Luckily, for me I have only had one full panic attack in my life. I was on a ferry between the Thai mainland and one of the islands. As we left the harbour, suddenly the sea seemed incredibly rough. The boat started to crash over the waves and what in retrospect was quite funny, everyone started vomiting. The crew suddenly appeared and requested that all the families go on to the deck and at that moment it started,
what quite possibly was more distressing than the event itself. I was overwhelmed by a sudden intense wave of fear – chest pains, breathing difficulties, nausea, dizziness, terror, fear of dying, fear of losing control and to my amazement I felt unable to use my legs. I just sat, as if paralysed as the other passengers put on their life belt and went to the evacuation point. As the journey continued the sea calmed and the vomiting and panic subsided, I managed with the help of a friend to calm down.
In that example, there was an obvious trigger to my terror and you might argue that my response was justified. However, the outright panic I felt was one of the most unpleasant experiences I have ever had. Client’s that I have worked with often comment on the speed and intensity, at which the symptoms come. Panic attacks are no joke.
They arise from the primitive or childish part of our brain. This is the oldest part of the brain, the part we share with our ancestors. In primitive times, we would not have survived if we were not diligent for danger and able to respond quickly. The primitive part of the brain can send off the ‘fight or flight’ response. This is where is a split second we make a choice as to whether to run or fight. The brain then sets off a series of events, it produces hormones that increase our heart rate, get our muscles ready for action and redirect our blood supply to the parts of the body we need. What this feels like is pulse racing, shortness of breath, tingling in our feet and hands and the desire to go to the toilet. We are ready to fight to survive! Now, this was really helpful when we faced a tiger or a life threatening situation, but not when we open a bill or have to speak to someone difficult.
So, what can be done about it. It is amazing how the body and mind can adapt and learn. The first thing to do it to gain more of an understanding of what is going on in your brain and what you can do about it. To understand the role that your own thoughts have in the process, so that you can be aware of them, but not treat them as facts. The effect of going over and over one event is interpreted by the brain. How you can learn how to relax and with practice be able to utilise self hypnosis/relaxation skills whenever you need them. Hypnosis, uses the tremendous power of trance to allow the conscious and subconscious parts of the brain to focus on the same thing. Therefore, we would promote through hypnosis, you having the confidence to deal with whatever life throws at you.
This process needs to be centred around your needs and within a time frame that will ensure the changes that you make are going to be long term. Panic attacks do not have to be part of your life forever. This doesn’t happen by magic and you have to put in the work, but there could be a very different future in store for you.