If you have experienced a panic attack you have probably felt like the end was near since panic feels like utter despair, fright and doom to whomever it attacks.
However if we look at panic and anxiety attacks from a scientific, fact-based perspective we can start to defuse them from irrational, debilitating, racing thoughts.
Personally I found that understanding the “feels” of panic helps calm my fears about what is happening or may soon happen.
Remember that while it may feel like it at the time, you will not die from a panic attack. I have landed in the ER several times as a result of panic attacks that my logical mind knew was panic but my anxious mind made sure I thought was a heart attack.
Physiology of Fight-or-Flight
In the course of my treatment is has helped me greatly to understand the science – specifically the physiology – of panic attacks to help make sense of them as physical responses. After all, science is based in fact and I hope these facts will help you too.
Remember that all of the physical sensations of panic and heightened anxiety are because we are being prepared for a “fight-or-flight” response. This is a complex response from our brains reacting to a perceived threat. Over the course of our species’ survival it was critical to be ready to fight or run away from perceived threats from the time we were cave men to our relatively safer environments today.
Below are the more common panic attack physical sensations and how they map to our bodies’ fight-or-flight response courtesy of my lead therapist at an inpatient program:
- Racing Heart: The heart beats faster to pump blood to the muscles for extra energy and nutrients to enable a fight or flight response.
- Dry Mouth: Saliva production is slowed or stopped since it is a non-essential process for survival.
- Sweating: Occurs to regulate the core temperature in the body to ensure the body does not overheat.
- Bowel Problems: Due to the digestion system being slowed or stopped the intestines do not get the water intake needed to process food appropriately either slowing it down (constipation) or speeding it up (diarrhea).
- Muscle Tension: Adrenalin is pushed to the major muscles in the hands, arms, legs, and others to increase speed and strength to hit, kick or run away.
- Fidgeting: The energy boost to the muscles makes them ready for action.
I hope these scientist, fact-based explanations help you understand panic attacks whether you experience them or a loved one. See, it’s all psychical!
Courtesy of Warrior Mind Coach, http://www.warriormindcoach.com/blog/2014/12/30/fight-flight-negative-thoughts/
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