Have you ever had a panic attack?
According to the Mayo Clinic, a panic attack is defined as “a sudden episode of intense fear that triggers severe physical reactions when there is no real danger or apparent cause.” This tells us what it is, but what causes it? If you have ever been the victim of a panic attack, you know that it can come on without warning and leave you shaken and wondering if there is something wrong with you. You may even have experienced a panic attack without knowing what it was, because there may not have been a visible trigger for it.
Panic attacks are not that difficult to understand but they are confusing for many people because of this lack of immediate impulse. It is important to remember that panic attacks may occur after a long-term stress, not because of an immediate problem. Panic is always triggered by a feeling of danger or threat. When we have that sense of fear, our brains respond chemically with a reaction known as “fight or flight.” Originally this response was not only desirable but crucial for survival; early man would not have lasted long if he did not get the burst of adrenaline that allowed him to run from danger or face it with aggression. Now, however, this same chemical reaction is lost on most of us who are dealing with emotional rather than physical dangers.
A panic attack occurs when the body dumps chemicals such as adrenaline into our system without the benefit of a recognizable trigger. You may not be confronted with a roaring lion or a knife-wielding maniac, but the response is the same! Your body gears up by dumping chemicals into your bloodstream that increase your heart rate and respiration, tighten your muscles and result in overwhelming feelings of fear. In a panic attack, this reaction simply goes on and on with no apparent cause, which in turn can make you feel anxious, thereby exacerbating the symptoms. It is a vicious cycle that is difficult to stop.
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