Do you ever feel like your heart is racing, you’re sweating profusely, and there’s an elephant sitting on your chest? Congratulations! You may have just experienced a panic attack. Don’t worry; we’ve got your back (for now). In this article, we’ll break down what happens during a panic attack because knowledge is power (and also because Google wasn’t helpful enough).
What Is a Panic Attack?
Before anything else, let’s discuss what a panic attack really means. A panic attack is not merely feeling worried or stressed; it’s actually much more complicated than that.
A panic attack refers to intense bouts of overwhelming fear or anxiety responses that come out of nowhere and peak in minutes. These attacks can mimic surges of energy coursing through your body—think: incoming wave tsunami-ing across every part of you at once—that make it very challenging to remain mindful and in control.
Panic attacks manifest differently for everyone but might include symptoms such as shortness of breath, dizziness, nausea (definitely no rounds!) or stomach pain (unless it’s pain from laughing too hard).
Who Can Experience Panic Attacks?
Anyone who experiences stress or anxiety levels higher than usual can experience panic attacks. However, several other factors may contribute to their likelihood to occur:
- Genetics – if someone in your family has depression or anxiety issues
- Traumatic life events – vehicle accidents(we insist strongly against drunk driving), divorce papers stamping by court clerk(or burnt form 16/17 being used as confetti)
- Stressful life changes – moving countries(divorce again?), job loss(what independence day are those people celebrating huh?)
- Certain medications – sometimes medicine intended for one thing could end up having side effects too(oopsie!)
But don’t get us wrong-if none of these apply to you and you’re still experiencing panic attacks, there’s a possibility it could be due to your environment or simply the way your brain operates.
Ok Stop. Wait! But why Me?
Panic attacks occur when individuals experience unusual stress levels of anxiety in their day-to-day life. Several causes may include:
- Poor stress management – procrastination is fun until deadlines arrive
- Being too critical / self-doubt(internal anxiety)
- Existential questions that make us despair what are we even doing here
- Personality–type – some folks have an innate propensity for experiencing more bouts of nervousness than others
(Don’t blame yourself if you’re someone who worries often; either embrace it as a strength or learn methods to cope).
What Happens In Your Brain During A Panic Attack?
A decade ago (or even now if like me, time moves slower for you inside pandemic environments), researchers identified amygdala as the part of the brain responsible for emotions like fear/anxiety. Located deep within our grey matter lies Bilbo Baggins’ precious sapphire-the amygdala which (under normal circumstances) dictates accurate responses necessary when faced with scary stimuli such as being chased by lions (unlikely unless they’re from birds kingdom)
However, during a panic attack episode(like this never-ending situation), studies suggest that not only is your amygdala alerting other parts of your brain about potential danger but several other neural mechanisms get affected too.
Hippocampus—dubbed ‘headquarters’—declares full-on system emergency alerts signals throughout the entire body upon detecting emergencies(hopefully not mundane ones like forgetting where we park cars).
When these three areas are activated together -amygdala, hippocampus and hypothalamus-forming our region’s trusty ‘fight or flight response’ duo
Oh ermm “Fight” or “Flight”? We need to choose? Surely, as modern city dwellers, we have a third choice -“Avoidance”!
Why “Fight or Flight” Response Comes Up
After finding out your alarm system’s sensors(amygdala-hippocampus-hypothalamus) are warning you of emergency situations, and the “fight/flight response duo” is called into action.
The hypothalamus foundation’s primary job now takes up driving gear with our trusty adrenal glands stepping in to inject adrenaline (epinephrine) into our veins.
Nothing goes unnoticed and unprepared here: Next comes norepinephrine release which speeds heart rate & narrows arteries(cue sweaty palms)improving focus but even better suppressing appetite for trivial things like food because who cares about amuse-bouches when lions(kind off!) or your manager-(again) are hunting us?
The labyrinth sounds complex enough-now imagine how it functions when ‘hypertuned’ during panic attack sessions; cortisol’s another pesky hormone thrown by adrenal gland that hangs around long after fight-or-flight ends leaving fatigue plus wariness making us consider going back home.
We suggest instant noodles for those days(just kidding).
The Calm Before The Storm-Learned Behavior
If anyone has bell-rang anytime over their lifetime schooling period, they could understand Pavlovian’s classical dog-conditioning experiment (an involuntary reaction), ringing bells leads furry creatures slobbering over salivary bites.
Suppose we make an occurrence-intensity graph range from 1(minimum calmness level)-10(full-blown switch flipped on). In that case, triggering learned behavior responding becomes less voluntary more automatic/pavlovian-like responses patterns whereby certain stimuli trigger preset emotions causing ‘tripping-off-the-alarm-warning systems’.
In panic attacks episodes highs of anxiety levels manifest suddenly(high voltage energy-filled atmosphere involving racing thoughts and body sweat-what a lovely combo) causing chest tightness, fatigue in muscles cramp, tunnel vision leading towards the forefront -‘Catta-Stropic thinking’(if you know then you know!); suddenly(incase we forget it’s sudden). learnt behavior kicks in (never say nay to spoonfuls of sugar) that could further provoke panic.
The Fun Part – Building Awareness And Controlling Panic Attacks
Taking action when your symptoms come on may mean not putting yourself into situations that trigger panic-an excellent strategy for avoiding getting lost among the stampede.
We’ve elaborated below some helpful tips to follow during (or before) experiencing attacks:
- Grounding techniques
Consider practicing mindfulness exercises such as picking out things based on sensation one by one e.g.. green objects or textures around that’s sharp can help snap back into control.
- Reducing stress levels
Lower cortisol inducing activities like yoga classes, mindful breathing practice or working out release happy nurtures rather than keeping us as ‘crackling coils’ energy balls waiting for discharge
3.Cognitive re-framing(poking fun!)
Solutions are great but creating self-mockery disaster movie soundtracks while in a lousy scenario plays songs sets light-hearted perspectives making us laugh enabling clear-minded responses irrespective of the seriousness injected worth attempting at least once!
As mentioned priorly if learning how controlling learned behavior patterns plays itself overcoming fear-based responses indispensable? Effective communication communicating with professional therapists if symptoms continue won’t hurt.
Remember who cares about being perfect, all need is regular activity cultivating space within ourselves experienced healthy feelings assisting sleep regulation routines positively effectively rewiring neural pathways aiding neuroplasticity neurological phenomenon changing nervous system adaptations important factor contributing towards building better coping mechanism strategies controlling anxiety-filled pain points without dub-dub-dubbing external factors (wink wink noise reduction-wink wink).
Hey there, I’m Dane Raynor, and I’m all about sharing fascinating knowledge, news, and hot topics. I’m passionate about learning and have a knack for simplifying complex ideas. Let’s explore together!
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