyone in any sort of caring capacity who wishes to be more effective in understanding the condition.