Posted in Psychology

Understanding Panic Attacks

Panic attacks can actually feel very normal and healthy in context. For example, if you were about to bungee jump or if you were being chased by a lion or if you were standing at the edge of an exit door of a plane kilometres up in the sky ready to parachute for the very first time, then the ‘panic’ experienced would feel quite normal.

In these instances it is the situation, rather than our response to the situation, that stands out as the concern. In all these examples we would most likely feel quite panicky… but at the same time it would make sense and seem reasonable enough to feel that way under the circumstances. So we would not label it as a panic attack. We would instead couch it in the narrative of a normal and understandable reaction to being chased by a lion or jumping from a plane with a parachute or cliff face tied to a bungee chord.

Preconceived ideas of when we should or shouldn’t feel panic

Our preconceived ideas of the ‘right’ places to ‘panic’ become a key issue that compounds the distress of a panic ‘attack’ whereby it is often not so much the actual feeling of panic, but rather the lack of ‘apparent’ reason for having it that ends up perpetuating the freak out.

When experiencing a panic attack we usually don’t know why we are having it and so it seems completely out of context and therefore compounds how weird and freaky it feels. This only serves to ‘scare’ us all the more. And this, in turn, perpetuates the need to ruminate with intense worry over why we are so incredibly freaked out and panicky for no apparent reason.

Beyond the bungee jump – Understanding the complexity of fears

When experiencing a panic attack, the amazing thing about the human mind is that it doesn’t need obvious things like a bungee jump, parachute drop or hungry lion to get us in to a state of panic. As humans we have so many things, a lot less obvious, that can worry us to the point of feeling quite agitated, threatened, scared and panicky.

Quite frankly, we can end up with lots of different fears. Fear of failure, fear of rejection, fear of worthlessness, fear of being insignificant, of not belonging… fear of not being able to cope or manage under all the stress piling up in our life… These are just some of the endless list of potential ‘bungee jump’ type fears that can spark panic.

How do we start dealing with the panic

One important step, of many, in the treatment of panic attacks is the process of coming to discover, understand and reassess those less obvious fears that can trigger panic.

Another aspect of treatment is learning how to bring the intense automatic panic reaction of the body back down toward a more relaxed state. Body and mind calming/relaxation exercises is one aspect of this.

Building awareness of and addressing any avoidance behaviours is another important area of focus to nip in the bud. This is because when ever we feel panicky we also usually want to avoid or steer clear of the thing(s) that have us feeling that way.

Unfortunately, because we are usually not 100% sure of why we feel panicky, our mind will often just make it up as it goes along, filling in the blanks with random things to be fearful of. This results in us avoiding all sorts of people and places in an attempt to try and keep away from what ever it is that makes us feel panicky.

These are just a few brief introductory tips on key concepts that should be worked through when addressing panic attacks. I hope you find the ideas helpful in starting on the right track to working through it.

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Author:

Hi everyone! I'm a psychologist who is passionate about the broad contribution this field can make to society. Ultimately, psychology is about living life well; whether in personal relationships, friendships, work, politics, local communities, society more broadly or your own personal wellbeing. Psychology covers it all! As a psychologist I consult regularly through my private practice on the Gold Coast in Australia and also internationally via Skype.

One thought on “Understanding Panic Attacks

  1. Thanks Clive, that was really helpful.
    I have been able to bring down my panic attacks through drugs and information, but now I plan to start dealing with the mind and pushing through the avoidance. Slowly but surely.

    Liked by 1 person

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