They often feel like they come out of nowhere.  Your body responds in ways that if you didn’t know, you would think you are having a heart attack.  It is why you may go to the ER- can’t breathe, are nauseated, have increased heart rate, sweat, have feelings of absolute dread and impending doom, feel like things aren’t real or feel like you are not in your body. If you have never experienced one before, it is always a good idea to get yourself checked by a doctor to rule out issues with your heart or respiratory system.  But if you have been told it is an anxiety attack- They feel horrible, and as awful as you feel, you learn that these attacks are not going to damage you physically at the time.

The problem is that once you have one, you really do anything not to have one again.

And that life is very limiting and uncomfortable.

Joshua Fletcher, psychotherapist, author, and podcast host on anxiety and panic, reminds us that these responses are fueled by the adrenal gland, and although scary, are not in fact dangerous.  “You are not going to stop breathing,” he reinforces.  Although our fearful thoughts may be telling us that we may be having a heart attack, it is highly likely we are not having a heart attack or stroke. These “panic episodes” do not last for a long period of time since the adrenal gland exhausts itself.” It is physiologically impossible for your body to maintain the panic,” he says.  As someone who suffered from as many as three panic attacks a day at one point, here are a few recommendations:

  1. Ride them out.  As uncomfortable and frightening as they are, they will pass.  The more we realize this, the less power we give to the fear, and the quicker it diminishes.  I liken it to riding out a charley horse, or brain freeze.
  2. Stay in the present. During a panic attack your brain may rapidly fire those fearful thoughts.  Do grounding exercises like describing in detail something you can see is a trick that Joshua does himself. He states that it’s hard for the brain to focus on the fearful thought when you are asking it to describe the paint color on a car. In this way he believes he can turn off the amygdala faster.
  3. Remind yourself it’s a “False alarm”- a misfiring of the amygdala. There is no danger.
  4. Observe what is happening as if you are looking at it from the outside. It’s to help you detach from the fear and just describe what you are experiencing instead of identifying it.  Name/label it- “I notice that is a fearful thought, I notice that I’m breathing quicker.” or
  5. “Don’t tune in.” Like other annoyances that you may tolerate daily, your body may be responding with the panic symptoms while your brain may be flooding you with “What if” thoughts- “What if I’m dying?” “What if I’m going to suffer from these for the rest of my life?”  Noticing that these are anxious thoughts refuse to pay them credence. of letting it pass as you focus on other thoughts.


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