Panic attacks are becoming more common, they are on the increase with young people and in the workplace. It’s helpful to understand the impact they have on our body and why it occurs, understanding the reasons behind the physical reactions of panic helps to demystify the reactions and give you back some control.
Both anxiety and panic are normal evolutionary behaviour- we all experience them at points in our life and there is no need for concern, but if this happens more regularly or has a detrimental impact on your life then you may need to access support. No panic, a charity supporting panic attacks has lots of support information
Panic is a sudden intense response to normal thoughts or sensations, the ‘fight-or-flight’ response is engaged, adrenaline is released into your bloodstream, which causes these feelings of panic.
Evolutionarily panic is a good thing because it wakes you up immediately and helps you flee. So if we go back to prehistoric times when we had the threat of being attacked by a sabre-toothed tiger or similar the fight, flight or freeze response was necessary to keep us alive. But we don’t do so much fleeing these days, being the top of the food chain and all, it’s not so helpful when the internet crashes or the train is late. So with no actual physical threat, all the excess energy caused by the panic is detrimental to you, because where does it go besides round and round? This is the panic cycle that is so easy to get caught up in.
Our brain instantly decides the best way to deal with the perceived threat:
FIGHT: when we need to fight our way out of trouble (adrenaline)
FLIGHT: when we need to escape the danger (adrenaline)
FREEZE: when we need to be immobile and numb (adrenaline)
These are all normal responses to threat. When our brain learns that a response seems to work for us, then our brain will tend to always use that same response.
Below you can see the different ways the adrenaline can impact your body, during a panic attack you may have some or all these responses.
Understanding this is a physical reaction can be the first step to learning coping strategies and ways to re programme our brain to deal with situations in a different way. We have learnt over recent years that you can build new neuropathways in our brains, with time and practice we can notice and react to situations with healthier outcomes.
Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, relaxation, breathing techniques and physical exercise can all help, alongside self care to build your self esteem and ability to change your reactions to anxiety and life's challenges.