A panic attack is a form of fear that will usually strike suddenly and without any warning. It can produce a terrifying barrage of symptoms, including a strong conviction that something dreadful is about to happen. Although it might seem as if it had come right out of the blue, as a lead up, you will have imagined a bad outcome to the situation in which you had found yourself. This could have happened on either a conscious or an unconscious level. Either way, the entire episode will have been triggered by your own mind, whether or not you realised it.
The episode will have taken the form of a fight or fight response that was probably just as terrifying as it was surprising. What followed could, in fact, have been one of the most frightening things you have ever had to face. Symptoms of panic might include a racing heart rate, chest pain, shortness-of-breath, dizziness and shaking. You may have had difficulty in breathing or swallowing and perhaps you thought that you were about to faint or get sick. You could even have thought that your heart was about to give in.
Symptoms as severe as these are certainly enough to convince you that you have developed a rather serious physical condition – one that your doctor has clearly missed. Of course, these new fears about your health will fuel your already heightened state of anxiety and panic.
At this point you might even feel as though you are starting to go mad. Naturally, you would wish to avoid putting yourself through a similar trauma again. So, the next time you find yourself faced with the possibility of encountering a particular sort of situation, you could be expected to imagine just how awful it would be to relive your previous experience.
If an act of imagining a bad outcome set off your initial episode of panic, an act of imagining a further bad outcome could just as easily set off its recurrence. If then particular situations go on to become strongly associated with these negative emotions, an unhelpful pattern of panic may become established. In such a case your unconscious mind could be programmed to trigger its disturbing fight-or-fight response whenever or wherever you are faced with that type of situation.
However, the realisation that both the cause and the affect of panic probably lie completely within you, should come as something of a comfort. It is empowering to know that you are not at the complete mercy of external factors over which you may have little or no control. Do seek professional help as soon as you can. If left untreated, the condition can deteriorate and become debilitating, and more serious conditions such as agoraphobia may even follow. But with help, you can take back control.
Although it is unlikely that there is a physical cause to your panic, you should perhaps start by seeing your doctor. It is important to rule out the possibility of an underlying medical condition. It is also important to rule out other possible physical causes, which might include low glucose levels or substances such as caffeine, alcohol and drugs (either medicinal or recreational).
Hypnotherapy, and its related disciplines, can be an effective treatment. The work we will do together will enable you to develop more appropriate ways of seeing the situations you face, as well as more appropriate ways of responding to them. Because panic is largely created by your particular style of thinking, you will find that you really do have the ability to make the changes necessary to take back control of your life – and to do so safely and without the use of drugs.
Read more about fear or about your instinctual freeze-flight-or-fight response in this article on emotions. Also look at the problems associated with the dangerous pattern of avoidance of certain situations as well as the case against the over use of certain prescription drugs.
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I started getting these attacks in 2009, just as my music career was taking off. I'd be doing photo-shoots and started to feel like I was having heart attacks. Increasingly I found it difficult to step outside my flat. Things started to get better after I saw a therapist, who told me I needed to make peace with my panic attacks.