Firstly, we need to understand why we can suffer periods of extreme panic to know how to gain control over them. Secondly, we can look at how hypnotherapy for panic attacks can remove the underlying causes of distress.
Panic attacks – what are they?
Panic attacks are an exaggerated version of the body’s natural response to danger. Often characterised by an intense feeling of fear, stress or panic, they may appear from nowhere, lasting anywhere from a few seconds to several hours.
Signs we are suffering a panic attack
Although each of us will experience an attack differently, the brain flooding the body with the stress chemicals adrenaline, cortisol and norepinephrine will produce some common symptoms. These usually appear rapidly and can include:
- rapid breathing, hyperventilation, breathlessness
- heart palpitations and/or racing heart
- sweating, dizziness and nausea
- chest pain, chest tightness
- a dry mouth and/or a choking feeling
- confusion/thoughts of death
So, what can cause a panic attack?
Our general level of anxiety is a major contributor towards the likelihood of having a panic attack. For some people anxiety can increase during transition periods in life, such as changing schools, entering the work place, moving home, relationship breakups etc. For others, there seems to be no link to what’s happening in life. So it isn’t the events that can cause the feeling of crisis, otherwise we’d all be suffering all of the time. It’s more to do with our thinking.
Every negative thought we have increases our anxiety and too much of that anxiety can create the conditions for panic. Anxiety implies danger to the brain, so a high level of anxiety will mean the brain will always be on the look-out for the source of that danger, keeping us within touching distance of that heightened state of panic.
So, it’s an unfortunate truth that we may be contributing to the problem simply because of our thoughts. Thankfully there’s much we can do to help the situation. First, let’s remember that during a panic attack it’s very difficult to think clearly and to act calmly because the resources of the brain will have moved away from the intellectual, thinking part and headed toward the stress centre. Second, we need to have good coping mechanisms in place now, so that as soon as an attack starts we know what to do to lessen the effects and restore calm.
Here are 5 of the most effective panic attack coping mechanisms that you can try
1 – Focus on breathing
When the first effects of a panic attack begin to show, either standing up or sitting down, immediately focus on your breathing. Concentrate on the air going in and out of the lungs. Taking deep breaths and holding each one for three seconds before breathing out, will counteract the fast breathing/hyperventilation which is often associated with a panic attack. The deep breaths will send extra oxygen to the brain for clarity of thought and our tensed muscles will begin to relax. If we continue this, we will convince the brain there is no danger and the feeling of calm will start to return.
2 – Exercise
Adrenaline and cortisol are released into the body during a panic attack so, rather than allowing the stress hormones to build up in the blood and keeping us in that state of extreme emotional arousal, we can utilise the hormones constructively. By going for a brisk walk, a run, a session at the gym or anything which requires some moderate physical exertion, we can use those hormones to fuel that exercise. Endorphins will also be released into the body, which will make us feel happier and reduce the feeling of panic.
3 – Continue as we are
Despite the intensity of the experience, panic attacks are not a sign that something is wrong with the body. However difficult it may be, if we can keep in mind that a panic attack is not something more sinister, then carrying on as normal will ensure we don’t add to the panic. If we avoid certain activities, or places during a panic attack, then we can actually increase the risk of promoting further attacks. The brain may link danger with the place we avoid, therefore continuing to ensure that we panic whenever we visit that same place or do that same activity.
4 – Notice everything around us
When we experience a panic attack our attention is narrowed almost exclusively onto ourselves, because, in nature, that would be necessary for our own safety and survival. However, if we can try to notice what’s happening around us and what others are doing, we can open up our attention span to allow the brain to recognise that there is no danger. To do this, notice where you are; what people around you are doing; what they’re wearing; what noises or conversations you can hear in the background; what the time is; what the weather’s like; think about what you’ve got planned for the rest of the day and who you’ll be meeting. The more sensory detail we add, the quicker we move from our inward focused selves and away from the panic toward being calmer.
5 – Watch something funny on YouTube
In a state of panic the majority of the brain’s resources are diverted to the stress centre, so moving them back into the intellectual part is absolutely necessary. One of the best ways to do this is to watch something which causes us to smile. The muscle that pulls the face into a smile is stimulated when the brain is in a state of happiness. When we smile naturally, it’s a sign the resources have moved away from the panic, fear and anxiety regions, and back into the intellectual part, converting into positive emotions. The more we practise this, the better the brain learns how to do it and the quicker the response, which means the quicker we overcome the panic attack.
Creating our own way of controlling a panic attack
Creating our own way of coping can give us an added feeling of control, as it is control which seems to disappear when in a state of panic. Ask yourself now:
- What would I notice that would let me know I was coping better with a panic attack?
- What difference would that make to me?
- How would I know I was coping better?
- What would others notice about me if I was coping just a little better?
We can then begin to build a picture of what coping looks like to us and understand what works best for us.
Can hypnotherapy for panic attacks help?
Yes, it can. We know that a high level of general anxiety can be a trigger for a panic attack, so reducing the level of anxiety is absolutely vital. Since negative thinking is a major cause of anxiety, we can begin to create calm by moving away from negative to more positive thoughts. Ultimately, prevention is better than cure, so by focusing on how we would like our life to be and directing the resources of the brain towards achieving that, we can create new, beneficial neural pathways in the brain, preventing the triggering and reoccurrence of panic attacks.