When Panic Attacks

So, I have a friend who belongs to a group on Facebook and she shared with me some of the posts about panic attacks. I was shocked! All those people seemed in complete despair. Now I am a psychotherapist and I have treated many people over the years who have suffered with panic attacks. I have always give my clients the best of me, based on my studies and my knowledge. But I have come to realise that unless you have suffered from your very own panic attack…then you do not know what you are talking about. Not even close. Last year my father died and I had to go to the States to bury him. On top of that I had some personal issues I was dealing with. But I thought I was coping OK. Evidently my body thought differently. Cut to the morning when I tried to get out of bed and found that I couldn’t. My stomach muscles had completely seized up, making it almost impossible for me to stand up straight.

So… what is a panic attack?

A panic attack is the abrupt onset of intense fear or discomfort that reaches a peak within minutes and can take years to diagnose and treat.

What are the symptoms?

All I can say is that when you suffer a panic attack it is as if your body is under siege…like your body has forsaken you and no amount of reassuring words can fix you because for all intends and purposes you feel as if you are about to die.

The symptoms could be anything quite frankly. In my case, it was severe stomach cramps to the point where I thought I had a hernia. For others, the symptoms could be: Palpitations, pounding heart, or accelerated heart rate, sweating, trembling or shaking, sensations of shortness of breath or smothering, feelings of choking, chest pain or discomfort, nausea or abdominal distress, feeling dizzy, unsteady, light-headed, or faint, chills or heat sensations, tingling, feelings of being out of touch, being detached or out of control. Feeling that you are seriously ill, going crazy or that you are about to die. Since many of the symptoms of a panic attack mimic those of heart disease, thyroid problems, breathing disorders, and other illnesses, people with panic disorder often make many visits to emergency rooms or doctors’ offices, convinced they have a life-threatening issue. I visited my local hospital a couple of times and went through test after test only to be told that everything was normal, this didn’t make me feel better it only made matters worse. It added to my panic as I began to think that I had contracted some dreaded ‘lurgy’ that the doctors didn’t knew about and had no cure for.

What’s really going on?

Well, a panic attack is a malfunction of the amygdala. The amygdala lives deep in the recesses of the brain. It is concerned with your emotional state, your memory but mostly your survival. The need to survive is so strong in each of us…it will override everything. Even logic!

Let me give you an example of how the amygdala works.

Imagine you’re walking down the street, minding your own business and then suddenly, a big hairy rat springs out in front of you. How would you feel? What would you do? You see we have three responses to danger and they are fight, flight and freeze. When your system goes into fight, flight and freeze the brain unleashes a huge cocktail of adrenalin into your body. The brain is telling you to run or fight for your life and it this that causes all the symptoms I described earlier. Now imagine your body acting as if it is in extreme danger every day, all day. A panic attack is a ‘dicky’ amygdala. It’s just like having a flickering switch that will not turn off properly.

Who suffers panic attacks?

Everyone has the potential to suffer a panic attack but not everyone does. The people who are most vulnerable are those who seem strong on the outside but are very sensitive on the inside. They over empathise with other people’s problems. They are the carers. They take on lost courses, waif and strays. They are usually the ‘go to’ person for everyone else’s problems because of their ability to listen and show kindness. But, when it comes to their own problems they do not wish to burden people with them. Some are afraid or embarrassed to tell anyone, including their doctors or loved ones for fear of being labelled a hypochondriac. Instead they suffer in silence, distancing themselves from friends, family. Suffering in silence is probably the worst thing you can do for a panic attack.

What can you do?

Well most people go to the doctors and doctors prescribe pills and potions. This is the second worst thing that you can do for a panic attack. The pills and potions give you another set of symptoms for your body to deal with and the amygdala works even harder to counteract those symptoms. It becomes a vicious circle and a nightmare for the sufferer.

The only way to stop a panic attack is to STOP running away from it. to stop pretending that you are not suffering and to stop believing that the symptoms will go away if you ignore them. They will not! Because it is the amygdala’s job to remind you of danger…real or perceived…and the more you ignore it the more it will keep telling you. In fact, a faulty amygdala is so intent on saving your life it can end up killing you.

The amygdala needs to be reset. Just like resetting a thermostat. You do not need to go into years of therapy all you need to do is face it…learn deep meditation…put up some boundaries…realise that you cannot save the world…know your limitations and learn to back off…listen to the warning signs in your body and recognise when you are doing too much. When all else fails find a good hypnotherapist who understands the trauma of a panic attack.

Good luck!

ICOACH…your own line coaching service

If you feel you need help with panic attacks then book yourself in for your own personal and confidential session with me. Go to my website to find out more. Or to book directly go to Or if you want to get a feel for how I work… go to You Tube Coaching Channel

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