For those only just experiencing anxiety or panic attacks, the whole thing can be quite daunting. There is a long list of symptoms that accompany it including, but not limited to; dizziness, shortness of breath, heightened heart rate, dry mouth, difficulty swallowing, headache, muscle aches, feelings of nausea & vomiting, uncontrollable bowel movements, and an overwhelming feeling that you are going to die.
Once a person has experienced a panic attack in their lifetime it can stay lodged in their mind forever. Often people experience a relaps or are scared at the possibility of having another. I, personally, overcame this fear by finding out what is physically happening to me.
(The body is a very, very complex machine and what I am about to write in no way completely sums up the processes of anxiety – it is merely an outline if you will.)
In the centre of your brain lives the “primitive” brain. This brain is mostly concerned with your survival from one day to the next. An important player in your primitive brain when it comes to Anxiety is the Hypothalamus. Very quickly, the Hypothalamus is responsible for controlling the nervous system and the endocrine system – the system responsible for all hormonal releases/restrictions – by receiving messages (or stimuli) from both the body and outside world.
Now your Hypothalamus works closely with your Pituitary Gland and your Adrenal Glands (that sit on top of your kidneys) to monitor the stress in your life. If all is well then it is business as usual.
If, however, the Hypothalamus deems things not to be okay (and it does so from a variety of different sources which I will explain in later posts) it will cause a stress reaction in the body. If the perceived stress continues, the body will shut down it’s normal functioning and enter the “fight or flight” response. This hormonal response will shut down your digestive system and immune system to put all of it’s energy and reserves into fighting the stress. When the stress is “gone” the body goes back to working normally (after a bit of a nap on your end.)
* Interestingly, if the situation is deemed dangerous to you, the hypothalamus will work with the nervous system to create an emotional memory. This emotional memory will be stored and this is why similar situations will lead you to react in the same way. Your body is not working against you, it is working to protect you. This is why therapies encouraging desensitization can work (more on that another time.)
This is also why your thoughts do truly make a difference. Although it is not completely medically proven, your Hypothalamus responds not only to body stimuli but also to how you think about a situation and your ability to cope with it. People who think highly of themselves have no problem with the tasks many anxiety sufferers find daunting or impossible. Although there is an emotional reaction triggered by a similar situation, sometimes how you react can make all the difference.
So why do you have continued panic/anxiety problems if this reaction is supposed to shut off? Why do techniques like “breathing” and “positive thought” not work for you?
Three words: General Adaptation Syndrome (or GAS)
This syndrome is a result from prolonged stresses in your life, unhealthy lifestyle & eating habits, and prolonged Panic Attacks. Basically by this stage your body no longer has the reserves to continue adequate protection in any circumstance you find anxiety-provoking. This is why you will feel “on edge”, may wake up in the middle of the night panicking, jump when you hear a noise that doesn’t phase others around you, and so on. If stresses persist (keeping in mind this can include physical illness) eventually your body will not be able to control digestion, immunity, your moods, your organs will suffer and it can lead to some more serious health problems.
At this stage it is recommended to take some serious time out – relax, de-stress, look after your eating habits, check your vitamin and mineral levels and have some serious play time. Although it is hard in this day and age with concerns about money, jobs, children, relationships, technology, etc. nothing is more important than your body – without it, you, well, can’t do anything!