Panic attacks and post-traumatic stress

It all seems to happen quickly, unexpectedly; you zone out as if in a dream, a short movie of an unpleasant event you’d rather forget running quickly in your head.


You can once again see everything in this dreamlike place, remember what was said, even smell the place. This is not happening. You try to remember to stop it, but it’s too late.

Now you are back in that moment, your mood changes to anger or anxiety. You notice that you are getting hot, your heart is racing, your breathing quickens, and you need to get out of the room. You feel out of control, dizzy. Slowly the world you are really in returns and the feelings subside.

This is a panic attack - an emotional hijack - unexpected, unpleasant, possibly made worse by the people who are trying to help you.

This account, based on my own felt experience, is an attempt to map out what happens when PTSD or panic is triggered. Of course, the severity and nuances are different for every individual. Occasionally it invades our dream space as well.

I would describe it as anxiety to the max.

The physical response - raised heartbeat, shortness of breath, feeling hot and sweaty - is the result of your body being flooded with adrenaline. The 'fight or flight' response, located deep within our basic survival mechanisms, has its uses. If someone shouts 'fire', this, without thinking, will help you get out of a building quickly.

However, these effects can be triggered (before you can even realise what is happening to you) by small details that unbeknownst to your conscious mind, becoming unconscious warnings of an imminent threat.

I don’t make light of this trauma, as our conditioned response can make our everyday life fearful, and in many different ways, harder to bear.

I took this on as a research subject, looking at the many different ways in which other countries have treated this common reaction. From the USA and its post-Vietnam experience to civil war refugees living abroad, and of course the less dramatic accidents, or being involved in larger and unusual dramatic events.

My approach

I have developed my way of working with these problems. My main philosophy is that it is possible to learn that you control it - it does not control you.

It means that this issue needs to be examined safely so that it does not trigger the response by talking about it, however, if I have helped you in my useful way to resolve it, you will get control back in your life.

Over the years I have been practising, I have helped people in many ways to overcome their fears of flying, to working with a community in the aftermath of a terror attack in London.

I use a variety of techniques, as it is finding a pathway to being back in control of your emotional space that matters, not what I think works. I work to find a 'solution' that is easy for you.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Counselling Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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Hove BN3
Written by Marius Jankowski, BSc, MSc, MSc. MBacp (registered)
Hove BN3

I have a background in behavioural psychology, studying as a zoologist in the 80's and working with comparative techniques . This later lead me to change to the psychoanalytic approaches as pure psychology, with it's emphasis on cognition and behaviour, never seemed to me to encapsulate the complexity and beauty of being a human being.

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