--U.S. Navy Battle Command
And then you think, "Oh yeah, that's right, I'm just having a panic attack and my body is experiencing all these really weird and interesting sensations. Wow, this is really amazing and fascinating. I'm just going to sit back and watch what happens." YEAH, RIGHT!
Anyone who's ever had a panic attack will agree it's one of the most terrifying experiences imaginable. Approximately 3% of the adult population have experienced panic attacks and it's one of the most common reasons people go to the emergency room as they think they're having a stroke or heart attack. At one time I did psychiatric evaluations in emergency rooms and this was a very common occurrence. Once the docs determined the patient wasn't having a heart attack I would explain to them what panic attacks are and encourage them to get therapy.
So briefly, here are some of the most common symptoms of panic attacks: Increase in heart rate--increase in respiratory rate or hyperventilation--muscle tension--feeling faint--feeling hot and flushed--numbness or tingling in the limbs--feeling disconnected from physical reality or surroundings (derealization) or from self (depersonalization) and, maybe the most terrifying, feeling like we're going crazy or losing our mind.
There are other symptoms but these are some of the most common. And every single one of them has a physical cause. Looked at from a physiological perspective, they're understandable and fascinating. But of course, when we're in the middle of an attack that's the last thing on our mind and usually all we can think of is escape right now! I'll talk more about their physiology a little later but right now let's dispel a few fears about panic attacks.
*You won't die during a panic attack or have a cardiac arrest (even though it may feel that
way) No one ever died from a panic attack.
*You won't stop breathing or suffocate.
* You won't faint or pass out.
* You won't lose your balance or fall over.
*You won't lose control of yourself.
*And most importantly, YOU CAN'T GO CRAZY DURING A PANIC ATTACK!
Simply put, a panic attack is the body going into defense mode, preparing to defend itself or flee from threat. The old "fight or flight" mechanism. They may occur in a stressful situation or just out of the blue for no apparent reason at all and there's no saber toothed tiger outside the cave.
As nasty as they are, we can learn to manage and get through them until they decrease in frequency and intensity. In a future post I'll talk more about how and why the body does this. I think you'll find it both interesting and helpful. See you then.
Next Time: THE PHYSIOLOGY OF PANIC