The purpose of this Panic Attack Self Help Guide is to give some insight into what panic attacks are and how anyone suffering with them can learn to reduce or eliminate them altogether.
If you could avoid panic or eliminating it altogether which would you prefer? Since panic attacks and generalized feelings of anxiety usually develop outside of our conscious awareness it’s difficult to avoid them because they show up before we can to do anything about them.
Anxiety in some ways is a totally appropriate response to what is going on around us. Especially if there’s a true danger to us physically. We need to be in a higher state of awareness when we’re faced with physical harm. This is also true for participating in sports activities, performing in front of a group, or some other situation where we need to be focused.
Having an understanding of how anxiety and panic develop and how they are perpetuated in our nervous system is helpful in learning to end them altogether.
Here’s a somewhat simplified explanation of how panic attacks develop:
The problem with anxiety occurs when this heightened state of awareness or feeling of anxiety continues over into our daily activities. A panic attack occurs when the sympathetic nervous system (the part of the nervous system that is responsible for the “fight or flight” syndrome) becomes activated for no clear reason. This often occurs from old memories of similar anxiety producing situations that are outside of our conscious awareness.
These memories have feelings attached to them, are stored in the brain and activated often enough for them to become habitual when certain stimuli are provided by the environment. When these memories and feelings are recalled over and over, consciously or subconsciously, they are hardwired into the brain in what are called “neural networks.” These networks are activated when a similar situation arises, or even when thinking about a similar situation arising. This results in a fight or flight response that generates the familiar symptoms of anxiety and panic attacks.
Whenever something occurs that begins to trigger a feeling of anxiety the neural network that’s been laid down in the brain during similar situations becomes activated and the person not only starts thinking about the initial situation that started the problem but also feels as if they are back in it. This becomes a feedback loop that makes the anxiety worse and eventually results in a full-blown attack.
In the next section of the Panic Attack Self Help Guide I’ll discuss a self-help panic attack treatment any person can do to reduce and even end anxiety and panic attacks.
How to Eliminate Panic Attacks
The key to eliminating panic and anxiety attacks is to use the knowledge of how the brain works and develop new, non-anxiety producing “neural networks” that will replace the old “anxious” ones. There’s a popular saying going around now that, “You are what you think about”….. Well it happens to be true!
Changing this self-perpetuating cycle is not the easiest thing to do because every situation, thought and feeling we’ve ever had has its own representation in our neural network. For a change to become permanent we need to alter the neural representations that are causing anxiety and panic attacks into ones that produce feelings of well-being.
The first important step is to understand and accept that you have a choice about how you think and how you feel at any given time. To be able to put this knowledge into action however, you have to learn to pay attention to what you’re thinking about and feeling, especially when the first signs of panic or anxiety appear.
Another necessary step is to begin taking some time each day to practice feeling calm. Use your innate ability to focus your concentration on relaxing your body and mind. An easy way to do this is find a comfortable place to sit or lie down, put on some relaxing music or use an ambient sound machine, close your eyes and take yourself to a place you’ve been before where you were relaxed and peaceful. Let yourself stay there for as long as it’s comfortable to do so. Fifteen minutes starting out is good. This reinforces the fact that you are able to feel calm.
Once you can spend 15 minutes in your “relaxed place” it’s time to use that place to start changing those patterns of anxiety and panic that are causing discomfort. When I was actively practicing Clinical Hypnotherapy a technique I often used was one you can actually do yourself. It’s really a self-hypnosis technique that allows your brain to develop alternate neural patterns to replace the anxiety and panic producing ones.
When your able to go to your “calm place” and remain there you’re ready to take it another step. Remember anytime you start to feel anxious during this “self therapy” session you can immediately go back to the calm place and relax again.
Now that you’re in your place of relaxation imagine yourself in a movie theater, or watching TV, whichever is easiest and most comfortable. There’s a still image of you on the screen. Then imagine yourself floating out to where you are watching yourself sitting in the chair watching the screen or the TV.
As you watch yourself watch the screen, allow the image of yourself on the screen to float back in time to the first, or earliest episode possible of the incident that started your feelings of panic, that when unchecked turn into a panic attack. Don’t try to make it happen. Just watch it happen like a movie or TV show and when the movie gets to that earliest incident let it continue to go back to just before the incident occurred.
Watch the movie as it moves from just before that earliest incident, through the incident and stops once the incident is over and you are feeling ok again. As you’re watching pay attention to reactions and the feelings of the you in the movie. If you start to feel panic or anxiety immediately blank out the screen and start over. If you need to, go back to your “calm place”. When you start over change some aspect of the movie like the screen color, the amount of light you’re noticing in the room or change from TV to movie or vice verse.
Once you’ve gone from the beginning to end of the movie watch yourself getting up from your seat and congratulating the you in the movie for being willing to help you overcome this problem. Give yourself praise and support for any improvement then watch yourself merge with the you in the screen and float back into your seat. You are still seeing this from a distance.
Then let the you that is at a distance merge back into the you sitting in the theater or watching the TV and imagine the next time you would expect to feel the same anxiety or panic. It’s ok if you still feel some sense of panic. If you do just repeat this self-therapy session as many times as you need to when you have the time until you’re where you want to be with the issue.
The most important thing is that you’re learning to recognize and take control of you thoughts and feelings on a moment to moment basis!
Panic attacks are negative thought and feeling habits that occur in response to some stimulus that’s been reinforced over time. We can eliminate them once we learn to pay attention to what we’re thinking and feeling on a moment by moment basis.
All of us are able to focus our attention to some degree. We get into trouble when we focus on negative thought processes and feelings. The self-help technique offered in this article is only one of many ways to learn how to manage what we allow into and out of our minds.
If you have debilitating panic attacks and find you aren’t able to use this technique for some reason, or it just doesn’t work for you……find a professional that’s experienced treating anxiety and panic disorders and go see them.
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