Breaking the Vicious Cycle of Panic
People may be predisposed to experience panic because of a sensitive temperament, high levels of stress that sensitize nerves, emotional disorders (social phobia, obsessions, and depression), a hyperactive imagination, or a perfectionist personality. The actual first episode or trigger incident will be caused by a surge of adrenaline due to one of three things:
Once the first panic attack happens, it can quickly develop a life of its own. People begin to think, “What was that? Is it going to happen again? Do I have some terrible illness? Am I having a nervous breakdown? What if people notice me?” Negative thoughts that flash through the mind almost below the level of awareness can trigger subsequent incidents until they start happening with increasing regularity.
A woman with high standards was physically stressed from a miscarriage. She first became panic-stricken while grocery shopping in the aisle of baby products. Later, she began having anxiety attacks anywhere in the store, and then, even when driving past the store—just because these cues were associated with her first attack.
TWO ADDITIONAL PROBLEMS
When panic is not understood as a part of anxiety, episodes can increase in intensity due to two additional problems. Once these are recognized, they can be eliminated by learning coping strategies.
THE VICIOUS CYCLE OF PANIC
Even when stresses, depression, tense situations, or a temporary physical condition have passed, people can continue to have panic just because they fear it will happen. This is the fear of fear. People become afraid of their own bodily reactions—“I’ve been doing pretty well lately, I wonder if panic will come back.” “What if I really do have a nervous breakdown this time?” “What if people can tell that I am perspiring?” This aggravates predisposing factors of temperament, emotional disorders, and personality traits and creates on-going stress that produces the vicious cycle of panic.
BREAKING THE CYCLE
The steps of recovery from panic can restore peace with calming swiftness and make each link in the “vicious” cycle an opportunity for change: