Panicking about Panic - Chapter Read
1.2 Why am I panicking and where did this come
Constant overwhelming anxiety,
quite unsurprisingly, is caused by the sufferer getting into a habit of too
much worry. Over time excessive and continual worry creates a chemical
imbalance within our bodies causing constant, unmeasured amounts of adrenaline
and other chemicals to be released into our systems. These chemicals, in any measure,
can and will cause noticeable changes in us both physically and mentally
- particularly when adrenaline is released in large amounts on a frequent
It's important to explain that
quite often our biggest worry during these times is the constant awareness of
feeling different from our usual selves and in a lot of cases feeling a
detachment from our surroundings. This is called entering states of depersonalisationand
derealisation. These symptoms can be extremely discomforting and can
often leave us feeling frightened. We can find ourselves rapidly foraging for
an answer to the newly found problem - striving for order and an explanation
for a feeling that we currently feel clueless about.
Like I mentioned before, the main
culprit for these feelings is the wonderful chemical adrenaline - with the aid of other released bodily chemicals
such as cortisol. These chemicals are primarily responsible for leading us into
episodes of extreme panic, hypersensitivity, lucid derealisation and triggering
concern about other physical symptoms. Adrenaline isn't a chemical to be feared
however, it just needs to be understood.
Further to adrenaline affecting
our bodies, when anxiety and panic strike frequently and continuously over time,
it begins to over-stimulate our nervous systems. An over-stimulated nervous
system sets us on high alert mode and it's more than common to feel hyperaware,
hypersensitive and overly conscious of 'dangers' in our surroundings and even
within our bodies. It's easy to become overly aware of our anxiety, our
panic and how different we currently feel from our usual selves.
I realise that up to now there's
a lot to take in, so let's break it down. Go to the next page for a simplified
Breaking it down:
v Poor thought patterns and a bad behavioral
routine cause the body to release excessive amounts of adrenaline.
v Adrenaline causes various changes within our
bodies and eventually causes a chemical imbalance.
v Over time a constant flow of adrenaline
causes us to become hypersensitive and hyperaware of ourselves and our surroundings
(Fight or Flight response).
v Adrenaline and hypersensitivity can cause us to
experience episodes of depersonalisation and derealisation.
v Over time our nervous systems become over-
stimulated making us further prone to anxiety and panic. We begin to panic
about why we feel the way we do.
v We begin to panic about the other symptoms anxiety
can cause (refer to symptoms list).
v We're stuck in a loop of worrying and
panicking about our well-being and attaching our own reasoning to why we feel
the way we do.
It may sound unmeasured, but all
you need to know is that you have an anxiety problem. Or to put it in
other words, you're failing to understand and accept what adrenaline is doing
to your body. I'd suspect that almost all of your problems revolve around how
you and your body react to dumps of adrenaline and how you re-enact negative
thought and behaviour habits.
everyone experiences doses of adrenaline on a frequent basis. It is a normal
bodily chemical that helps us function as human beings by triggering our 'fight
or flight' response. However, when it becomes excessive - particularly when
caused by stress, negative thoughts and behaviors - it can easily turn into a
daily anxiety or panic problem. Instead of our days being 'normal' they can
turn into prolonged battles against our own mind and body which is nothing
short of exhausting.
It is of
absolute importance to understand and accept that an anxiety problem and
frequent panic attacks don't just occur overnight; it is the result of
something that has built up over time. This could have started by worrying
about personal and subjective issues, or triggered by a life event causing a
traumatic effect on the body.
worries aren’t dealt with or solved, they then
unknowingly accumulateon top of
one another, causing the sufferer to reach their peak in terms of being in an
anxious state. The sufferer (you) is stuck in a constant fluctuation between
high anxiety and panic.
worries then often evolve into new worries that revolve around
well-being and the concept of suffering from a mental health condition, i.e.
‘going insane’. Free-flowing adrenaline is
being released in copious amounts - causing all sorts of changes both
physically and mentally - and we're left in a bit of a mess. The next section
goes into this in more detail.
But wait a
second. A pretty grounded person would be intelligent enough to work out these
feelings and emotions themselves, so why not do just that?
would be a colossal error.
common trap for many people when acknowledging something is wrong to then
attempt to use seemingly harmless logic to try to 'solve' the anxiety problem.
Another common trap is to simply wait for the feelings to go away.
‘working it out’ is just another worry added onto
a giant smorgasbord of worries that we previously had. Panic then sets in
because we have waited more than enough time for these feelings to disappear,
but alas they linger and appear to become stronger than ever!
make things even more complicated, the physical symptoms that come hand in hand
with worry start to appear. The headaches, stomach cramps, reality distortion,
racing heart beats, shortness of breath, dizziness and sweating to name a mere
few. What an even greater mess!
To put it
simply, our anxiety is caused by a simple imbalance in the body caused by
continuous stress or trauma. Adrenaline and other chemicals are released in
disproportionate amounts causing us to feel strange and hypersensitive to
aches, pains, other bodily changes and what's happening in our environment. Our
nervous systems become over-stimulated, which further puts us on high alert and
sensitive to changes in ourselves and our environment. However, as many of us
are unaware of this, we are stuck worrying and questioning the way we feel and
why we feel so scared. We become victims to our own hypersensitivity.
The Loop of Peaking Anxiety
extremely important to understand that you don't just wake up with full blown
anxiety. It is a condition that reveals its true colors over time and is often
only consciously identifiable at it ‘speak.
This means that the working cogs of your anxiety condition were put into motion
at some point in the past and it is only now that you are aware that something
is wrong because your anxiety is peaking.
explain why anxiety and panic attacks crop up from seemingly nowhere(my first
panic attack struck when I was making a cup of tea at work). The peak of
anxiety is often represented by sudden waves of anxiety, panic and an onslaught
of the symptoms aforementioned at the start of this book. These symptoms can be
ever present, they can also 'come and go', or they can be completely new to the
sufferer as a result of a stressful week.
result is a loop of anxious thoughts and relentless
worry - something which I have labeled The
Loop of Peaking Anxiety. I will use this diagram to provide more clarity:
below the Medium level you would class as 'normal' anxiety - the worries
that warrant an anxious response to issues found on a day to day basis. Note
that even a high level of anxiety is normal, but when our anxiety exceeds this
we are at risk of being struck with panic.
it is common for many anxiety victims to be stuck fluctuating between high
anxiety and panic, with the result being a traumatic ‘loop’ effect. Suddenly
the normal day-to-day worries are not at the forefront of priorities anymore,
with them being replaced by worries about our well-being and this newly formed
anxiety being channeled through an electrical plug. The electrical plug has a
fuse which represents your body’s coping mechanisms. The
more stress and worrying thoughts that you pile on yourself, then the stronger
the power the plug’s fuse has to deal with.
and worry slowly builds up until your body simply can’t take anymore. The fuse blows, the circuit
shuts down and you’re left in a confused mess trying
to work out what exactly just happened. You can’t operate like you used to anymore because
there is nothing to control all of this surging ‘power’.
coping mechanisms - which consist of positive rationalization, your body’s ability to maintain a chemical balance and
the familiar feeling of accepting what you’re used to – have completely gone, thus
unveiling a bizarre world of terror and confusion. You are left to work out an
answer to an unsolvable puzzle. You start to question why you feel the way you
do, why it happened, finding your own irrational solutions etc. You can become stuck within the infamous loop! Fear not as
this is easily fixed with the power of understanding.
To the unaware sufferer it can be very
difficult to 'return' or settle down to normality again. It's not uncommon that
people have lived with anxiety for years, stuck in the same looping habit of
questioning why they feel the way they do, or just waiting for the feelings and
thoughts to disappear.
victims, including myself at one time, make it depressing routine to constantly
self-analyze – firstly checking how we feel, then scanning our bodies for signs
that there is something wrong. We do this because we’re stuck in the loop of peaking anxiety.
resign ourselves to thinking we have an incurable, psychological condition
because frankly we often conclude that nothing seems to be working. What we don’t fully realize is that we’re thinking out of fear and consciously looking for reasons to provide fabrication and
meaning for this fear. One of the worst mistakes I made was to wake up and
immediately think “Do I feel better
today?!” Funnily enough I didn't.
in a loop at the peak of your anxiety is debilitating, depressing and awfully
scary. However, use the knowledge of why you feel this way to provide a small,
comforting degree of inner content. You are not going insane and in fact what
you’re experiencing is alarmingly
common. What’s also assuring is that what your body is
doing is only natural, so no matter how long you’ve had this condition I can assure you
nothing ‘bad’ will happen as a result of it.
You could be anxious for the next one hundred years and your death would not be
directly anxiety related.
how many times you lose your breath, feel your heart pounding, lose your
balance, feel lightheaded or focus on an abnormality; remember that the anxiety
will not kill you. Anxiety is harmless and merely tricks you into thinking the
world is crumbling around you and that you’re dying a depressing, isolated death.
explains what's exactly happening to you and your body during episodes of high
anxiety and panic. With the power of understanding you will realize that what
is happening does not warrant the fear that accompanies it.
Why does an anxiety problem start?
two simple reasons why anxiety starts and later becomes horribly excessive:
cause is a basic one and that's human habit. When we get into a habit of
worrying and constantly troubling ourselves with undesirable thoughts, this
eventually takes its toll on the body. Have you ever been labeled a ‘worrier’? Or know somebody in your life who you would
deem to be a worrier?
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy tells us that obsessive worrying about certain
thoughts is just the inability to detach from or let go of a thought. If you
cannot let go or lessen the importance of a thought, then the worry that
accompanies it simply just sticks around striving for attention and piling up
with other worries.
We get into
a habit of worrying until the body becomes disturbed, causing all of this
anxiety and its army of symptoms to occur. It took a very long time for me to
acknowledge and admit to myself that I was a worrier. It required me to study
my thought patterns for a long time.
cause is trauma. Trauma starts the anxiety problems in a similar fashion to the
first cause, except it skips the buildup and gives your body a raging fireball
to deal with. Referring back to the analogy before, trauma basically tries
pushing the equivalent of the national grid through the ‘plug socket’ causing
an immediate blowout.
usually started by an unexpected incident in life where the body is put into
shock. I,e, the death of a loved one, personal injury or illness, exposure to a
fear, loss of job, divorce, adultery, and so on. Your coping mechanisms are
wiped out and become non-existent. You perceive life differently compared to
before the trauma, and unsurprisingly your body has a major chemical imbalance.
You feel different and of course you now want to know why.
extremely important part of your recovery to acknowledge exactly where the
anxiety has come from and why it is happening to you. It takes a lot of bravery
to admit to yourself that perhaps you were doing something self-inflicting -
particularly if you're a pretty self-assured person who thinks you have a large
degree of self-control in your life.
unfortunately developed my anxiety as a young man with a pretty large ego. What
I failed to acknowledge is that my thought patterns were very negative and
damaging in terms of affecting my mental health. I developed anxiety as a result
of a poor mental routine and then eventually having to deal with a shocking
life event. I will explain more about my story later on in this book.
1.3 Anxiety is Adrenaline and a Sensitive Nervous
think the most influential factor in my recovery was forming an understanding
of what was actually happening during the episodes of high anxiety and panic.
Of course I was aware of the more obvious related symptoms such as the racing
thoughts, a fast heart rate, difficulty maintaining steady breathing, light
headedness and the odd aches and pains. But the real panic came from wondering
where these symptoms actually came from and why they were
happening to me.
Unfortunately, I made the
ultimate mistake by falling into one of anxiety’s most formidable traps. I
began to fear anxiety. I began to fear feeling panicky and feeling
different - something which firmly fixes you within the clutches of anxiety.
In section 1.2, I explained about
how anxiety builds up, and when we let it build up enough we can easily become
caught in the loop of peaking anxiety.
We begin to dwell on frightening thoughts, which in turn adds to our overall
anxious state. When we feel anxious our body reacts to these anxious and
frightening thoughts by releasing chemicals such as adrenaline and cortisol.
Adrenaline is a funny little
chemical. It is great in times of danger and acts as a great defence mechanism
for the body by triggering our 'fight or flight' response. However, when we are
stuck in a habit of dwelling on frightening thoughts in a situation where
'fight or flight' isn't needed then adrenaline seems to become our adversary.
Our brain and adrenal gland start
to work together by releasing plenteous amounts of adrenaline at times where we
don't need it - thus causing our bodies to react to the adrenaline,
causing all of these strange symptoms to appear and temporarily alter our
perception of reality. It is the thoughts that keep triggering the
adrenal gland to release these chemicals. It is the negative thoughts - not the
will for the feeling to stop - that keep the adrenaline pumping.
Think about it. Can you recall
how you felt the last time you dealt with a large dose of adrenaline? Try and
recall how much you were stuck in your own head the minutes before a job
interview, a risky operation or even something leisurely like a first date.
Adrenaline is pumping through your system and all you seem to focus on is the
situation that is imminent and directly in front of you. It's exactly the same
when we are stuck with an anxiety problem.
Adrenaline and other bodily
chemicals swim around our veins - affecting everything that we're used to
during a 'normal' day - and we're left worrying and questioning why we feel so
different and why we are constantly worrying. There appears to be no
plausible danger in front of us, yet our body prepares us for one by constantly
triggering the 'fight or flight' response. This inevitably lead me to become
stuck in the 'Loop of Peaking Anxiety'. Never underestimate the power of
thoughts and how they affect the body over time.
Constantly worrying about why I
felt the way I did just led to my body constantly releasing adrenaline into the
bloodstream. Over time the worry inevitably lead to the intense presence of
stress both mentally and physically. This caused yet more worry because I then
started to focus on the physical changes my body was going through.
Adrenaline causes all sorts of
changes within the body, and over time it's usually responsible for all sorts
of strange and wonderful things that can occur. It is extremely important to
know that, in relation to anxiety, adrenaline can be found to be primarily
Continuous Adrenaline can cause:
v Increase in
heart rate / palpitations / pounding chest ("Fight or Flight")
v Sudden and
continuous sense of derealisation / detachment from surroundings
v Racing, looping
thoughts ("Fight or Flight")
maintaining steady breathing / shortness of breath ("Fight or
v Dizziness /
Light headedness / vision distortion
sweating / Hot flushes
v Muscle Tension
("Fight or Flight")
v Panic Attacks
I recall dwelling on constant
headaches, abdominal pains, lack of sleep and why my surroundings felt detached
from me. Furthermore, I used to focus obsessively on an array of symptoms found
in the symptom list at the start of
the book. Everything felt different from what it used to be like and I needed
to know why. The difficulty was that I didn't accept that these feelings would
only be temporary if I allowed the adrenaline and cortisol to run it’s course
and let my body restore a chemical balance.
The solution that we strive for
is so simple, but we all can fall victim to our racing thoughts and pay too
much attention to them. If we just allow adrenaline to run its course, then the
feeling of normality will eventually return. 'Normality' returns faster and
faster the more we get used to paying our negative thoughts and feelings zero
When anxiety is
at its highest - where worrying thoughts, stress, tiredness and a damaging
routine have taken their toll - we experience something called a panic attack.
A panic attack can also occur when exposed to shock, sudden trauma or being
exposed to something that scares us.
A lot of people
use the term as a means of exaggeration when in conversation. For example, 'Wow
you scared me! You almost gave me a panic attack!' would undoubtedly be
something that you've heard in your lifetime. An actual panic attack however
feels nothing short of terrifying to the person who is experiencing it.
A panic attack
is when an intense feeling of fear, dread, loss of control and entrapment
overwhelms a person. There is usually no identifiable trigger and they seem to
strike from seemingly nowhere (you have learned that this is untrue).
Accompanying these feelings are thoughts of an imminent disaster, impending doom
and even the fear of sudden death. The number of anxiety victims I have spoken
to who have ended up in the emergency room with no explainable symptoms borders
on the absurd!
A panic attack
leads you down roads of irrational thinking, where even the most intelligent of
people are forced to feel and believe in the most unlikely of outcomes. I used
to whirl up in a panic over a chest flutter, head ache, differences in
breathing, stomach cramps, detachment from surroundings, I.e. I will explain
more in the next section entitled Rationality and Worst Case Scenarios.
these feelings are other physical symptoms that occur when panic has struck. A
panic attack causes our muscles to tense up, our peripheral vision to shut down
(tunnel vision) and alters the way we breath - tricking us into thinking we're
not getting enough oxygen. It also causes light headedness, dizziness and
sometimes nausea. Below are the main symptoms and feelings that occur during a
Sudden and intense fright.
A sense of derealisation / detachment from
Pounding or thumping chest
Fast heart rate
Difficulty maintaining a steady pace of
An overwhelming urge to 'escape' or run away.
thinking. I.e. Am I going to die? Is this a heart attack? I must have a
serious condition like cancer.
Chest fluttering / heart palpitations
Racing thoughts and confusion
The urge to do anything but be stationary.
I.e. pace the room or squeeze an object.
The need to ‘escape’
A panic attack
can occur when the body releases a large amount of unexpected adrenaline into
the bloodstream. I mentioned before that adrenaline can cause all sorts of
changes both physically and mentally, so if we're unprepared or 'caught off guard'
by a newly released dump of adrenaline, then it could be expected of us to
panic about this sudden change.
The panic comes
from the confusion about what
is happening and this works in tandemwith a belief that you cannot cope.
Adrenaline actually causes our minds to race and be filled with all sorts of
thoughts and conclusions as to why we're panicking and why we're
explain why so many people are convinced that they're having a heart attack, or
that they're going insane, or that they have an incurable condition, and so on.
It is the adrenaline that affects our rationality during these periods of
panic, thus causing them to turn into prolonged panic attacks.
attacks don't last forever because the adrenal gland finally becomes exhausted
and cannot release any further adrenaline. The reader should take comfort in
the fact that a panic attack cannot last forever because of this and the
feeling of normality will return - at least until the adrenal gland has
recharged and we may unknowingly fall back into the same repetitive thought
Let's take a
look at the Anxiety and the Peak diagram from 1.1 and explore how panic
attacks tie in with the loop of peaking anxiety:
Instead of our anxiety and panic
‘looping’, a panic attack occurs when we’re struck with a feeling of constant
fear. To the person who experiences it the feeling can often feel like the fear
is escalating or ‘getting worse’. This is purely psychosomatic because a panic
attack occurs at the peak of an adrenal outpour. In other words, and on a
comforting note, once you’re having a panic attack it can’t get any ‘worse’
than when the attack initially strikes.
I, like many
others, suffered my first panic attack in a situation where it appeared to
creep up from seemingly nowhere. I was on my break at work, pouring myself a
cup of tea, when I was suddenly struck and overwhelmed by a feeling of
detachment from my surroundings. My breathing started to alter and I
immediately felt worried as this feeling seemed so different to me. I
inevitably started to panic; then I started to panic because I didn't know why
I was panicking. I wanted normality to come straight back to me because I
didn't feel in control of a situation where I usually am in control.
Simply put, a
panic attack is just a chosen reaction to an unwanted dose of adrenaline.
Stress, anxiety, fatigue, poor diet and lack of sleep lead to an imbalance
within the body and our nervous systems to become over-stimulated. This causes
adrenaline to be released after the slightest, almost unnoticeable trigger.
knowledge and I assure you the next panic attack will not be half as bad. Since
I learned this, the panic attacks became less and less intense and the duration
decreased over a relatively short amount of time. I will provide further
information and advice on dealing with panic attacks in the next part of this
Rationality and Worst Case Scenarios
One of the most profound
stumbling blocks that occur when trying to tackle anxiety is falling prey to
our emotions and states of irrationality. When high states of panic and anxiety
arise, a common thing we do as human beings is to try to work out what exactly
is happening in order to make sense of a situation that can appear very
It is extremely important to
acknowledge and realize that when anxiety is present, our normal sense of rationality
can be massively distorted. Our thinking can become predominantly irrational
due to the adrenaline that's flowing through our veins and implementing change
in our bodies. We can become frightened at the possibility of something
horrendous happening in any given situation. Trying to think rationally in
‘fight or flight’ mode is extremely tricky.
Take these scenarios for example:
you're at home alone at night and you hear a loud bang, the first thing that
commonly comes to mind is thinking is there an intruder in the house? Other
examples include the scenario of your child not coming home on time, or the
boss calling you in for an unexpected meeting.
We are plagued by the frightening
thoughts of our child being abducted, or the boss handing out our notice. When
thinking about these situations using a calm sense of rationality, we could
come to more likely conclusions such as the noise actually being a falling
object, our child's bus only running late and the boss just wanting to give you
a new task relating to work.
These situations are usually
resolved in due time and we commonly enter a quick state of relief due to these
frightening possibilities not becoming a reality. However, this is where
anxiety can cripple us. Anxiety can seemingly force us into believing
irrational scenarios (such as those mentioned above) even when we aren't faced
with such scenarios. We can begin to fabricate our own scenarios with our own
devised, variable outcomes for that certain situation. Let me explain further.
Say for example we were suffering
from a persistent headache, but we didn't suffer from an anxiety
problem. Our thought spread may look similar to this:
Each of the
thought conclusions represents a common form of rationale with at least one of
them likely to be the answer or 'solution'. Using a balanced sense of rationale
we can almost conclude that the cause of the headache is down to one of the
thoughts/possibilities above. Everyone experiences headaches at some point and
they are almost always no cause for immediate concern.
Now let us look
at how a high state of anxiety can affect a person’s use of rationale using the
same headache scenario used above. Below is another thought spread representing
how anxiety can cause us to believe in the scariest but unlikeliest of
Look at how
anxiety can distort and change the thinking process when dealing with a
scenario. The first headache scenario shows how a calm sense of rational
thinking can help us find a quick conclusion to a situation. However the one
above represents when something as simple as a headache can quickly develop
into an anxious problem. The headache in this situation has now turned into a
worry and thus has caused more
The thinking process in the second diagram actually creates a
twofold problem. When we are anxious we look to attach reasoning to the anxiety
to help us understand why we feel the way we do. The more extreme the anxiety,
then the more extreme the worst case scenario appears to be.
Using the previous example, the headache is assumed to be
something that's potentially dangerous and frightening - a worst case scenario.
Not only has anxiety lead us to this scary and irrational conclusion, but we
have also added a further worry to an already stressed mind and body. This can
be applied to any situation or worry including suffering from anxiety itself.
It's interesting to see what happens when we put anxiety itself as
the variable in our scenario. Instead of using the headache as our scenario try
and replace it with 'adrenaline' and explore the possibilities.