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What is a Panic Attack?

Author: Stephanie Camins – MA,LPC

“I’m going to die.”what is a panic attack definition

“I’m going insane.”

“I’m losing control.”

“I won’t be able to get out of here.”

“People will think I’m crazy.”

Over 4 million people in the U.S. experience these thoughts accompanied by a litany of physical symptoms. A panic attack is a sudden, unexpected surge in adrenaline which occurs in the absence of any apparent danger. Our built in fight or flight response is activated for no obvious reason. People who tend to have panic attacks are typically hypersensitive to physical fluctuations in their body. How you perceive these physical symptoms determines your level of anxiety. If you assign catastrophic thoughts like those listed above, you are much more likely to trigger the fight or flight adrenaline release.

what is a panic attack brain

Common Physical Symptoms of a Panic Attack:

  • Rapid or heavy heartbeat
  • Shakiness
  • Tightness in chest
  • Feeling faint
  • Blurred vision
  • Shortness of breath
  • Sweating
  • Fluttery or sinking feeling in your stomach

What Causes a panic attack?

What causes a panic attack? Looking at these physical symptoms, it’s understandable that you may associate catastrophic thoughts to what is happening. It is this intense fear which drives the anxiety scale over the panic threshold. Your first thought may not be, is this a panic attack or a heart attack? You may simply focus on the body sensation of panic attack chest pain and assume heart attack. Many people end up in the emergency room during an initial panic attack, convinced something terrible happening to them. You know you are in no apparent external danger therefore something must be internally wrong. When we turn these catastrophic thoughts inwards it’s like fanning a flame. Each catastrophic thought adds more fuel which increases adrenaline which increases physical symptoms which increases catastrophic thoughts and now you are in a full blown panic attack.

Recognizing the signs of a panic attack at the first stages is crucial. Keeping a panic attack log will help you identify what leads up to a full blown attack. A tool box of coping strategies is also important to stop a panic attack at any level of the anxiety scale from 0 (calm) to 10 (major panic attack). More information on how to overcome panic attacks and how to prevent panic attacks is provided in the article “How to Control Panic Attacks.”

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Symptoms of a Panic Attack

Author: Stephanie Camins – MA,LPC

Symptoms of a Panic attack

Panic attacks affect over 5% of the population.  They are extremely frightening and uncomfortable. The symptoms of a panic attack can be intense and unexplainable, occurring at a moment’s notice without any apparent trigger.  Our natural fight or flight response has been tripped unnecessarily causing intense physical symptoms and accompanying catastrophic thoughts.

Panic Attack Symptoms

The following is a list of physical symptoms which can occur during a panic attack:

  1. Rapid heartbeat
  2. Sweatiness
  3. Shortness of breath
  4. Shaky all over
  5. Hyperventilation
  6. Tightness in chest
  7. Dizzy of lightheaded
  8. Blurred vision
  9. Fluttering or sinking feeling in the stomach
  10. Unable to think straight
  11. Feeling of floating away or becoming detached

These symptoms occur in absence of any danger.  You can have panic attacks while sleeping causing you to wake up in a state of intense distress.   Panic attacks at night and panic attacks while driving are not uncommon, you can be anywhere when they occur. Because these body sensations happen in absence of any apparent danger you attribute them to some unknown internal cause which creates the second set of symptoms – catastrophic thoughts.  “I’m going to die. I’m going insane. I’m losing control.  People will think I’m crazy.  Something terrible will happen.”

Signs of a panic attack happen in a progression that begins with an initiating circumstance which is often unknown to you.  Your body then experiences a slight increase in one or more of the physical symptoms listed above.  Next, you begin to focus intensely on this symptom.  This is the preliminary point at which a panic attack begins. Interpreting the physical symptom in a fearful or catastrophic way will trigger a physiological response known as “fight of flight” and now you are experiencing moderate panic.  If you continue in this vicious cycle, focusing on the physical symptom and assigning corresponding catastrophic thoughts you have a full scale level 10 panic attack.

When panic attacks, implementing coping strategies can reduce the duration and intensity of the attack.  With regular practice in using tools to manage the symptoms of severe anxiety you will successfully learn how to overcome panic attacks.  For further information on coping strategies read the  related articles:  “How to Control Panic Attacks” and “How to Control Anxiety – A Tool Box For Managing Stress.

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How to Control Panic Attacks

Author: Stephanie Camins – MA,LPC

When panic attacks, it takes coHow to control panic attacksntrol of your body and mind. Signs of a panic attack include rapid heartbeat, hyperventilation, sweaty palms, dizziness, tightness in the chest, and a sinking feeling in your stomach accompanied with thoughts such as, “I’m going to die, I’m losing it, I’m going to pass out, I won’t be able to breathe.” Panic attacks can come from out of nowhere or may progress in phases from mild symptoms to moderate to full blown. A psychotherapist as part of anxiety counseling will measure panic on an anxiety scale with zero (0) being calm and up to ten (10) being a major panic attack. Keeping a record of your panic attacks will help you identify your own initial warning signs as you begin the learning process of how to control panic attacks.

Panic Attack Journal

A Panic Attack Journal includes the date, time, duration, and intensity of your panic attack. The intensity scale is zero (0,) no symptoms to five (5), early panic symptoms, to ten (10) a major panic attack. Also include in your journal your stress level prior to the panic attack, what kind of mood you were in, how rested were you, what your consumption of caffeine or sugar was, what negative or irrational thoughts were circling in your mind, and who you were with. Include a list of alternative explanations for your physical symptoms that are not catastrophic or irrational. Now that you have your own panic attack diagram, you can implement coping strategies to prevent or counteract panic.

Stop Panic Attacks

You may be able to stop a panic attacks once they’ve started by following a simple plan using coping strategies designed to calm the body and mind. Fighting panic can make the symptoms worse. Focus on letting the wave of panic pass through you as your body reabsorbs the adrenaline burst.
1. Practice taking slow deep breaths –breathe in for 7 seconds, hold for two seconds and exhale for 7 seconds.
2. Repeat positive statements – This will pass, this anxiety won’t hurt me, I can handle this.
3. Engage in physical activity – take a walk, do yoga stretches.
4. Focus on the present – What do I see, hear, taste, touch and feel.
5. Use easy distraction techniques – count backwards from 100, sing a song, snap a rubber band on your wrist, eat a snack, drink a glass of water.
How to prevent panic attacks from occurring at all involves managing stress and anxiety in your life on a regular basis following a program of relaxation techniques, exercise, and healthy eating as well as learning to acknowledge and express your feelings in healthy ways. See the article “How to Control Anxiety – A Tool Box for Stress Management” for further information.

Natural Remedies for Panic Attacks

Natural remedies are classified as any coping strategies you use which do not involve medication. With severe panic attacks that are debilitating and prevent you from leaving your home or being able to function in your life, it may be necessary to consult with your doctor to review a medication protocol in addition to anxiety counseling from a qualified psychotherapist. Cognitive behavioral therapy or CBT anxiety counseling is the standard form of therapy used in counseling services for the treatment of panic attacks. Panic attacks can be treated successfully in a step by step model returning you to a healthy, happy lifestyle.

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How to Control Anxiety - 10 Tools for Managing Stress

Author: Stephanie Camins – MA,LPC

How many times have you heard the phrases chill out, find your happy place, let it go, it could be worse, or seen workshops for stress management or anger management. We are flooded with information on how we should manage our feelings of stress, anxiety, panic, fear, depression and anger. All of these messages can be overwhelming and confusing. This tool box for managing stress gives you 10 straight forward steps to resolve these difficult feelings, overcome anxiety and increase satisfaction in your life.how to control anxiety

Use Your Mind to change your negative thinking

 1.  Stop focusing on negatives and start focusing on positives.

2.  Thought Stopping – To disrupt the chain of negative thoughts in your mind use a distraction, say out loud “stop” or say “stop” and snap a rubber band on your wrist.

3.  Use positive self- statements to replace the negatives:

-“I do the best I can.”

-“I am satisfied with who I am.”

-“I’m in control of my life.”

Use your body to reduce physical agitation

4.  Deep Breathing

-“Belly Breathing”- lay on your back putting one hand on your chest and the other on your belly. Take a deep breath in until the hand on your belly rises. You may need to practice moving the air past your chest all the way to your diaphragm. If only the hand over your chest rises you are not breathing deeply enough.

-“7-2-7 Breathing” – Inhale for 7 seconds, hold your breath for 2 seconds, exhale for 7 seconds.

5.  Visualization – Close your eyes and imagine a place that you are safe, calm and content. Include all five senses in your visualization. What do you see, smell, hear, feel and taste.

6.  Progressive Muscle Relaxation – As you are lying down, focus on each muscle group starting at your feet and moving progressively up to your face. Tense and relax each muscle group for 7 seconds. Hold the tension for 7 seconds then relax the muscle group for 7 seconds. Move up to the next muscle group and the next until you’ve completed each muscle group.

7.  Focal Meditation – Choose an object such as a lit candle, a tree, or a stream. It helps if the object has some inherent movement. Set a timer and focus on the movement of the object for 5 minutes. Let any thoughts that enter your mind pass through as you focus only on the movement of the object.

8.  Physical Activity – Walk, Stretch, Dance, etc.

9.  Biofeedback  – Using a heart rate monitor such a fit bit, vivo, etc., in times of stress when you notice your heart rate is elevated above what is normal for you; take deep breaths until the number reaches your normal

10.  Schedule Downtime – Allow no less than 15 minutes in your schedule every day for relaxation. That can include reading, soaking in the tub, drawing, sitting in the sunshine. NO screen time.

We all agree that stress, anxiety, depression and anger are a part of life. However, if ongoing, these emotional states have a detrimental impact on our emotional and physical health. It takes a commitment of time and effort to learn and incorporate these coping skills into our daily lives to head off the consequences of lingering and long term negative emotions. Practicing these skills daily will improve your mood, your relationships and your overall health.

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10 Days To Reduce Stress and Increase Happiness

Author: Stephanie Camins – MA,LPC

People ask me all the time, what is the #1 problem I see in my counseling practice. I would extend this answer to, not only my clients, but my friends, my family and even myself. Hands down, the answer is STRESS!  As a culture, we are overwhelmed and over- stressed. The causes are many, but the foundation is the same; too much to do and not enough time to do it. Sounding familiar?  I’d like to introduce you to 10 easy steps to reduce your stress and live a happier life.

We live in a fast paced, achievement focused society. Our worth is determined by how much we achieve and how fast we accomplish these achievements.  When we get there, we are expected to go even further and in fact questioned as to why we aren’t already there. Then, when we are nearing the end of our proverbial rope, some well-meaning person, be it our friends, family, coworkers, boss or even stranger tells us to chill out, relax, enjoy life, find your happy place… (Insert ensuing explosion here!)

The expectations we put on ourselves or that others put on us snuff out any time or energy we have for this elusive “happy place”.  We stress out about money, health, kids, parents, spouses, work, bosses, coworkers, the endless to-do list. Some of these things are real and some are irrational.  This is when it’s essential to shift your focus from stress overload to a calmer state of mind.  I’m going to show you how to put the brakes on anxious, negative thinking and switch gears.

STOP Technique
Let’s start with the simple STOP technique.  STOP stands for Start To Observe Positives.  First,  you need to literally, STOP.  When a negative thought pops into your mind, say out loud, STOP.  Picture in your head the red octagon shape with the white letters you learned to read when you were a toddler.

STOPUse this as your visual cue to STOP thinking negatively. 

The next step is Start To Observe Positives. Look at each situation and find something positive. It can be a lesson you learned, a comical observation, a new way of understanding another person, or even the all-powerful, ”well, I’ll never have to do that again”. Learning to consciously shift your thinking from negative to positive is a huge step. You’ve been thinking a certain way for many years. Be consistent with this new way of thinking. Think of it like learning a new language. Just as it takes consistent repetition and practice over time to perfect a new language, this will also require practice!

Here are 10 simple, easy steps to reinforce positive thinking.  Break this down into one a day for ten days:
 
Day 1.   Take deep breaths – set an hourly alarm on your phone and take ten deep breaths each time it goes off
Day 2.   Say please and thank you (to as many people as you can)
Day 3.   Smile (A LOT and to as many people as you can)
Day 4.   Tell 2 people something you appreciate about them
Day 5.   Write 5 positive intentions for your day on a sticky note and carry it in your pocket
Day 6.   Visualize yourself accomplishing a goal
Day 7.   Get physical (walk, bike, jog, stretch, skip)
Day 8.   Set up a “coffee date” with someone (increase your social time)
Day 9.   Take 15 minutes for yourself (read, walk, meditate, take a bath, have a cup of tea, listen to music…)
Day 10. Write 5 positive things that happened today

Once you’ve reached your 10 day mark, congratulate yourself on a job well done!  Evaluate which of these tasks were easy and which were more difficult.  Each of these tasks plays an independent and integral role in your road to greater happiness. These 10 steps,  done in combination, and repeated over time, will change your life!

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