A panic attack is a sudden episode of intense fear that triggers severe physical reactions when there is no real danger or obvious cause. Panic attacks happen most often when a person is under a great deal of untreated stress. At this time, the amount of stress the world is under is some of the worst in history and anxiety and panic disorder diagnoses are being given out like surgical masks. It isn't because people are weak or can't handle it. We are all responding to very real uncertainty and instability tilting all around us.
A panic attack can feel like the walls are closing in, the weight of the world is on your shoulders, or like a paralyzing spear freezing you in place. You may sweat yet feel cold, experience an intense headache, rapid heart beat, dizziness, white hot anger or rage, uncontrollable crying, and difficulty catching your breath.
It is truly a horrible feeling and my heart goes out to anyone who has this experience regularly.
An issue I see clients have is that they spend more time dealing with the panic feelings, not what is driving the panic attack in the first place. Once we calm down, we think we are good to go. Unfortunately, that does not resolve the deeper issue. The deeper issue that drives panic may be linked to a negative belief system about yourself or feelings you have difficulty resolving. One or more of the following examples you may resonate with. Negative beliefs around: “I am not enough,” “I shouldn’t feel XYZ,” “I can’t handle it,” “They are making me feel bad,” “I don’t have any control,” “I should know XYZ,” “I am inadequate.” Underlying feelings of powerlessness, uselessness, sadness, grief, loneliness, exhaustion, fear, rejection, insecurity, helplessness, worthless, inadequacy, insignificance, embarrassment, humiliation, disappointment, betrayed, let down, anger, and shame push anxiety to the surface until it can't be contained.
When a threshold is passed, the result is feeling out of control and desperate. Desperation then leads to desperate behaviors, which look out of proportion to the situation.
It can be hard to recover from a panic episode. Our body needs time to relax and our brain must come back to full functioning before the panic feelings fully go away. The way to help yourself is two-fold and can be resolved through the acronym
P> Prevention: If we want to change something, we need to first realize why something happens in the first place. Taking time to journal, self-reflect, meditate, or read a self-development book is essential to discovering what your underlying beliefs and emotions are. Once you understand your narrative that lies subsurface to your panic, you have an opportunity to heal the pressure that keeps panic rising in you.
E> Emergency (if any): If there is an emergency, deal with it. You don’t have to think about it. Trust that your body and brain know what to do. You can rely on your primitive instincts to respond to danger here. If you are unsure if the moment is an emergency, ask yourself, “is this a life or death situation?” Hint: if you have time to ask yourself that question, it probably is NOT an emergency.
A> Accept: This is where you get to take a deep breath and be present with your circumstances instead of resisting them. Resistance feels threatening to the brain. In acceptance, you release the need for control of everything and instead refocus on what your can control (YOURSELF). You can acknowledge any underlying feelings or narratives your have previously discovered in prevention.
C> Change: Good news is that once you find out what is underlying panic, you can change it. If the belief underlying panic is “I can’t handle it,” you might come up with a few affirmations that are soothing or correct the belief to a new and more positive one; such as, “I am only in control of myself, and I trust that all will work out in its divine timing.”
Take note of any underlying feelings of grief, resentment, guilt, or many others.
FEEL THOSE FEELINGS! The only way to work through feelings is to allow for their natural progression from beginning to middle to end. Most of us are taught to stuff emotions, that they are bad, or that having them means you are needy, clingy, or too much. If this resonates with you, go back up to the Prevention step and understand where the story around emotions came from. E> Express: Talk about your underlying feelings and beliefs. Shame is a strong motivator for panic. Shame exists in secrecy. The more you talk about what is really happening for you underneath the surface of panic, the less of a grip shame can have. You can journal or do something creative that allows for your truth to exist somewhere other than your body. Finally, self-nourishment is a form of expression. Letting go of what no longer serves you, releasing control, not picking up an old story or habit, asking for help, taking a break, and receiving love and support from others are all forms of self-nourishment that restores your body and mind back to its calm state. PEACE to all who read this.