An anxiety will manifest as panic attacks or an anxiety attack when the body is preparing to fight or to flee but nothing comes of it – i.e. there is no action that discharges the preparation. And then the body in effect goes into a panic mode which causes great discomfort and fear. And then…. the attack itself can becomes a traumatic experience generating a fear factor. It is clear that the original anxiety attack can escalate alarmingly.
The physiology of Panic attacks
Oxygen is a very sticky molecule and without the aid of carbon dioxide it cannot be readily released to be absorbed by the cells that need it. And so when the oxygen is breathed out too quickly but with no action (hyperventilation) it takes precious carbon dioxide with it that have not yet done its job properly yet. With even less carbon dioxide, we feel oxygen starved (even though we are taking in plenty). So we attempt to breathe more and more but this is the last thing we need as the availability of carbon dioxide diminishes even further and so further reducing the availability of oxygen.
The results can be severe chest pains, considerable fright, a real fear factor arising, even a fear of dying. There is trembling and shaking, difficulty speaking and so on – a terrible experience.
You are not dying and you are not having a heart attack. Your body can cope even though the signals from your primitive brain are screaming not
What Panic attacks are for
Many thousands of years ago, a woman was walking through a gorge with rock walls that stretched up towards the sun, shrouding the gorge floor in shade. She was making her way to a spring near where she and her tribe lived. As she rounded a corner, she found herself face to face with a huge bear.
The animal, surprised by her attacked, swinging a massive paw. It knocked her off her feet, cutting her badly with its sharp claws and breaking three of her ribs. Despite her injuries she sprang to her feet feeling no pain and ran back the way she had come.
Over the following months, her body healed and she was able to contribute once again as a member of her tribe. She started on light work and was gathering twigs one day when she came to a stone cliff that stretched up above her, shading her from the sun.
She suddenly began to feel very uneasy and looked around. There was nothing to be seen but still the feeling increased. She dropped her bundle, turned and ran back to the safety of her tribe.
What might be happening here – When a cliff becomes a gorge!
The woman came to a cliff that roughly matched her terrifying experience in the gorge. She had ‘learned’ unconsciously that ‘high rock walls=danger’.
Despite the fact that she knew consciously that this was a different situation, her unconscious mind, looking out for her survival, ‘erred on the side of caution’ and gave her the necessary resources to get out of there fast.
Three ways of diffusing a panic attack, when you are aware of it
- Physical activity lowers emotional arousal – it is after all what the brain is telling you to do. So running or going up and down stairs – if you are fit enough to do so – will have the desired effect.
- Breathing properly would work similarly – to breathe properly you need to take a deep breath in through the nose, expanding the diagphram (place a hand over the belly button and see it rise as you breathe in) and then breathe out slowly, again through the nose.Breathe in for a count of 7 and out for a count of 11. You may need time to work up to counts this long, so start with 5 and 8, or even 3 and 5. The important thing is to breathe out for longer than you breathe in because breathing out activates the part of the nervous system which lowers emotional arousal.
- The third way is to outwit the emotional brain by getting the panic attack victim to think about something. So just ask yourself a question or anything.
This is an excellent resource for hyperventilation
Treating the consequences of Panic Attacks
- De-traumatising using Rewind
- The relief of the trauma and fear associated by panic attacks and the hyper vigilance around body sensations has to be cleared and this is normally the first task of treatment.
- Building a better relationship with anxiety
- This is normally the next important step – as the susceptibility to panic attacks is fuelled by a resistance to anxiety feelings rather than acceptance.
- Read the two truths about all projections
- Learn how to worry well
- Understand what is meant by the Observing self.
- Practice this useful anxiety tool AWARE
- Reframing, relaxation and visualisations
- Relaxation advice is always worth teaching to assist in gaining control and confidence. Rehearsal work under trance may also be useful. We are now in the area of tailor made and specific interventions.
- Action to get needs met
- Often this is not needed as the original anxiety attack reflected special factors in a life that was working well. It is though always important to ensure that coping with the trauma around panic attacks has not endured for a substantial time – to create additional difficulties, such as agoraphobia or fears around social interaction.
Go to Anxiety Tools page for details on all that is in this list
What are Emotions?, Observing Self, Trauma and Emotional high jacking, Trauma Relief and the Rewind Method, Molar Memories, The nature of projections, Worrying Well, Time Lines, Becoming Adult, The AWARE method, The STOP System