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SELF HELP SERIES: Solving Panic Attacks

Updated: Mar 9

You think they will kill you. You think you’re gonna die. But you’re not. Panic Attacks happen to many people. If there are ten people in the room, one of them has panic attacks. Here’s the good news: Panic Attacks are very treatable. Klonopin only masks the problem. The most successful treatment is behavioral therapy. First let’s analyze anxiety as it relates to panic anxiety.

What is anxiety anyway? Anxiety is part of being human or animal for that matter. Anxiety is there to protect us, to keep us on our toes should danger, real danger, “the tiger,” present itself. That’s good or reasonable anxiety. “Flight or fight” is how we and our ancestors made it! Bad anxiety is when we anticipate the tiger when there is no tiger or we simply worry for no good reason. Bad anxiety is worthless, has no place in our lives and is very treatable. Remember what you learned in the “Relaxation Response”? Well, the treatment for bad anxiety is: Catch yourself doing it and take a cleansing breath or two. If you have practiced it, it will work! Psychology says that anxiety left untreated, can result in depression. Physiologically, anxiety lowers the the body’s production of serotonin. Low serotonin levels in the nervous system are the cause of depression. Relaxation increases serotonin levels in the body. Get it?

Now let’s address Panic Attacks and what pray-tell causes them. What causes Panic Disorder? Well, number one, Heredity! Panic attacks are inherited. Number two, you are more likely to have a panic attack in high anxiety situation; for example, airplane travel, high bridges, elevators or arguing or difficult interpersonal issues. Number three, panic attacks are triggered by physiological factors in the sympathetic nervous system (SNS), the flight or fight system. Anxiety is commonplace, but due to heredity, the screening device in some people’s brain stems allows the physical anxiety signal to pass through and into the brain’s cortex. The cortex reads the normally screened out signal as an alarming event. The person’s emergency light goes off, and they break out into a full-blown panic attack. Here’s how the body works:

1. A physiological trigger pops thru the brain’s normal screening device. Let’s say a “normal” change in a heartbeat, which ordinarily gets screened out, slips through into your consciousness. And, bang, it triggers a panic attack.

2. The flight or flight system. What happens when you see a tiger? The sympathetic system kicks in immediately - That’s normal anxiety. But when there are no “tigers” you get a panic attack, that’s Panic Disorder. Thus learning to shut down or control the SNS is the key to solving panic attacks. Knowledge and behavioral practice is the solution to treatment of Panic Anxiety.

3. Treatment consists for most part of a psychologist or behavioral specialist, in office, applying sympathetic desensitization techniques. Treatment usually takes ten one hour sessions. Then you’re done. This is known as the Barlow Technique.

Most physicians prescribe Klonopin and send you on your way. Most therapists know very little about the Dr. David Barlow treatment techniques for Panic Disorder. Read up on the Barlow Technique for treating Panic Disorder with agoraphobia. Agoraphobia is generally associated with Panic Disorder because persons with high anxiety tend to avoid stressful things and most stressful things are outside of the house. In seeking a therapist to treat Panic Attacks, ask them if they have been trained in the Barlow Technique. Otherwise move on to the next therapist.

In the meantime, try Dr. Roger Rinn’s “TARE” Technique. It takes only one minute. It’s easy to remember and easy to do with practice:

THINK - I’m having a panic attack, no big deal, it will pass within a few minutes.

ASSESS - What’s going on inside my body? Heart racing, thumping, shaking, adrenaline rush, lightheaded and dizzy, hyperventilating, eyesight constricted or blurry, People have different combinations of anxiety symptoms. What are yours?

RELAX - Take a slow, full deep breath. Breathe in through your nose to the count of four and out through pursed lips, to the count of 8. Don’t hold your breath. Do a couple of these If need be. (Recognize the Relaxation Technique from lesson one in this series?)

EXTERNALIZE - Where is the panic taking place? Inside or outside the body? Inside. Therefore, focus your attention on something outside the body.

The TARE Technique takes no more than 20 seconds. Still panicky? Do the TARE Technique again. There now, that wasn’t all that bad. And doing the TARE successfully, brings about relief, reinforcement of the technique and eventual reduction in panic attacks.

Author’s Notes: Practice, practice, practice your deep breathing/relaxation response. The body has the ability to heal itself. Practice and apply the TARE Technique.

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