Panic Attacks

Anxiety does not arise directly out of dangerous or painful situations.  It’s actually the thoughts surrounding the events that cause the anxiety. For instance, why do some people at university and sitting exams have panic attacks, when others don’t? If it was the event itself then everyone would be having them and we know that’s not the case.

Anxiety can be managed as long as your thoughts about difficult situations are realistic and accurate. However if you overestimate the danger and continually predict disaster, your anxiety will increase dramatically.

For instance, if you do a good job at work, but constantly say to yourself “What if the boss doesn’t like my work? What if he fires me – I’ll never get another job.” This can cause anxiety, although there is no substance to the thoughts.

Panic escalation usually exhibits four distinct phases.

Thought patterns in the mind  What happens in the body
You make unrealistic self-statements that keep you in a constant state of alarm Your body tenses in the fight-or-flight reaction.Your heart beats faster, you feel short of breath, you may have butterflies in your stomach.You are in a chronic state of arousal and sensitised to any hint of possible danger – any minor conflict can set off a siege of panic
You begin to fear “fear” itself As your body becomes more sensitised, you begin to anticipate panic attacks. You try to avoid them at all costs. Now you have a new fear – the symptoms that fear causes in your body
You reject your own feelings as your fear of fear escalates You hate the symptoms of your fear
– the pounding heart, dizziness, shortness of breath, trembling legs, lump in your throat, hot and cold flushes and the confusion in your mind. You resist against anything unusual happening in your body – even flu seems dangerous.
You avoid any situation, person or thing that evokes feelings of arousal or anxiety What started as nervousness of walking along deserted streets, now becomes avoidance of going anywhere alone. What started as anxious thoughts when talking to the boss becomes avoidance of work altogether. What started as painful shyness at parties becomes avoidance of social contact.

Every symptom you experience during a panic attack is a natural harmless part of your body’s fight-or-fight reaction. Panic attacks symptoms are the direct result of adrenaline which is released by your adrenal glands when you perceive that you are in danger.

Adrenaline is metabolised in your body in less than three minutes and its effects can go away just as quickly. So if you can stop your catastrophic predictions, your panic attacks will be over entirely within three minutes.

However it’s important to refute any catastrophic predictions you find yourself making about your panic symptoms.  Do you think that you might have a heart attack or die, that you might faint or that you might lose control and fall down or vomit or scream? These are things that many people tell themselves during panic attacks – these are irrational and inaccurate predictions that prolong and intensify the panic.

You can change the way that your body responds to seemingly frightening situations, by using a coping strategy and start the process of lessening the fear.

  • You can cope with an increased heart rate due to fight or flight responses
  • You can feel balanced – dizziness or vertigo are the products of hyperventilating,  so you can relax and slow your breathing
  • You can breathe fully and deeply – shortness of breath is caused by tightness in the diaphragm, so concentrate on pushing the old air out. Many agree that in for a count of 7 and out for a count of 11 works well.
  • You can strengthen your legs – during a panic attack, legs often feel weak, and so  you may think that you will fall down. However the fight or flight reaction pushes  blood to your extremities to prepare you to run – they are actually stronger than  usual.
  • You can swallow freely- tension in the throat when you are anxious may cause  you to think that you can’t swallow – fake a yawn and this will release the tension
  • You feel hot or cold due to changes in your nervous system and rising blood pressure. This will pass in a few minutes, so remind yourself of this.
  • The fuzziness or confusion in your head will clear – this is caused by a high   concentration of blood in your large muscles. This is again an automatic response by the body preparing you for fight or flight. These feelings can be relieved by slow deep breathing with your mouth closed

So how can hypnotherapy help?

Modern hypnotherapy incorporates hypnosis and visualisation techniques, together with CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy) and NLP (neuro linguistic programming).

This will initially allow relaxation and can then be incorporated to remove any specific fears that panic attacks are responsible for. For instance, some mothers-to-be experience panic attacks when thinking about the birth of their baby.

As panic attacks are just one symptom of anxiety, it’s recommended that therapy is focused on the overall anxiety and we would expect between 8-12 sessions to be appropriate.

However, panic attacks can usually be removed relatively quickly, once individuals understand how the brain responds to anxiety, so we would expect that panic attacks may cease after 2 or 3 sessions. This can be discussed fully at the initial consultation.

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