Anxiety & Panic Attacks

Anxiety is a natural reaction to danger. Being human we often anticipate problems that never arrive or simple dread things we know are coming up. Anxiety can get out of control and becomes a problem for several reasons. One, people have too few ways they can calm their nervous systems when they need too. We call these self calming methods Resources. Resources can be external, like support of friends or pets, or internal, ways you know how to soothe yourself: baths, prayer/meditation, exercising. Two, when folks have grown up with anxious parents or had very difficult (frequently emotionally overwhelming) childhoods, their nervous systems are often out of balance. Three, people actually think that their anxiety protects them. The extreme of this is obsessive compulsive disorder where folks trust their worries to protect them by constantly double checking themselves in all sorts of ways. Medication can provide some braking power to the nervous system, but the research is clear that developing better capacities for self calming and recognizing obsessions for what they are, faulty thinking, helps the most.

I often say to people that panic attacks are about as common as the common cold, but people don’t know this because no one talks about them. Panic attacks are acute bouts of anxiety that cause rapid heart rate, sweating, and a feeling that something is profoundly wrong physically. That is why people will often go to the emergency room when they have their first panic attack. Panic Attacks are a normal emergency reaction happening when there is no real emergency, just a trigger from a worried mind. The adrenalin that rushes into the body is meant for you to run from a burning building, it part of the live saving fight/flight/freeze response. Panic attacks often begin during times of acute stress and then continue because they are such powerful conditioned responses. Once the reason is understood, breathing techniques can be learned that trick the nervous system into not pushing the emergency button. The panic attack is aborted and gradually the response fades because it is de-conditioned.