Imagine this scenario: My heart is racing and seems to be bursting out of my chest, my breathing is accelerated, I'm sweating profusely and my hearing and vision have become acutely sharpened, blood flow to my hands and feet has decreased and is being redirected to my torso and deeper skeletal muscles, the pupils in my eyes have dilated and I have the sensation of being out of my body observing everything that's happening in slowed down speed. Whew! A major panic attack, right?
WRONG! Let's look at what was going on during that little scenario. I'm driving on the freeway maintaining a cruising speed of 80 mph, flowing with the traffic which is moderately heavy. Suddenly, three cars ahead a car blows a tire and spins out, crossing two lanes of traffic, causing the cars in front of me to swerve, almost hitting the cars in the lanes next to them. Instantly bouncing towards me is most of the tire that was shredded in the blowout. My immediate thought is "Holy s___, I'm dead!" Without thinking, I veer out of and back into my lane, avoiding the tire and likely death.
Surprisingly, my conscious mind didn't direct me to take those life-saving steps and would have been too slow to react. In fact, my last conscious thought was "Holy s___!" When the brain recognizes that danger is at hand, it flips the "emergency" switch and instantly activates the necessary response systems.
Remember I said I wasn't panicking on the freeway? Panic attacks happen at an illogical time when the brain is tricked into thinking there is immediate danger in the absence of any threat. Because panic is unexpected, it's frightening and induces anxiety which exaggerates the normal healthy emergency response, causing the anxiety to feed on itself. Panic tells us to focus on the body and worry about what will happen next, thus intensifying and prolonging the symptoms. Thinking about panic and fighting it actually interferes with the body doing what it automatically knows how to do. In short, we get in our own way.
The body has a remarkable ability to respond automatically to a threat but, unlike panic, it also knows when to shut down the emergency response and restore the natural balance between activity and rest. Panic disrupts this balance by sending false emergency signals to the brain.
So what do we need to remember to conquer panic when it sends a false alarm to the brain? Simply this: 1) You can trust your body and your unconscious mind to respond appropriately in a crisis. 2) The body has a calming response which is equally as powerful as the emergency response (more on this next time). 3) When your brain hits the panic button, you can consciously turn it off. 4) With practice, you can learn to take control of panic before it controls you.
Next Time: PANIC SURFING