Apr 14, 2011 Posted Under: Mental Health

Panic Attacks, Breaking the Thought Cycle

Panic attacks are an unusual phenomenon. People who experience them often feel that they are helpless victims of them, like they do not have control over how or when a panic attack will strike them. What’s interesting is that they, themselves are actually triggering them.

If you have experienced an attack, you probably recall (quite clearly) your first encounter with panic. Undoubtedly, as you began to experience unusual feelings in your body, you became fearful of what was happening. This, in turn, caused you to try to resist those feelings with all your might. The more scared you got, the more scared you got, until you were in a full blown panic attack.

This thought process may not have been very obvious at the time because it was the first time you had gone through such an episode, but in future attacks, the process was probably a bit more apparent (though you were not likely to be analysing it at the time.) Having gone through the first panic attack, upon the slightest trigger, you dreaded the idea of going through another.

It goes something like this:

  • Perhaps you feel a strange twinge of an unusual sensation.
  • Maybe you are going into a situation that you fear may cause you anxiety or stress.

Whatever the initial trigger, something makes you feel just a bit like you did during that horrible first panic attack. You then begin to try to fight off those anxious feelings.

You worry more and more that if you can’t stop what’s going on in your body, you will have to go through another episode of panic. All that anxiety over trying to avoid the whole thing then causes your heart to beat faster. This is concerning because it means a panic attack is beginning. That is, of course, frightening so your heart beats faster and harder as you feel the adrenaline surge throughout your system.

The more scared you become, the more your body reacts with frightening sensations. Your chest tightens. Your extremities begin to tingle or go numb. You feel faint. God forbid, your heart skips a beat (in your mind, a sure sign of impending doom.)

You see, through this whole process your mind creates the next level of anxiety based on your body’s reaction to each previous level of anxiety. Because you know how frightening the experience of a panic attack can be, you want desperately to avoid the situation. You try as hard as you can to think your way out of it.

The trick in that situation is not to fight against your thoughts and feelings, but to actually accept that what you’re feeling will not hurt you. An anxiety attack is just your body’s reaction to the fear of fear. Nothing else.

By fighting your body’s reactions you, in a way, reinforce your own idea that you do not feel in control of your body’s reactions and thoughts. In order to truly be in control you must learn to understand that what you are feeling is natural and safe. Though you might feel like you’re going to die or at least pass out, you’re just experiencing the effects of adrenaline.

Though it seems quite contradictory, the key to stopping panic attacks is learning not to fight them, but rather to accept them. In doing so, you break the thought cycle that causes them in the first place. You take the power away from the panic attacks and put it back where it belonged all the time, with yourself!

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