Being anxious about something is a state most people come across in their lives. A panic attack is an increased, and changed anxiety response state that has been learned subconsciously, and so can be ‘un-learned.’
These physiological changes are the result and not the cause of underlying anxiety. Understanding this means that we can recognise that we are not at the mercy of our body chemistry.
Our brain chemistry actually responds readily to the way we think and feel about life, and so there is a way to break the cycle. If your belief is that you panic, then this is the message you will send to your subconscious mind.
The subconscious, being a non-deliberating mind, will accept this idea and begin what it believes to be an appropriate response. Our biofeedback systems respond accordingly, and give us the internal chemistry which matches the belief.
Viewed this way, we can understand that the chemical states we experience when anxious are at least partially a result of our beliefs and perceptions.
Understanding what is going on is always helpful for managing the signs and symptoms. Most often, panic attacks begin as a delayed response to a period of prolonged stress. Our ‘coping’ mechanism becomes overloaded, and anxiety increases. Panic attacks tend to re-occur because we fear having another one, adding to the stress.
HOW TO MANAGE THEM
Remember there is nothing wrong with you – panic attacks are common, and can be managed.
Understand that panics are mostly a fear of the effects of too much adrenaline.
Remember also that they are a delayed response to a stressful period, even if it doesn’t feel that way.
Get some ‘wins’ to boost your confidence in your ability
to eliminate them. You can! Be kind to yourself.
Remove as many of the major stressors to your life as within your power to do.
Cut out caffeine. Tea, coffee, cola, ‘Red Bull’, all add to increase adrenaline and cause the ‘jitters’. Reduce caffeine over two weeks, to avoid withdrawal symptoms.
Reduce sugary foods. They indirectly re-activate your adrenals. Make sure, though, that you eat regularly, and don’t get hungry.
Reduce alcohol to a minimum. Alcohol affects your ability to produce a healthy flow of serotonin, which is a key factor in our ability to cope and feel happy.
Drink water! A dry mouth sends a ‘fear’ signal to the brain.
Use relaxing breathing methods each hour. The breathing methods will calm you, and reduce hyperventilation which often accompanies an attack.
Re-learn to relax. Practice muscular relaxation for a few minutes each day, gradually building up to 10-15minutes after a few weeks. Remember, it’s a cumulative effect, which, over time, shows the subconscious mind that there is an alternative state available to you. You’re re-training it!
Once a day, write down your thoughts on paper just as they come out, and keep writing, no matter how silly it seems.
Then destroy the notes. No-one sees them except you, so you can write everything down.
Look after yourself physically. Swimming or walking gets rid of accumulated stress hormones and physical tension.
Monitor your self-talk to avoid too much negativity. Some negative thinking is understandable – it’s an uncomfortable period you’re going through. Just challenge the negative thoughts as they arise.
Replace self-talk with positive affirmations such as, ‘I am managing these episodes better each time, and getting myself back to normal’, or, ‘what episode?’
Have faith that there is a way out of your difficulties, even if that’s not clear to you at the moment. Remember, if there was a way in, there is a way out!
Choose a different label for the experience. ‘Panic’ and ‘Attack’ have unhelpful and emotionally charged connotations. Perhaps ‘anxiety rush’, or ‘adrenaline reaction’ would be more suitable alternatives.
Remain clear about what is happening. Recognise that your physical changes are simply those produced by raised levels of adrenaline – faster heartbeat, quicker breathing, increased perspiration, churning stomach, physical tension, quicker thinking, noise sensitivity, dry mouth etc. (Just recognise which are your own signs – you may not experience all of them) Acknowledging what is happening reduces the effects. Practice your breathing. It will calm you.