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Help for anxiety and panic attacks

What Causes Panic Attacks?

What causes panic attacks, where do they come from and why? We'll answer all these questions about panic attacks as well as discussing how you can permanently recover in a matter of weeks. People often assume that having panic attacks is a sign that they're ill, broken or somehow not working properly - but this simply isn't the case. Panic attacks are indeed 'caused' by something and this is precisely what we'll discuss in detail on this page.

If you've already done your research and are ready to recover, be sure to look at our page on Panic Attack Treatment. Or if you'd like to discuss your current situation and find out your options - you can speak to a Consultant on 01782 855585, 11am to 9pm, seven days a week.



Is A Panic Attack A Problem Or A Symptom Of Something Else?

signs of a panic attack

When someone has experienced a panic attack it is very easy for them to assume that there is something seriously wrong with them. Some liken a panic attack to having a heart-attack, others are overwhelmed by the fear and loss of control whilst a few may even contemplate that they have a serious psychological disorder or could be on the verge of going crazy.

Often, due to the intense discomfort and fear surrounding a panic attack, the sufferer can label the attack as being a serious problem in itself. Unfortunately, as most people view panic attacks from this perspective, their chances of recovering through their own efforts are very slim. The reason is that if you misdiagnose a symptom as being the underlying problem - you end up trying to fix the wrong thing whilst not fixing the real underlying problem which is hiding unnoticed in the background.

This is most simply explained by using an analogy to distinguish between a problem and a symptom:

One morning as Tony gets into his car he notices some oil on his driveway. Whilst driving to work the 'low oil' light flashes on and off with an irritating beeping sound so Tony calls into the local petrol station to buy a litre of motor oil. He checks the engine and the dipstick tells him that his car is indeed low on oil. He adds half a litre and continues to work. The following morning Tony notices more oil on the driveway. He gets into his car and upon starting the engine is again confronted by the flashing oil light and irritating beeping sound. He can't drive to work with that awful noise so he adds another half litre of oil to the engine. The light and noise stop and he drives to work in peace. The following morning is the same story, however Tony has no oil and has to drive to the nearest petrol station bombarded by the irritating flashing and beeping of the low oil light. He buys yet more oil and tops up the level to stop the irritating noise... and the cycle continues.

It would seem from this example that Tony viewed the irritating flashing and beeping of the low oil light to be the problem. After all, it was so distracting that he couldn't focus on driving to work whilst it was playing up. Thus his solution was to keep putting more oil into the engine to stop the irritating warning. However, what Tony hadn't noticed was that topping up the oil was only ever a temporary measure for 'suppressing' the annoying beeping light. No matter how many times he topped up the oil level, the following day the irritating beeping would return. Why? - because the irritating beeping light wasn't the underlying problem he should be addressing... it was merely a symptom of it.

The way for Tony to properly address the underlying problem was to take his car to a professional and have it checked out. Any mechanic worth his salt would have instantly spotted an oil leak (hence the oil on Tony's driveway) and suggested a repair. Once the oil leak (the underlying problem) was fixed the car would no longer leak oil and the low oil light would have no reason to beep and irritate Tony. In truth, fixing the oil leak would also mean that Tony no longer had to mess about treating the symptoms of the problem by topping up the oil every day.

In reality, if you perceive panic attacks as being your underlying problem, you are effectively just topping up the oil to try and avoid the irritating beeping. This will cycle indefinitely and you will never recover from panic attacks as you're approaching it in the wrong way. The only way to overcome panic attacks is to correctly address the underlying problem. Once the underlying problem is fixed, the symptoms whether an irritating beeping warning light or panic attacks will disappear on their own.

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What Causes Panic Attacks - Important Analogies...

panic attack symptoms

Now we understand that panic attacks are a symptom of something else - we need to discuss what that 'something else' actually is.

Everyone suffers with stress, worry and anxiety at some time in their lives - in fact one could argue that's just the way life is. However, have you noticed that some people seem more naturally laid back than others, whereas some people seem to get uptight about the most insignificant thing?

This would suggest (to a degree at least) that stress levels are perhaps less to do with 'what happens to us' and more influenced by 'how we respond to those things'. For example, if a hundred people doing the same job on the same salary at the same company and all get made redundant on the same day - the responses will be different. A percentage will be anxious, a percentage will develop panic attacks and a percentage will have nervous breakdowns. However, it is also possible that some people will view their redundancy as a good thing. They get a financial lump sum, no longer have to do a job they don't like and now have an excuse to pursue the career they always wanted. So, how can some people have nervous breakdowns and others be content when they've experienced exactly the same thing? The answer has to be that it boils down to their 'perspective' and the way they deal with what has happened in terms of their thought processes and emotions.

The point we wanted to make here is that people generally blame their situation and circumstances for the way they feel and respond to things. However, in truth, our emotions (the way we feel) are created purely by our thought processes and how we perceive things - not what happens on the outside. This is the only feasible explanation for different people responding differently to exactly the same situation. For example if England lose to India in the Cricket, Martin (a die hard England cricket fan) may feel devastated, whereas Danny couldn't care less. In reality it is the same cricket result viewed from two different perspectives and generating two different emotional responses.

This would imply that stress, worry and anxiety are actually something we bring upon ourselves through our thought processes and perspectives. We're not suggesting you choose these things - were saying that they are generated internally by your brain and emotional centre, not by anything on the outside. There's good news here because if your underlying problem was on the outside and caused for example by, redundancy, money, the government, traffic congestion, the weather (or whatever) - there's basically nothing you can do about those things. However, if you can recognise that the way you feel (and your stress levels) are generated internally by your thoughts and your perspectives... this you can control and change with our help. View us as the mechanics that can permanently fix the oil leak and stop the irritating beeper from ruining your life.

Now let's examine how stress, worry and anxiety cause panic attacks:

panic attack help

Metaphorically speaking let's imagine your brain contains a sort of flexible storage vessel like a balloon. This is where you store your stress, worry and anxiety. For most people the balloon remains partially inflated and within what is considered to be a safe level. Day by day, old worries, stress and anxiety either gets sorted out or forgotten and pressure is released from the balloon. New worries, stress and anxiety in turn add pressure to the balloon so (give or take) the level of inflation stays reasonably constant. This is normal and is how most people live their lives.

However, what happens when the incoming amount of pressure from worry, stress and anxiety is consistently higher than the outgoing pressure? Well, the pressure obviously increases over time which causes the balloon to over-inflate. Of course, a balloon is designed to be elastic and will stretch to a degree BUT every balloon has a limit as to what it can take. When you insist on adding more pressure to an already over-inflated balloon at some point there is going to be a catastrophic failure and the balloon will burst.

The brain is very aware of this and is programmed to protect your balloon from such a catastrophic failure. It does this by setting a limit as to what it considers safe and draws a line at that point. If you cross that line by attempting to inflate your stress balloon beyond that safe point - your brain automatically trips a safety switch to rapidly deflate all the pressure out of your balloon. This manifests physically as a panic attack.

Essentially a panic attack is a purge and rapid vent of stored excessive emotional pressure. However, not only do you dump the psychological and emotional baggage in a hurry - you also experience floods of physical hormonal changes (mostly adrenaline) as your brain vents the pressure. This physical flooding of hormones is what causes your heart to pound, your blood pressure to rise, shaking, sweating, palpitations, breathing difficulties, focus problems, a pressing urge to escape and in some cases a complete loss of physical control.

Unpleasant as a panic attack is - it has done you a huge favour in protecting you from serious harm. Remember the panic attack is just a safety mechanism to protect the delicate neurology in your brain from being over exerted and potentially damaged. Thus the panic attack is merely a RESPONSE to the underlying problem, which is you trying to over inflate your anxiety balloon to a dangerous level.

If you're investing effort trying to avoid or suppress panic attacks - you're wasting your time. Panic attacks are keeping you safe and are not your real problem - they are nothing more than a natural and healthy response to a problem you have created. If you are serious about recovery and getting your life back on track, you need to stop messing about trying to avoid panic attacks and instead take action to address the underlying problem. Once the problem is fixed the panic attacks will cease and not return.

It is entirely your decision what you choose to do, however in the next section we will discuss how and why panic attacks will continue to cycle if you fail to address the underlying problem.

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What Causes Panic Attacks To Cycle Over And Over?

panic attack treatment

For the vast majority of people, subsequent panic attacks are something they want to avoid at all costs. In order to do this, they go about creating a panic attack avoidance strategy. In their head they believe this will help solve the problem - in reality it makes it much, much worse.

The first element of the panic attack avoidance strategy is to dwell on, contemplate and re-live all things panic attack related. Things like where they've had panic attacks before, what the 'trigger' was, where they've felt nervous or uneasy and where they could potentially suffer a panic attack in the future.

This in effect creates a sort of avoidance list. People generally assume that if they've had a panic attack at place X, in situation Y or with person Z - an X, Y or Z was somehow the cause of the panic attack. By actively avoiding X, Y and Z in the future the sufferer believes they will also avoid having further panic attacks.

The first problem is that the thought process of dwelling upon, contemplating or reliving anything panic attack related will almost certainly generate anxiety... which is exactly the thing that CAUSES panic attacks. As you read this text you're probably relatively safe from harm in terms of reality. However, if you start to think about having your next panic attack, when and where it will occur and what people will think of you when you melt-down in front of them - isn't it your dwelling that makes you feel bad? In reality, you're still relatively safe, but your thought processes create the feeling of anxiety in your emotional centre. This in turn starts to over-inflate your anxiety balloon pushing you closer to the line where your brain will automatically trigger another panic attack. Thus the panic attack avoidance strategy used by the vast majority of sufferers is precisely what locks them into the panic attack cycle and generates more panic attacks.

The brain treats thought process as being real and in the moment. So of you think about a hospital appointment next week that you don't want to attend - you'll feel anxious about it right here right now, even though the appointment isn't until next week. We can also consider dreams to be another analogy:

In our dream we can be trapped in a burning building, terrified we can't get out. It feels real and the emotional responses are identical to those if you were really trapped in a burning building. In addition we also experience physiological responses to the dream such as muscle tension, breathlessness and sweating. Hence in reality, even though you are safely tucked up in bed, your dream (thought processes) generate intense emotions and physical symptoms. This is why you can wake up gasping for breath, fraught with fear and soaked in sweat when in reality there was no fire to start with. This is the power of thought process.

The second element locking sufferers into the panic attack cycle is down to restricting what they'll do and where they'll go for fear of having another panic attack.

So if Helen has a panic attack on the motorway she could assume that the panic attack happened BECAUSE of the motorway. Hence, in future she avoids driving on the motorway in order to avoid another panic attack. The effect of this restriction can start off as being relatively harmless. However, let's say Helen dwells on avoiding motorways for a fortnight and stresses herself each time she runs through her avoidance strategy thought processes. Her anxiety levels rise to a dangerous level (even though she's not been on a motorway) and her brain decides it needs to purge and vent her anxiety baggage.

panic attack clinic

Let's say that her next panic attack starts when she's sitting in her car on her driveway. Helen puts two and two together and arrives at the conclusion that it wasn't motorways after all - it was being in a car! Thus Helen extends her restriction to avoid being in her car and possibly other people's too. So, just two panic attacks has devastated her ability to drive to work and for the most part, to travel in general. How soon will she be trapped inside her house at this rate?

The reason the panic attack cycle is so strong is because the two elements of 'avoidance' and 'dwelling' feed each other. The more you avoid, the more you need to dwell on living around the things you must avoid. The more you dwell the worse you feel. The worse you feel the more panic attacks you suffer. The more panic attacks you suffer the more you restrict. The more you restrict the more you have to dwell on... and the cycle continues... getting tighter, tougher and more intense as time passes. The incredible thing is that the majority of people believe this is some sort of solution! Scary really.

You may still be in the infancy stages of the panic attack cycle and believe you can handle it. However, if you use a strategy based upon 'avoidance' and 'dwelling' it will get out of hand. If you find your panic attacks are already out of hand you'll have no problem identifying that we're telling the truth. Either way, the only exit strategy to get yourself out of the panic attack cycle and get your life back on track is by fixing the underlying problem. Maintaining the panic attack cycle is a thankless task made up of hard work, heart-ache, emotional pain, physical suffering and constant fear. Is that how you want to spend the rest of your life?

If you've realised that sitting back and doing the same thing over and over is going to dig you in even deeper, then you've understood what we're talking about and are almost certainly ready to recover. The truth is that recovery involves far less effort and heart-ache than carrying on with the panic attack cycle. It's a no-brainer really. However, we're not going to give you a sales pitch - just an offer. Talk to us and find out how we can help you get your life back. It's just a phone call and nobody here is going to twist your arm. We're too busy with people keen to get our help to waste time convincing indecisive people who don't know what they want.

You can contact us on 01782 855585, 11am to 9pm, seven days a week.

If you'd like to find out more about our very affordable fees, our zero risk guarantee, how long recovery typically takes and your Consultation options - choose from the following:

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