Those who experience panic often fear catastrophic outcomes from their panic, including:
- panic will cause a heart attack
- panic causes you to lose control
- panic will make you go “crazy”
These fears are both terrifying and excruciating to live with, especially as panic typically comes out of the blue. Fearing panic will cause extreme damage to your life, means the individual will go to great lengths to avoid panic. For example, if you had a panic attack in the car whilst driving, you may avoid driving long distances or completely avoid driving all together. Or, if you panicked in a social situation you may avoid certain social settings or people.
However, the truth is, panic is completely harmless.
The worst panic can do is be a distressing experience and if you hyperventilate for an extended period of time, you could faint due to lack of oxygen to your brain.
The reason people hold these beliefs about panic is the panic itself is activated by our sympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for alerting the body to a perceived threat. Thus, panic creates a sense of threat and danger. In the case of panic: Anxiety is perceived as a threat that will cause the onset of a heart attack, or complete loss of control, or will turn you “crazy”.
Unfortunately, these beliefs tend to perpetuate the panic itself.
In particular, if you go to effort to avoid these “catastrophes”, your fears will grow. And the more you fear, the more you’re likely to feel anxious, and the more you’re likely to panic. By avoiding your fears, you’re denying yourself the opportunity to see that everything was “A-OK”. Thus, you reinforce that anxiety-provoking situations are dangerous and risky of panic.
As well, if you fear panic to the extent that you believe something disastrous will occur, then naturally your anxiety will increase. Additionally, once you experience anxiety, you are more likely to panic due to fear of anxiety worsening into panic.
The good news?
Panic does not cause any harm. Sure, it’s unpleasant and you’d really prefer it went away, but when you break it down, it’s only a feeling: Your heart races, you may feel hot and sweaty, you may feel shaky, and breathe quickly. But that’s it!
Panic is just a yuck feeling.
But probably an even more reassuring fact is:
You can stop panic.
This is because panic is caused by hyperventilation. Here, it’s important to distinguish between panic and anxiety. Anxiety is an innate reaction to a perceived threat, which prepares the body to fight flight or freeze. Anxiety increases blood flow to the muscles by increasing our heart rate and blood pressure, which in turn creates heat and sweat. Muscles tense to increase strength and breathing increases to meet increased oxygen demand to fuel the work of the muscles. Panic occurs after anxiety has escalated. Panic occurs due to further increased breathing known as “hyperventilation”. Hyperventilation causes an imbalance in O2 and CO2 in the blood, which in turn causes dizziness, blurry vision and an exacerbation of current anxiety symptoms.
Therefore, by stopping hyperventilation, you can stop panic. Of course, you still may feel anxious and uncomfortable, but not to the same distressing extent as panic. To stop hyperventilation, you need to regulate your breathing. There are stacks of different breathing exercises on the internet, but I’ve also provided my favourite breathing exercise in blog post How to Stop a Panic Attack.
How Peaceful Mind Psychology can help with panic?
While using a breathing exercise is the first preventative step to controlling panic, there are other strategies you can learn to reduce overall anxiety. A psychologist can educate you on the various factors that contribute to anxiety and help you learn strategies to prevent panic and reduce anxiety (using Cognitive-behavioural Therapy for Anxiety).
Our team of warm and empathic Melbourne-based psychologists are skilled in panic attack treatment. We are also trained in anxiety treatment including treatment of general anxiety, social anxiety and work anxiety, among other forms of anxiety. If you would like some professional assistance contact us at Peaceful Mind Psychology.