“Joe” ,a technology expert in Silicon Valley, described a “soul crushing panic attack that came out of nowhere” when he contacted me. The physical symptoms of heart palpitations, sweating, and shortness of breath were bad enough but it was the overall “mind freeze” that forced his boss to take over in the midst of a high level business presentation.
“Arthur” experienced anxiety attacks in elementary school. His fright and embarrassment about his panic resulted in full blown avoidance and school phobia from fifth grade throughout high school.
Liz, a mother of three, experienced panic attacks during her fund raising efforts in her children’s’ private school. These episodes left her socially withdrawn and depressed.
Just about every patient that I have worked with in thirty eight years of clinical experience has experienced panic in some form. That’s thousands of patients of all ages. I will share with you the basics of panic and how to resolve it.
Panic is a combination of physiological sensitivity and emotional repression. Panic is anxiety in extremis. When panic occurs it is because of excess adrenaline activated by a perceived threat.
Common sensations associated with panic are an overall loss of control, mind going blank, voice shaking, heart palpitations, increased pulse and muscle tension and thoughts such as “I’m going crazy”. Often the fear of being noticeably nervous as in blushing and sweating activate panic.
Once panic occurs the tendency is to become hypervigilant that it will happen again. Hypervigilance puts strain on the nervous system which is counterproductive for adrenaline control. Panic can leave a horrific imprint in the brain! Often the panic is traumatic enough to create a phobia, which is avoidance of the threatening situation. An example of this avoidance is social phobia. In addition, panic attacks can lead to performance anxiety.
The Berent Treatment Method integrates a four tier approach for resolving panic and anxiety attacks.
- The adrenaline control technique which is based on the paradox of adrenaline acceptance.
- Step 1. Realistic expectations. When going into a challenge situation know that your adrenaline will be there. Don’t waste time and energy hoping it won’t.
- Step 2. This is the hardest. Accept the adrenaline with the interpretation that is your friend and source of power.
- Step 3. One or two diaphragmatic breaths while;
- Step 4. You surf the wave of adrenaline. The surfer goes with the wave. The adrenaline is your wave.
The way to maximize this technique is to create your hierarchy of anxiety producing situations on a scale of 1-10. Actually make a list. Be proactive. Don’t wait for the challenges to come to you. Start at the lower levels. Seek out and create the opportunities to practice this skill.
- Core work. Believe it or not; the physical symptoms of panic are a manifestation of repressed emotion. If a “cure” for panic is to take place bringing these emotions to a conscious level is imperative. In addition, it is crucial for the panic attack sufferer to understand how a negative association to adrenaline was learned.
- Brain Health. This means quality sleep, exercise, and nutrition. Please be clear that substances which mimic adrenaline are major variables for panic potential. The major culprits are alcohol, sugar, and caffeine as they enhance autonomic hyper-sensitivity.
- Self-regulation. There are numerous strategies for learning a quieting response. For example; the biofeedback technique of being able to increase one’s skin temperature in the hands a few degrees can stop a panic attack. The bio-card is a useful tool in monitoring skin temperature.
There are numerous medications that are used to help with panic. These include benzodiazepines, selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, and beta blockers. When considering the use of medication productive diagnostics are needed as a start as individual chemistry can be a challenging issue. My clinical experience has clearly demonstrated that the correct way to use pharmaceuticals is to use it as a tool to help resolve underlying issues, and enhance technique. All too often the primary mode of treatment is medicine alone, which is counterproductive as it breeds over-dependence in the long run.
Panic attacks usually worsen with time when no therapeutic strategy is in effect. They can create a defensive lifestyle characterized by avoidance of challenging scenarios. This sucks the life out of productivity and self-esteem. Therefore; it is imperative for the sufferer to nurture a productive treatment plan and time economy.