If you read Part 3: Anxiety and the Fear/Adrenaline Cycle, then you probably have a basic understanding of what your anxious symptoms are all about.
(And you also now know that an anxiety disorder is really just a case of bad communication between you and your brain…..a misunderstanding of sorts.)
Now I am going to talk about how general anxiety turns into panic.
As I said before, adrenaline makes you hyper-alert. It makes you take notice of subtle changes in your surroundings. It makes you more aware of your normal, everyday bodily sensations.
For instance, quite often people with an anxiety disorder start to really focus on their breathing. They can over-think it, and it doesn’t take long before each breath starts to feel forced and un-natural. This can lead to sensations of “weirdness” and a sense that they might perhaps “forget” how to breathe or never fall back into their regular, natural breathing pattern again. This can make people quite panicky. But the truth is, they are breathing as they always have breathed, they just never focused on it to that degree or thought about it in that way before!
The point is, that when you have an anxiety disorder, you could probably feel your cells dividing if you tried hard enough. That is just what adrenaline and over-thinking do to you.
Remember that when you have an anxiety disorder and all that adrenaline is flowing through you all day long, it is going to cause you to subconsciously “look for a threat”. That is one of adrenaline’s purposes – to keep you aware of any possible danger. It’s the brain’s way of protecting you.
So essentially when all of your anxiety issues are going on, you are looking for trouble, and you probably don’t even realize it. You are subconsciously looking for the “cause” of your ill feelings and thoughts. And you will not be satisfied until you find it.
The subconscious mind plays a huge role in anxiety.
There is a whole “thought world” going on inside our minds that works as smoothly as butter. Every second of every day, ideas are formed, connections are made, conclusions are drawn…all in a split second and most without us being aware of it.
So when you are feeling a sense of dread from the adrenaline… when you are feeling a sense of “something bad is about to happen”, then subconsciously you are going to be looking for whatever that “something” is.
That sounds pretty normal, right?
Because it is. Every person in the world, consciously or subconsciously, is going to want to try to make sense of bad feelings. That is human nature.
And now, you are scanning your body and your surroundings without even realizing it, looking for something to be wrong, and eventually something happens that can set panic into motion.
One tiny little thing occurs: a twitch of your neck…..a spasm in your head….a weird thought…..a weird sound…..a sensation in your hand…..and this tiny little thing makes you subconsciously think “What was that? Was that IT? Was that the really bad thing that I have been sensing??” And you may not have even realized that thought just occurred. That is how fast this all happens.
And as soon as that subconscious thought is released, and the fear that comes with it, …..your brain “hears your fear” and sends out some adrenaline. Instantly. You brain will “hear your fear” always, always, always. Even if that fear is a whisper, your brain will hear it and it will react accordingly.
And this is the point where you start becoming “aware” of what is going on. You start to feel that little adrenaline boost your brain sent you.
You were perfectly fine, minding your own business, and now all of a sudden, here you are feeling your heart rate speed up, and your thoughts are coming faster, and you start feeling “weird” and begin to very consciously ask yourself, “What is going on?? Why am I feeling this way??” You start to get a little nervous and scared.
And as soon as you start getting nervous, the brain says “Oh her fear is getting worse…she needs even MORE adrenaline. I don’t know what is going on out there but this can’t be good.”....so out comes more adrenaline, and now you are feeling your symptoms increase further.
As you feel your symptoms getting worse, you now think to yourself, “Its getting worse. There is something really wrong here.” And you start freaking out even more, asking yourself “Why do I feel so out of control? I can’t stop this. What’s going on?”
And as you freak out more, your brain sends more adrenaline, which makes you freak out even more so the brain sends more adrenaline and pretty soon, in a basic sense, you and your brain are both freaking out and behaving erratically over nothing. You are in a panic mode, and your brain is in a panic mode, and your brain is not going to back down first. It has a job to do. So its up to you to pull you both out of this mess you are in. You are the one in charge and the one giving out the “orders”.
Remember that while all this is going on, your brain is up there like a soldier, working hard for you.
Your brain is up there busting its butt trying to keep up with your demand for adrenaline, probably feeling pretty darn good about itself for all the hard work it is doing. It doesn’t know you are freaking out over nothing…..it thinks you are fighting a tiger or something of that nature, and that it is helping save your life.
Meanwhile, you might be thinking on some level that your brain is responsible for everything that is going on – malfunctioning in some way – and telling yourself that you are being “attacked” by panic and are completely powerless to do anything about it.
This will continue until you exhaust yourself completely and just run out of the energy to panic anymore, which can take as long as it takes – some people have more panicking stamina than others – or until you get your mind on something else and just stop panicking without consciously trying to, OR until you consciously soothe and calm yourself down on your own.
And that is the basic evolution of a panic attack.
There are variations of this pattern of course. For example, it is very easy to simply over-think your way into a panic attack without any external trigger at all. Just thinking about panicking and going to a really deep level of thinking and analyzing can distort your perception enough that it can cause a panic episode for some people. This is why its important to stay out of the “thought basement” if you happen to be prone to that sort of thing. But regardless of the actual events that led up to the panic episode, it is always going to be some version of a feeling, thought, reaction cycle, a thought, feeling, reaction cycle, or a feeling, reaction cycle.
The reaction never comes first.
Believe me, I know it may seem like it does. But the reaction is what comes last and then the cycle just repeats.
One weird thought, one moment of over – thinking, one weird sensation, one thing that seems just the tiniest bit out-of-place with your body or anything else, can trigger panic. And the whole process can happen in a flash.
I bring this up again because it is SO important for you to remember this: Remember that it doesn’t have to be a “thought out” sequence of events that precedes your panic. Fear is an emotion…you can feel a twinge, fear it and start panicking about it, without thinking one single conscious thought to yourself! You don’t need to consciously “think a fearful thought” in order to feel fear – or to panic. For example, animals can feel fear but they can’t form the thought of “I am scared”. Words are not necessary to feel emotions. But lucky for us humans, we CAN use our words and thoughts to calm ourselves down when we are panicking.
Keep in mind that while you may not be able to control the subconscious response you have to whatever it was that gave you that first initial fearful emotional response which triggered that first adrenaline surge, you ARE able to control your response to that adrenaline.
You are capable of telling yourself that will be fine and you are capable of remaining calm.
You may not believe that to be true, but I KNOW its true. I’m not saying its easy – but it is possible. YOU are the one running the show and giving out the orders. You are in control of all of it.
A panic attack can very easily turn into a panic “disorder” when the person who had the panic attack becomes so scared by what happened that they start to fear it happening again.
They become even more aware of every sensation and every “weird” feeling or thought they have, and they become even more afraid of those feelings, and they begin to panic more and more often. The mental exhaustion I mentioned on the previous page starts kicking in and pretty soon, everything feels “panic worthy” and it’s really hard to rationally think your way through the illogical feelings of dread and constant fear you are having.
It’s not your fault. None of this is your fault. You never intended to create this mess. In fact, you would have done anything to avoid it if you had known that this was all going on in your mind. It’s just what happens when a sensitive, negative, over-thinking person is put under a lot of stress. But it is up to you to stand up and take control of your panic, if you ever want to gain control of your life again.
I understand what its like to feel the urge to panic and want to give in to it.
I have been there and I have made all of the same bad response choices that other “panickers” have made. I have panicked more in my life than most people could panic in 5 lives. I know that as terrible and horrible as that panicky feeling is, it almost feels GOOD to have that release of the intense fear that has built up inside you. It feels like the ONLY response that it is possible. Any reasonable person with our personality would react the exact same way. But we are firing guns at our own shadow here, and we are wasting so much time and energy on things that we wouldn’t even NOTICE if we weren’t so overly sensitized.
Every single thought or feeling that has triggered every single panic episode you have ever had, is a thought or a feeling that you have experienced in some form repeatedly throughout your entire life. Weird thoughts, weird feelings….you have always had them. Everybody has them. You just never gave two cents about them before…..and now you do.
Adrenaline doesn’t just make you hyper-aware, it makes you hyper-CARE about all the crap you never cared about before.
But now you can control it because you know why it is happening. That is the first step and the most important step toward recovery.
Next, you just have to learn some easy tools that I will show you on various pages and posts throughout this website and you will be able to live your life without the fear of panic over-taking you at any time if you consistently use them.
You can build a new panic-free life, and become an emotionally wiser and healthier person.
And believe it or not…..you may even become grateful to your anxiety for helping you wake up and straighten out your life. You might even see that anxiety really is your friend and your greatest helper.
I will get more into how to get your panic attacks under control in my later blog entries. In the meantime, keep an open mind and give these ideas a chance to take root.
See the links at the top or bottom of this page, depending on your device, for more information on how to get your life back after anxiety symptoms erupt.
Photo Credit: All Photos Pixabay
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I stumbled across this sight a few days ago when I was so very anxious about everything and starting to panic. The way you write and explained things has been amazing! I have been anxious my whole life but in the last year I have had several panic attacks which has scared me so much! I don’t want to live in fear anymore!! After reading your steps to recovery, I got to see things I didn’t know I was doing. Negative thinking, being tense, not relaxing, was something I am doing all the time! I am now determined to retrain my brain so I can stop this vicious cycle!! Thank you so much for this site!!!
Thank you so much Katie! I wish you all the best in your recovery. You can do this. 😉
OK I love this post too. I feel like you have lived my experience exactly!! Still checking out your blog. Maybe I haven’t stumbled upon it yet, but what is your opinion on the use of anti-anxiety meds, specifically benzos? In periods of very high panic, they have been incredibly helpful to me, but of course there is the dependency issue too. Would love to hear your thoughts. Thank you.
Thanks so much. My thoughts on anxiety meds are that it is a very personal thing for each individual person to decide. I choose not to use them because I think there would be only two reasons to use them…..to sedate/calm myself or to correct/manage some problem with my brain. And since I don’t think there is a thing in the world wrong with my brain, and I prefer to use only natural methods to help calm me, I stay away from prescription medication. But there are people out there who believe very strongly that there is a chemical/medical issue with their brain that needs medicating, and/or they don’t mind taking meds to calm themselves, and I am not going to tell them they are wrong for doing so. People have to trust their instincts and talk to their doctor and do what feels right to them.
I do however, think that taking a prescription sedative can interfere with your ability to effectively learn to calm yourself on your own, so that is important to keep in mind if you are thinking in terms of long term anxiety recovery.
Agree. It gets challenging when the physical symptoms really interfere with your functioning (driving, working, etc). Then I have used the benzos. They work great, but then you get rebound anxiety when you are ready to stop taking them. It’s a tough balance at times. I like to think that I am getting wiser as I am getting older and I will be able to completely feel safe while having a panic attack – very challenging to do! Takes time to create our new grooves of thinking when your amygdala is going bonkers. I’m getting there…
You are so right, and that is a great way to look at it. I tell my kids all the time that its like wagon wheel ruts in the brain. Those wheels are stuck in those ruts and it takes time for you to build a new wagon and pack up your things and transfer them to that new wagon and create new ruts that you are happy being stuck in. My kids always roll their eyes at me. lol
Hyper aware! That is the best way to describe anxiety. If something can be noticed, a person with anxiety will notice it. A change in temperature, a twitch, a unexpected shadow. Anything and everything can trigger a panic attack. That is why it is so important to become comfortable with your thoughts.
I like the way you phrased that Josh…being “comfortable with your thoughts.” Its such a good way to describe the relationship you have to develop with not only your thoughts, but with yourself and all the things about you that helped create the anxiety disorder. Its not about trying to fight them….just about accepting them and being comfortable with them. Thanks for the insight.