What Is Panic And Why Does It Happen?
You find yourself aware of some strange sensation in your body usually brought about by tension or stress. You become worried about it because it arrives unexpectedly. Rather than seeking out the source of the tension, you seek out the source of the fear. "Why am I feeling afraid?"
But your past worries had known reasons. You also knew "fear" from experience as something related to your environment. Now pay close attention ...
If someone threatens you, you may fear THAT person. If you see a highway CAUTION sign you will worry about driving carefully. But for a newly felt sensation like a racing heart, rapid breathing, muscle ache, giddiness, blurred vision, headache, nausea, etc. - all possible symptoms of stress overload - once you assign an unknown source label to it, you have created a conflict within your conscious logic of how to react to the fear.
This NEW fear doesn't seem to have a reason, a source, or a purpose. It arrived seemingly out of nowhere. It blindsided you. Because of the unknown nature of this new fear, you analyze it and the worrying becomes more pronounced.
You may begin to extend your new unknown fear feeling into your future well-being with "what if" questions - hypothetical situations to determine how you might feel in the future IF the same fear existed.
The worrying seems endless as you cannot identify the cause. You begin to fantasize about odd possibilities like tumors, cancer, glands, heart attack, stroke, and aneurysms. At this point you feel threatened for your life or your sanity.
This threat launches another bodily function which takes over your worrying for you - the Sympathetic Nervous System (SNS) which is responsible for your survival.
It stimulates heartbeat, raises blood pressure, dilates the pupils, dilates the trachea and bronchi for breathing, converts stored glycogen (starch) into glucose (sugar), inhibits digestion and movement in the gastrointestinal (GI) tract and inhibits contraction of the bladder and rectum.
In short, it makes you ready to run for your life. Through this flight/fight response it socks you with a rapid and intense fear so powerful, that your immediate response is to run and/or hide. But you can't. You don't know why or where to run to, and you can't hide. This is the inherent contradiction in panic.
The SNS is not controlled consciously by you. It is influenced by your thoughts and beliefs but it is INDEPENDENT of your control. It is a part of your instinctive brain. And this is perplexing because in the past your fear feelings had identifiable situations or sources. These were ones you could avoid or change.
Panic is really your SNS now in charge of your worrying. You can't stop it. You have no conscious control over it once it kicks in. At this point trying to exert control only makes it last longer. Conversely, by trying to NOT stop it makes it stop. This, is the way out.
It's important to note that this can happen to anyone at any time. It is not related to how weak minded or sensitive the individual is. Military personnel, fire fighters, politicians, sportsmen ... are all confused as to why they have these panic feelings. They keep fighting the panic and their own SNS. You can't win this fight.
The SNS is your base nature protection, your survival albeit overblown for today's modern stresses. As you increase your worrying and focus, all your thoughts and energy (stress) on the unknown reason, the SNS has to take over.
Extreme stress initially produces a physical reaction which initiates extreme worrying which prompts the SNS response once you feel threatened. That's its job that developed over millions of years of evolution - WAY before the industrial revolution, the fast pace of the new age, and cell phones. A higher degree of worrying warrants the survival mechanism of the SNS. It's nature. It's what your body is supposed to do in response to your fear. It is built-in and can't be avoided or changed.
The SNS needs to be fed a continuous supply of worry/fear to stay alert and active. The fear of panic essentially becomes the reason for the SNS to react. A circular process for sure. By letting the panic go on without preventing it you are showing your SNS and your instinctive brain that it needn't worry, that it isn't necessary.
That the panic it produced for you to "save you" is overblown for the given situation. There really is NO impending doom. When you face what you fear (the panic) totally and willingly, the SNS process shuts off and the panic shuts off.
This is really how simple the process it is. And why you must completely stand down when panic occurs and take the opposite track. Not away from the panic but towards it - allowing it to "kill" you. You have NO control over it.
All the analyzing and wishing away the fear feeling can't work. It, in fact, will do the opposite. The panic is your body's natural mechanism for survival. But if it is at the wrong place at the wrong time you have the means of proving that it is not needed and, in effect, switching it off.
Just a thought ...
~Justin Taylor, ORDM., OCP., DM.
My thanks to Jeff at Panic End dot com