Confronting Panic Attacks Head on
By J.D. King AMFT
Panic and anxiety attacks seem to be an all-to-common symptom in clients seeking out therapy, especially after surviving a deadly pandemic for two and a half years. Emergency rooms have been inundated with patients coming in thinking they are having heart attacks or strokes, demanding to be seen while sometimes causing a scene due to the intensity and unfamiliarity of the symptoms that they are experiencing. Often, in these situations, what the patient is experiencing is what will forever be known to them as a panic attack. The symptoms of these panic attacks differ with each individual case. They generally always involve a feeling of sudden and intense anxiety accompanied with any variation of a rapid irregular heartbeat, sweating profusely, uncontrolled shaking, hyperventilating, disorientation, nausea, intense sweating, and loss of balance, among others. These symptoms to a person that has never had a panic attack are easily mistaken for something much more detrimental to one’s health and often lead to a trip to the emergency room, only to find out that almost all their symptoms can be traced back to some life circumstance triggering their anxiety. The doctor may prescribe something to help them manage the anxiety in the moment, but more than likely they will suggest the patient seek therapy or find someone they trust to talk to about what’s going on.
This technique, known as “prescribing the symptoms” is not for those first timers walking out of the ER, but it can help. This technique is best utilized by the frequent flyers that have found themselves a therapist to talk through their issues and have made progress towards the self-discovery necessary to beat anxiety and panic attacks at the source. When a person has experienced multiple panic attacks over a period, they begin to recognize the subtle signals that the body sends, letting us know that the stress response system has been activated. Sweaty palms, shortness of breath, or even a person or place can all be triggers for a panic attack. When we are cognizant of these triggers, we can be proactive in stopping the panic attack in its tracks.
First, we recognize these early signs, quickly understanding what is happening, then welcoming the symptoms that we are all too familiar with open arms. “I know what this, I know what’s happening next, and I know without a doubt that in a few minutes I’m going to be perfectly fine. Let’s Go!” Insert a personal mantra, some slow deep full breathes, 1-2-3 pause 3-2-1 exhale, or any of your favorite self-calming techniques. The more personalized to you the better. When we welcome the incoming symptoms that we have experienced, overreacted to, and spent countless time seeking medical attention for, we take away its power hold on our conscious well-being. There is no more irrational fear about these uncomfortable situations that we may have previously seen as major sources of fear and anxiety in our life. With the help of therapy, practice and personal mastery of this technique, it is not uncommon for clients to report overcoming panic attacks altogether.