Anxiety and panic
Everyone has an emotional side and a rational side to their mind. Our emotional side says things like “I’ll go mad if this carries on” and “I’ll die if I can’t escape”. The emotional side tends to make quick instinctive judgments about situations, but it isn’t always correct. The rational side says things like “It’s very unlikely you’ll go mad – it’s never happened before” and “Just relax, you’re not in any danger”. Psychologists have found that it costs us more effort to use the rational side of our minds and so people tend to use it less often, especially if they are in stressful situations. Overcoming panic means nurturing and paying more attention to the rational side of our minds.
Panic gets worse when our emotional side becomes too loud or too convincing. When the emotional side of our brain causes a panic it makes 3 big mistakes: • Mistake 1: it overestimates the chances of a catastrophe happening • Mistake 2: it overestimates how awful it would be if that catastrophe happened • Mistake 3: it underestimates our ability to cope if that catastrophe really did happen Overcoming panic means correcting these mistakes. This is called DE-catastrophising. DE-catastrophising is a skill that we can all learn to use.
Panic is rarely caused by one single thing. A better way to think about panic is shown in the diagram below.
There may be things about us that make us vulnerable to developing panic at some point in our lives. Stresses and triggers explain why panic visits us now rather than at another time in our lives. Once we have panic there are common things that people typically do to cope with the unpleasant feelings it brings. Unfortunately, some of the most common coping strategies, while improving how you feel in the short-term, have unintended consequences that may result in more panic attacks. Vulnerability Stresses & triggers Panic Coping strategies can have the unintended consequence of prolonging panic Figure 1: Panic is the result of a combination of vulnerability and stress. Our coping strategies intended to prevent panic can inadvertently lead to having more panic attacks. Vulnerability to panic Both biological and psychological factors can make some people more vulnerable to panic. It is important to know right away that there is nothing terribly ‘wrong’ with people who experience panic. Panic is not thought to be the result of any neurochemical imbalance, nor any major biological dysfunction. Panic does not ‘run in families’ like hair color or height, although there is some evidence that having a family member with panic makes you somewhat more likely to experience panic.
The good news is the treatment I use can help you overcome panic and anxiety. Or you can use self-help techniques like online CBT or relaxation
A great free online mindfulness course is a good way to start https://academy.happiness.com/courses/online-mindful-based-stress-reduction