The first unexpected sudden surge of heart pounding, lightheadedness, shortness of breath, weakness, rubbery legs, jelly legs, shallow breathing, chest tightness and numbness and tingling can be very terrifying. Without even realizing it, your alarming reaction to these normal bodily sensations fuels the symptoms. The panic attack symptoms can rapidly spiral into a full-blown panic attack.
Your Body Bit You and Body Sensitization
The first major panic attack can be so frightening that you live in dread of future attacks. You make walk around apprehensively, wondering when the next attack will hit. Or, you may even start to rearrange your life to escape or avoid the possibility of another attack. In this state, you have become sensitized to normal bodily sensations.
Running up a flight of stairs used to be routine. Now, you tune in so much to your body, that you notice the heart pounding that was there all along. The same heart pounding that naturally blended into the exercise experience, now becomes the primary focus of attention. Heart pounding used to be a background to an exhilarating exercise experience. Now, natural exercise related heart pounding gets disconnected from the exercise context. The heart pounding shifts to the foreground. Just by focusing on the heart pounding in an alarming fashion, the heart pounding amplifies. It seem like it might “bust out of your chest.” You may even stop exercising.
When the Body Become Sensitized, You Develop a Body Phobia
When you attach a secondary fear reaction to normal bodily sensations, you can become hyper-vigilant. Subtle normal physical changes in your body, now, can become a concern for alarm. Feeling hot in a stuffy room can be viewed as a sign of a fainting spell.
Restore the Normal Context for Panic Attack Symptoms
It is important to learn how to counter condition your reaction to your body and remove the fear attached to normal bodily sensations of adrenaline. Do not lose sight of the importance of panic attack symptoms in daily life.
A roller coaster ride can trigger the same shakiness and sweats as the start of a panic attack. What is the difference between the excitement of a rollercoaster ride and a panic attack? It is how you react to your body. Shaking from the thrill of an exciting amusement park ride is ultimately no different than that first surge of panic attack shakiness. Shaking with excitement occurs in an exciting context of having fun. Shakiness in a panic attack is unwanted and unexplained and therefore upsetting. It is the upsetting reaction that turns the shakiness into a negative distressing panic experience.
After the first panic attack, you are sensitized to normal bodily sensations. Now, I urge you to embark on a mission of symptom desensitization. You must arrange in advance for a nonreactive neutral encounter with your panic attack symptoms. These neutral symptom encounters must occur repeatedly to remove the memory of symptom-terror. I call this process symptom purification. Only after you have removed all negative reactions from your anxiety attack symptoms, will you see them turn to fleeting flashes of adrenaline.
The ideas in this blog are developed from Dr. Blumberg’s panicLINK Program. PanicLINK is a comprehensive, twelve session, four phase, multi-media educational program on panic disorder. The material in this Blog and the panicLINK Program are copyright protected by Out of the Blue Network, LLC. No permission is granted to reproduce this blog for commercial purposes. For more information about the panicLINK Program, connect at www.paniclink.com.
*This educational information should always be used in consultation with your doctor to confirm a diagnosis and review available treatments for panic disorder.