Continuing with my first goal to provide clarifying information, I will now discuss the process of a panic attack.
During a panic attack what is known as the “fight or flight response” is activated,3 even though the individual is not any real danger.
The “fight or flight response” activates the body’s mental and physical survival responses which are to fight or flee from a perceived attacker, harm or threat.
When this response is initiated, chemicals such as adrenaline, noradrenaline and cortisol are released into the bloodstream which causes a series of physiological effects. Heart rate increases, pupils dilate, and respiration increases. Blood flow to the brain is reduced, which means that rational thinking is compromised.
This in turn causes one’s thoughts to race and puts one on a heightened alert. One is hypersensitive to things that normally wouldn’t bother him or her.
The whole process is cyclical because one’s racing thoughts and worries increase his/her physiological symptoms, and in turn one’s physiological symptoms increase his/her racing thoughts and worries.
While many people suffering from panic attacks feel that they are either having a heart attack or going crazy, initially, it can be helpful to know that this is not the case.
Of course if you’ve experienced a panic attack you are probably concerned about experiencing another. This is where agoraphobia can come in.
I like to define agoraphobia as fear of fear.
The Mayo Clinic’s website indicates that Agoraphobia is a type of anxiety disorder in which you avoid situations that you’re afraid might cause you to panic. You might avoid being alone, leaving your home or any situation where you could feel trapped, embarrassed or helpless if you do panic.
People with agoraphobia often have a hard time feeling safe in any public place, especially where crowds gather. The fears can be so overwhelming that you may be essentially trapped in your own home.
Agoraphobia treatment can be tough because it usually means confronting your fears. But with medications and psychotherapy, you can escape the trap of agoraphobia and live a more enjoyable life.4
Please be reassured that if you’ve been diagnosed with panic disorder you are not losing your mind or having a heart attack.
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References (Process of a Panic Attack)
3. Bourne, E. J. (2000) The Anxiety & Phobia Workbook. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Publications
4. Mayo Clinic. Agoraphobia. Retrieved on September 2, 2011, from: http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/agoraphobia/DS00894