Panic Attacks: One Symptom You Can’t Ignore
Panic Attacks Are Real
Panic attacks are episodes of intense physiological arousal accompanies by a fear of dying, going insane, or losing control. Panic attacks are the psychological condition that I have had the greatest success treating. They are often treated ineffectively when standard protocols are applied.
Most Panic Attacks Can be Easily Controlled
Very few treatment facilities have the ability to monitor the physiology of the person experiencing panic attacks. The key variable is usually the way in which carbon dioxide is expelled from the body prior to , and during, a panic attack. Once this variable is identified the problem can be corrected rather easily with a simple breathing technique, but it is not the one usually taught to patients.
The Physiology of a Panic Attack Can be Monitored
A capnometer is a piece of medical equipment that is usually used by an anesthesiologist to monitor a patient during surgery. It measures to saturation of oxygen and carbon dioxide in the blood stream. The key variable is the level of carbon dioxide. When the level of carbon dioxide in the blood stream drops it will likely produce a panic attack in those susceptible to them.
How Does a Drop in the Blood Level of Carbon Dioxide Produce a Panic Attack?
When a person exhales too much carbon dioxide it can change the ph (or acid/base balance) of the blood. This is one of the key things an anesthesiologist is measuring during surgery. When the ph changes too much the body rebels by becoming hyperaroused while blood flow is diverted from key areas of the brain. This is called respiratory alkalosis by medical professionals.
What Causes the Carbon Dioxide to Drop Before a Panic Attack?
The main reason a panic attack occurs in susceptible individuals is through maladaptive breathing, usually when under stress. The breathing can be too rapid, too deep, or both. In short, hyperventilation, breathing too much. Panic can also occur after frequent loud exhalations, or sighing. Again, when one is under stress. The least obvious cause is when you unconsciously hold or suspend you breath, then produce a loud exhalation.
Why Would Someone Be Prone to Panic Attacks?
Many people with panic attacks have an innate or inherited predisposition because they have a low tolerance for rapid changes in the amount of carbon dioxide in the blood. This system is regulated by a neurotransmitter called serotonin. This helps explain why antidepressant medication that regulates serotonin is so effective in treating panic disorder.
How to Stop a Panic Attack
Most panic attacks can be terminated by using a breathing technique I’ll refer to as Breath Holding. It is a three-step process described in my Extras section. In short, the first step is to take in a normal amount of air. Then you hold that air in your lungs for 2 seconds. Finally, and most importantly, you release the air slowly against resistance. Resistance is created by breathing out through the nose or through pursed lips -as if you were blowing out a match.
Note: This information is for the use of my patients to help them remember an assigned technique. It is not offered as treatment to others, but only for educational purposes.
How Can You Prevent Panic Attacks?
Learning how to relax effectively and avoid breathing in a more adaptive way is the key to preventing panic attacks. It will take some time – allow for eight weeks or so of daily practice. Refer to the section of Relaxation Therapies under Services for more information;.
The Toughest Part of Beating Panic Attacks
Reducing the apprehension about when the next panic attack will occur is the hardest task for most people. Once you see that you can terminate a panic attack and experience that control for a few times your self-confidence returns. Then you can begin to go back to those places where you previously experienced panic and win back your freedom. This should be done with the support and guidance of a good therapist. Claire Weeks, a prominent psychologist, termed this Fear of Fear in her insightful book.
Panic Attacks: Key Points
- Panic attacks are real, biological events.
- Panic attacks are a combination of multiple, sudden physical symptoms accompanied by great fear.
- You can learn to terminate most panic attacks in under 1 minute.
- The wrong type of breathing technique may actually provoke a panic attack.
- You can learn how to prevent panic attacks.
- Fear of having another panic attack is often the hardest part.
- Regaining self-confidence is important in overcoming panic disorder.