Panic Attacks

Sometimes anxiety turns to panic, and panic attacks are terrifying. I have not had a panic attack but have talked to many people who have. The one commonality in people who have experienced a panic attack is they never want it to happen again. I remember cleaning out my mother's dresser after she died. She had a bottle of Xanax with 1 pill remaining. The prescription was years old and I'm certain the medication had long expired. But she had at one time experienced a panic attack, and like many people, saved that last pill just in case.


Most episodes of panic occur during periods of stress. Typically, it is ongoing stressors that have been occurring for months and the panic attack is the proverbial "straw that broke the camel's back". It is important to recognize that panic attacks are the result of cumulative stress rather than the result of what you happen to be doing at the moment. I have seen panic attacks lead phobias when someone makes an association between what they are doing and the episode of panic. For example, I live near a 25 mile bridge and when you get on the bridge you have plenty of time to allow your mind to wander. It is easy to get lost in thought and some of the subconscious thoughts that drift through your mind are stressful. When a panic attacks occurs as a result of a subconscious thought while you are driving on a bridge, most people will blame the bridge for the panic attack. A single panic attack on a bridge often leads to a bridge phobia. And this is really problematic if you live in New Orleans where you can't really avoid bridges. More importantly it is problematic because you begin to focus on your fear of bridges rather than the stress that is causing the panic attack in the first place.


If you have had a panic attack it is important to look at the event in the context of ongoing stress. One of my mentors advised me to look for "estrangement in relationships" of any person who has recently experienced a panic attack. By estrangement, she meant any distance or change in connection. This could be a in mother/daughter relationship where the daughter was getting married or going off to college. It could be in a marital relationship where there was infidelity. And often times the estrangement is outside the person's conscious awareness. So a woman may be experiencing panic attacks because her husband is contemplating divorce even though she is not consciously aware he is thinking about divorce.


When you are having a panic attack, the first thing you need to do it get through the experience. There are many techniques you can employ to help get you through. See the links below for specific techniques.


10 Techniques To Help You Survive A Panic Attack



Once you are out of the woods, you need to take a deep dive into the ongoing stress. Although medication can manage panic attacks, only you make the necessary lifestyle changes that will reduce the level of stress in your life. The body doesn't lie. If you are having panic attacks, you are under stress and need to make some changes in your life. If you are unaware of what is the source of stress, take notice of your thoughts. If you are unaware of any stress thoughts, psychotherapy can be helpful in helping you identify the underlying cause.

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