By Jen Crippen
Panic attacks were once nature’s way of keeping a person alive in a very dangerous situation.
The surge of adrenaline pumped through the body during an attack allowed early man to outrun deadly predators, or claw themselves out from an avalanche of heavy debris.
Ancient man may have only experienced the gut wrenching terror of a panic attack once, if ever, in his lifetime.
Today, there are people who have experienced repeated panic attacks who are living half lives as a result.
Afraid of the physical and mental draining that occurs during and after an attack, some people voluntarily restrict their lives to the safest places (usually their homes) in an effort to avoid them.
This most extreme manifestation of panic attacks is known as agoraphobia.
Panic attacks can be described as a physical and emotional nightmare. Common physical symptoms of an attack include a racing heartbeat, dizziness, chest pains, hot flashes or chills, sudden sweat and a jumpiness, trembling or twitching muscles.
At the same time several emotional feelings and fears wash over the victim of an attack. They experience real terror at the idea of losing control or going crazy. They wonder if they are having a heart attack, stroke, or if they are dying; all feelings which reinforce and feed the panic.
A typical panic attack will last several minutes. Sometimes they seem to subside, only to resurge. While they can be one time occurrences, all too often the initial attack will be followed by others that recur more frequently and in situations that might otherwise be described as less threatening than the first.
Traditional Anxiety Therapy
The aftermath of a panic attack is also both physically and mentally painful. A person may experience a severe headache or body aches and pains associated with the extreme full body tenseness common during an attack.
Emotional responses of depression and helplessness are also common. They stem from the greatest fear a victim has that the panic will come back.
After the first attack many people turn to their primary doctors, or wind up in hospital emergency rooms because of the physical symptoms they experienced.
They may wind up returning to their doctors for expensive tests to see if they do have heart disease, or experienced very mild strokes.
Unfortunately, when these tests come back negative, many people feel ashamed that it “was all in their head” and fall into a cycle of growing depression and withdrawal from anything that might trigger another attack.
Even those who do follow the advice dispensed by most medical doctors and see a psychiatrist or psychologist to deal with “the underlying mental issues” behind the attack make one very large mistake when they do so. They too buy in to the idea that the cause of their attack was psychological.
Traditional psychological treatment for panic attacks has included drugs. Mild anti-anxiety medications designed to keep the person ever so slightly sedated so they wouldn’t react to a “stress” stimulus as quickly, or as severely.
Newer psychological approach is called cognitive behavioral therapy. In this instance, the person is encouraged to repeatedly confront the social situation or stressor that triggered the attacks in tiny, controlled ways.
For example, the person who panicked during an airplane flight is first forced to look at pictures of the inside of a plane, then taken to the airport, then to the boarding desk, then on the plane, then on a flight.
These steps may take several weeks or months to go through, but the therapy and the “cure” are considered short term. Once the person is no longer afraid to fly, they are considered cured of their underlying anxiety.
Two Problems With Traditional Approaches
There are two problems with this approach. The first is that a panic attack, by its very nature, is out of proportion and out of context.
To have such a life and death reaction to even the number one fear of all adults – the fear of speaking in public – is an extreme overreaction to the situation.
In the case of our person who had an attack on an airplane, desensitizing them to the fear of flying, doesn’t necessarily mean they will never have a panic attack again.
They rationally know, during the attack, that their response to their current situation is out of proportion and not right.
That’s part of what makes them question whether or not they’re going crazy.
While the person above may have experienced their panic attack on an airplane, that time and place may have been entirely coincidental. The panic attack may have been building for quite some time and simply bubbled over then and there.
The second problem with both traditional drug therapies and cognitive behavior therapy for panic attacks is that they ignore the very real, and very extreme physical aspects of the attack.
Just because no evidence of a heart attack or a stroke can be found, does not mean that the person didn’t suffer this attack because of an underlying physical condition.
It’s Not All In Your Head
In fact, there is mounting evidence all around us that the cause of most panic attacks, and anxiety disorders in general, can be traced back to adrenal exhaustion and failure.
The very glands that pump out the adrenaline into our systems can get worn out. Too many bad chemical messages that tell the adrenals to start pumping wear out the controls over time. Eventually, the dam bursts and panic attacks ensue.
Those bad chemical messages that wear down that damn are physical as well. They are carried in the very food we eat. Too much of one type of nutrient and not enough of another and the messages become all one note, assaulting the glands over and over until they break down.
In order to really eliminate panic attacks, a person needs to dig deeper.
Instead of treating the physical symptoms by testing for heart conditions, or treating the emotional symptoms through cognitive behavior training, we must clean the toxic chemicals out of our internal physical systems and repair the physical damage so that all of our organs, including the gatekeepers of panic, can do their jobs properly.
Fortunately, recognizing that the whole physical spectrum of cause and effect in panic attacks has been overlooked is 80% of the cure. Taking the next steps to eat the right nutrients in the right balance to correct the problem is something everyone can do to create their own natural anxiety therapy.
More articles by Jen Crippen.
Jen Crippen is author of the ebook Lets Get Physical: Anxiety Is Not All In Your Head