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The Recovery Expert
with Sharie Stines, Psy.D.

Managing Panic Attacks

Panic disorder is a self-perpetuating condition. It usually begins with one panic attack and then the memory of this one attack tends to cause subsequent fear and panic attacks; thus, feeding upon itself.

Once you develop the panic response you begin to fear having another one. This leads to panic disorder.

Many people believe that panic attacks are all in your head. This is a false belief. Rather, panic attacks are in your breathing, in your heartbeat, in your stomach, in your muscles; panic is a real physical fear (Carbonell, 2004).

And when you have the physical experience of fear, followed by the thought of being afraid, then you conclude the following: If I’m afraid, then I’m in danger. (Carbonell, 2004). You believe that your feelings are facts. Feelings are not facts, ever.

The perfect example of this is a scary movie.  Have you ever watched a scary movie and not felt scared? Cognitively, are you aware that during that movie you were actually not in any danger at all?  But, in spite of that realization, you were, indeed, scared. You most likely experienced anxiety during this movie. (Carbonell, 2004).

Thought suppression does not work. If someone tells you not to do something, you will most likely struggle with not doing it. The very idea of trying to suppress a thought will guarantee you won’t be able to stop thinking it. When you notice a panic attack beginning, most people try to suppress it. This strategy tends to back fire and fuel the problem rather than eliminate it. “That which you resist persists.” Don’t try to stop a panic attack because this will cause you to have a panic attack rather than not have one (Norman, 2017).

What to do instead:

  1. Understand that a panic attack is not really an attack at all. Rather, it is an innocent, overprotective, mistake.  Realize that it is the experience of your inner safety alarm system giving off a false alarm.
  2. Realize that even if you feel like you’re going crazy or are going to die, you are not going to go crazy or die from a panic attack. Think about it; have you ever heard of anyone dying from a panic attack? Read 1 above, you are simply having an over-reactive inner safety alarm system.
  3. Know that there is a pattern lying underneath the existence of your panic attacks. Body sensations create panicky thoughts and panicky thoughts create anxiety body sensations. This creates a positive feedback loop between your thoughts and body sensations. This is the panic attack cycle.
  4. Don’t try to fight a panic attack. The answer to panic attacks is counter-intuitive. Don’t fight or resist a panic attack, rather accept the “attack.” Embrace it. This helps eliminate it more quickly. In addition, accept that you will have setbacks as well, and when they come, embrace them wholeheartedly as well, telling yourself that everything is going to be fine, for this is your body simply having an over-exuberant protection system.
  5. In addition to embracing your panic attack, it is helpful to try to over-experience the panic attack experience. Try to force it to be more pronounced and more scary. Whatever you do, don’t tell yourself to relax. This counter-intuitive approach will work wonders on your panic problem.
  6. Learn how to prevent panic attacks altogether. Learn to make panic a non-issue in your life. This requires personal training on your part. You need to train yourself to respond to the panic symptoms calmly and confidently. Soothe yourself, rather than scare yourself with negative messages.

References:

Carbonell, D.A. (2004). Panic Attacks Workbook: A Guided Program for Beating the Panic Trick. Berkeley, CA: Ulysses Press

Carbonell, D.A. (2016). The Worry Trick. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Publications, Inc.

Clark, D.A., Beck, A. (2012). The Anxiety & Worry Workbook. New York, NY: The Guilford Press

Norman, M. (2017). Panic Attack Treatment: 2 Proven Techniques + 5 Must-Know Facts (New Research). Retrieved from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gnVdXN_iZsQ

Managing Panic Attacks


Sharie Stines, Psy.D

Sharie Stines, Psy.D. is a recovery expert specializing in personality disorders, complex trauma and helping people overcome damage caused to their lives by addictions, abuse, trauma and dysfunctional relationships. Sharie is a counselor at LIfeline Counseling & Education Inc., in Southern California (www.lifelinecounselingservices.org). Lifeline Counseling is a non-profit organization 501(c)(3) corporation. Sharie is also an abusive relationship recovery coach - therecoveryexpert.com

 


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APA Reference
Stines, S. (2020). Managing Panic Attacks. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 18, 2020, from https://pro.psychcentral.com/recovery-expert/2020/04/managing-panic-attacks/