Kevan Owen

Counselling, Hypnotherapy and Psychotherapy
at the Bell Surgery, Chorlton, Manchester.
Tel:07717 289373


Don't Panic!

Posted by kevanowen on February 17, 2010 at 9:40 AM

Remember Corporal Jones in the classic BBC comedy "Dads Army? Whenever the Walmington Home Guard got into dire straits, as happened frequently, Lance Corporal Jones would go into a flat spin and loudly issue the proclamation "Don’t Panic!”. In doing so he thereby succeeded in raising the anxiety levels of his compatriots even further. This was amusing to watch, but for a person caught up in the thrall of a real panic attack it is no laughing matter.

A panic attack is one of the most frightening experiences imaginable. It can feel as though ones very life is in danger. Common symptoms include a racing heart, shortness of breath, sweating, shaking and a fear of losing control. Some people experiencing a panic attack fear that they are having a heart attack or going crazy. It is important to stress however that this is NOT the case.

Panic attacks occur when a person’s nervous system goes into what is commonly known as the “fight or flight” response. It is a natural protective mechanism that primes the body for strenuous physical activity. This mechanism is highly advantageous in a situation of real danger. It is something that has helped the human race to survive in the natural world for thousands of years. A fearful stimulus such as an approaching predator triggers a release of adrenalin which in turn produces the rapid heart rate and all of the other physical responses. These prime the body for either fighting the aggressor or running away. If no such physical exertion happens the person is left with no outlet for all that pent up energy. Hyperventilation disturbs the delicate balance of oxygen and carbon dioxide in the blood, leading to symptoms such as tingling, dizziness and light-headedness.

So in a way the term “panic attack” is not a very accurate term. The person is not being attacked by panic. Rather their body is going on high alert to protect them from danger. Very often people experience this cascade of physical effects in situations where there is no present danger, and they are perplexed as to why it is happening. The explanation for this has to do with the fact that the human brain acts as a pattern-matching organ. It can trigger the fight or flight response in situations that provide an unconscious match to a feared event or situation. Usually something in the person’s immediate environment is triggering this unconscious fear reaction. It may be something very innocuous, a particular colour, sound or even a scent that at one time was matched with something dangerous for that person.

One of the best ways to recover from a panic attack is to practice a special breathing technique to counter the effects of hyper-ventilation. This technique is known as 7/11 breathing, so called because it involves breathing in to a count of seven, and breathing out to a count of 11. Doing this for five minutes or so will restore the oxygen/carbon dioxide levels to the correct balance. It is also important to breathe in and out through the nose, rather than the mouth, and to employ deep abdominal breathing rather than shallow breathing.

For people who experience panic often, hypnotherapy can be a very effective form of treatment. A good hypnotherapist will assist in teaching the client effective ways of calming down, of managing the symptoms or even removing the panic for good.

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