Panic Attacks – what is a panic attack?


A panic attack, broadly speaking, is when you have an intense fear and all the symptoms of being in extreme danger, when no such danger actually exists.

The first attack is usually a complete surprise, and the experience can be very confusing.

Anxiety and Panic Attacks

On a physical level a sudden surge of adrenaline is sent into the bloodstream. This reaction, known as the ‘fight or flight response’ is the natural reaction of our bodies when there is danger or threat.

When we have to run for our lives we can be grateful for this automatic response which helps us to cope appropriately. On the other hand, when it is set off for no obvious reason – perhaps even in the middle of the night – it can be a frightening experience, to say the least. In a real panic situation we would use the energy to run, scream, attack, or play the hero and afterwards probably feel light-headed with a pounding heart as the realisation of what just happened sets in. Instead, during a panic attack, all accompanying symptoms of fear and stress increase to an almost unbearable peak and then slowly dissipate, leaving the person feeling drained and exhausted.

What happens during a panic attack?

The sufferer, at least until they have learned some coping skills, feels powerless and fears they are losing control. They may even fear that they are dying, or having a heart attack. Worse, they may be convinced that they are losing their minds! With no obvious danger and yet the distinct impression that they are in survival mode, the sufferer is naturally confused and very frightened.

The intensity of symptoms varies from person to person, and usually only a few of the following symptoms are experienced:

Shortness of breath
Racing heart
Tightness or pain in chest
Choking sensation
Double vision
Shaking or trembling
Loose bowels / IBS
Heat waves or cold chills
Surreal detached feeling
A fear of losing control or going crazy!
The need to run or escape with no apparent reason.
Some people only experience attacks once or twice and then never again, while for others the situation becomes debilitating. The effort involved in trying to remain one step ahead of a possible attack, being constantly on the alert, can be exhausting.

You may avoid going out, being with people, or just avoid certain situations. Of course, this only worsens the situation as you become more and more anxious and end up taking more and more pills.

What is the cause?

Panic attacks often, but not always, follow after a highly stressful experience. Usually something where intense fear has been registered. They are common after an operation, an assault, an accident, a bereavement or other situation where trauma is present. They may happen at particular times or they may happen at odd times, i.e. during sleep, making it more difficult to pin-point triggers.

The original sensitising event, or original cause, is only the starting point.  For example, let’s say the original attack was triggered by a fear of death or dying. After a few attacks the fear of the panic attack itself comes into play! This leads to a generalised state of anxiety. In some cases it works the other way around, and a generalised state of anxiety works its way up into full-blown panic attacks.

Getting help for panic attacks

Your doctor may order a series of tests to rule out any number of possible causes, before coming to the conclusion that you suffer from Panic Attacks.  Sufferers often only report one or two symptoms and the more obvious causes are first investigated i.e. heart irregularities, asthma, IBS or high blood pressure.

I have heard of some cases where a GP, in frustration, simply told the patient it was all in their imagination! Generally, though, the diagnosis eventually comes, if you haven’t already figured it out for yourself. “Great”,  you think, “I am not dying or going mad!”  Now we can do something about this! Not so simple. Your doctor may give you medication which eases the attacks, usually some sort of calmative, but, their busy schedules does not allow time to delve any deeper and the source of the problem remains. Also, living with anxiety and panic attacks can often then lead to depression. If this isn’t bad enough, all of their symptoms may then be linked to this new ‘tag’ with a series of anti-depressants or beta-blockers prescribed.

Some sufferers never go to a doctor, for fear that they may be told they have some sort of mental illness!

The worst thing for the sufferer is the feeling of being out of control, and the best help you can get is from a therapist who can teach you how to be in command of the situation – in short, how to claim your life back!

Regression Hypnotherapy

Regression Hypnotherapy can help you to understand the source of the problem, which is often a profound step toward gaining complete control. Hypnotherapy will also help you to access states of profound relaxation and allow the subconscious mind to alter the panic reaction.

There are many good hypnotherapists around, and I highly recommend that you phone and ask about methods first. What you want to avoid is any therapist who has only trained in analytical hypnotherapy and does not do any inner healing on memories that come to the surface.

EFT (Emotional Freedom Technique) or EMDR

Both of these therapies can be learned and used by yourself, and a competent therapist will help you to find the right combination of techniques.

The mind is a wonderful slave, but a terrible master! In order to be the master of our lives and destinies, we must first become master of our own minds!