Wednesday
Feb172010

When Panic Comes Knocking

 

Paul had been suffering from night time panic attacks for about six months when he had his first daytime experience of panic. When he called me he was upset and worried because he didn't want panic to rear it's head when he might be at work or out with friends. "It's bad enough at night" he told me "but at least then it's private and I've got my routine to cope with it. Actually it's been a bit better lately and I really don't understand why I should suddenly feel like a panic attack's coming on in the day when it never has before."

I asked him what he was doing when he started to feel the symptoms of a panic attack and he began telling me about helping a friend move an old TV out of their house. It was big and heavy and as he was lifting it into his van he noticed his heart was beating fast and from there feelings of panic instantly washed over him. He felt hot, and breathless and he just wanted to escape.

 

A Case of Mistaken Identity

It was then I realised what had happened. Paul's mind noticed his heart beating fast and immediately associated it with feelings of panic. That Paul was feeling hot and over exerted added further conviction to a protective mind that is regularly experiencing powerful feelings of panic and is on the look out for more.

Let's look at the physical sensations Paul experienced:

increased heart rate

feeling hot

short of breath

 

These could certainly be the symptoms of a panic attack. They are also the symptoms of carrying a bloody great big heavy TV and trying to manoeuvre it into a van. 

I chatted with Paul about the possibility of his mind mistakenly identifying the signs of over exertion for the symptoms of a panic attack. We talked about ways to address that if it happened again and went over a couple of tools for slowing the heart and regaining a sense of calm and control. At the end of the call Paul felt assured that he may not have had a daytime panic attack at all, but more a case of fearful thinking bought on by the same physical sensations that can happen when we feel panicked.

 

Ropes and Snakes

There's an old saying that we sometimes make the mistake of thinking a rope is a snake. A mind that's wary of snakes might see a rope coiled up in the grass and think "there's a snake!" and it will take some effort to convince it otherwise.

Similarly, a mind that's sensitive to the symptoms of anxiety or panic attacks may superimpose the experience of panic on to any situation that causes the same physical sensations as a panic attack to arise.


 

Exertion and Anxiety

Exercise is often recommended as a way to deal with anxiety. And it really can help, but it's important to be aware that for some people getting to the point of physical exertion can raise feelings of panic. Rather than thinking "exercise doesn't work for me" it's helpful to know that this might be why. So exercise gently. Take a walk, go for a swim, try a yoga class, go to the gym if that's your inclination, but stop before your heart starts racing or your mind might kick into an anxiety loop.

Panic attacks can happen in intimate situations too. If there is no history of bad experience around sexual exchanges yet panic is experienced at such times, there's a good chance that the cause is mistaken identity. The mind concluded faster heart and breathing = panic. Such mental maths can cause hell for people who think their panic has now reached into and ruined every area of their life. But it's not necessarily the case. Question panic when it comes knocking, learn a calming technique that will clobber false attacks and help you calm real ones.

 

In conclusion: If you suffer from anxiety or panic attacks, try and take a moment to question them and look for triggers before accepting that your situation might have just got worse and panic is now happening in a new area. And get tooled up with some techniques to help you feel calm and in control wherever your mind is trying to take you.

 

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post by Ananga photo credit Fortimbras