What ever you do don't PANIC!
"Honestly, Helen, I thought I was having a heart attack." Those were the words of a client who came to see me. I have never forgotten how graphic and disturbing her descriptions were of experienced panic attacks. Heart pounding, adrenalin racing, buzzing light-headedness, nausia, profuse sweating... all of these frightening symptoms can be happening at once when a panic attack is in full swing. The body is reacting to pressure. The force of emotions can be very strong. Often the sufferer feels under attack or threat or is trapped in some way. It can be hard sometimes to recognise this, and even if they do sense that they are in some way threatened or feeling trapped it is not always clear what or whom is causing threat or entrapment.
Trying to find what triggers panic attacks is very important. Well trained counsellors and therapists can help with this. Sometimes there is more than one trigger. For some sufferers the causes of panic attacks can go way back to experiences in childhood that were traumatic or painful. For others, the causes of panic are to be found in their present life - too much pressure in different areas of their life building up and up; the fear of flying as their annual family holiday approaches; worry about lack of opportunities for promotion and the need for better pay; the omnipresent fear of receiving a redundancy notice or actually losing a job and security.
The emotional states of panic and anger are closely related (see my short article 'These Days of Anger'). In the process of alleviating full blown panic attacks, so that they become a thing of the past, I have found it very helpful to find out what makes a sufferer disappointed in life, and also to help them deal with underlying anger. For some people panic follows a disappointment, with anger in tow and often camouflaged or hidden, leaving the sufferer feeling out of control, afraid and emotionally depleted.
Counselling or therapy can help a panic attack sufferer not only to deal with the symptoms, but to understand why they are happening in the first place. It may take a bit of time to get there. Overcoming the fear and feelings of being out of control can feel like a massive relief, so that new ways of dealing with pressure can be found. Not all of our problems can be easily removed, but finding new ways of getting on with life in spite of difficulties can be achievable, and freeing.
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