Panic attacks are the worst. It often feels like they come out of nowhere, and they completely hijack your body and mind. Eventually, you may feel as if your life revolves around trying to avoid them, and dreading the next one. What can you do to get out of this cycle? Together, mindfulness tools and EMDR therapy can help.
What is a panic attack?
A panic attack is the activation of your body’s fight or flight system. Your brain’s job is to keep you safe, not make you happy. So your brain is constantly on the lookout for dangers. When a danger is present, the fight or flight system prepares you to protect yourself by fighting or running away. When a danger is not actually present, we call the false alarm a panic attack. Sometimes it’s a reaction to stress, and sometimes it feels like it comes out of nowhere. Symptoms may include:
· Racing heart rate
· Shortness of breath
· Feeling of panic or impending doom
· Feeling of “going crazy” or losing control
· Tingling or numbness in hands, feet, face, or lips
· Feeling “foggy” or like the world is distant
· Feeling outside of your body
· Feeling of wanting to run or escape
Most panic attacks are brief, about 5-15 minutes, but they sometimes last longer. Many people feel as if they are having a heart attack. If that is the case, you should consult a doctor in order to rule out any kind of heart condition. Once you know that what you are dealing with is anxiety, we can use mindfulness tools and EMDR to help.
Reducing the Fear of Fear
We use mindfulness tools to help you learn to calm your mind when you start to notice the first signs of panic attacks. You might practice slow, deep breathing, while telling yourself things like, “It’s just a feeling. It’s uncomfortable, but not dangerous. It will end, it always has before. I can let it pass by like a wave. ” Read more about what to do during a panic attack here.
Conquering Panic Attacks with EMDR
EMDR therapy (eye movement desensitization and reprocessing) can help reduce how often panic attacks are triggered in the first place. The first panic attack you have may be related to some sort of stress. After that, panic attacks may happen simply because a similar situation comes up. Whenever you have a scary experience (such as a panic attack), you brain bookmarks everything about the situation and stores a vivid memory of the place, the smell, the sounds, the people around you, etc. When a similar situation comes up later, your brain recognizes it and automatically activates your fight or flight system to protect you. Eventually, your brain may bookmark more and more situations as “dangerous,” until you live in fear and dread of a panic attack happening at any time.
With EMDR, we reverse this process. We go back to where the panic attacks began, and teach your brain that the situation is not dangerous, and that you can cope with it. This way we can curb the automatic fight or flight reactions your body is having. During EMDR, you focus on events that contributed to the panic attacks, and the therapist helps you connect the emotional part of your brain that feels afraid (the limbic system), with the logical part of your brain that knows you’re ok (the prefrontal cortex). We use EMDR to process through events in the following order:
· Background stressors to the first panic attack
· The first panic attack
· The worst panic attack
· The most recent panic attack
· Any childhood events that contributed to feeling unsafe
· Current triggers
· Uncomfortable body sensations associated with anxiety (e.g. rapid breathing, rapid heartrate)
· How you’d like to feel in the future
Together, we help you manage anxiety in the present while working to calm your brain so that panic attacks occur less often in the first place. Contact me so we can start a plan for you to conquer your fears and live your life to the fullest.