Anxiety and panic attacks have been linked to childhood trauma, but it is by no means the only cause. Panic attacks can occur due to number of conditions including social anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, drug use, depression, and a number of medical problems. They can either be triggered or occur unexpectedly. However, children that experience trauma are more likely to have increased anxiety and depressive behaviours which they can endure well into adulthood, making those adults less capable to cope with stress.
Myself and Joyce have both suffered from panic attacks, and although, for Joyce, they are a thing of the past, I unfortunately on occasion still struggle with them. I hope this blog will help others who also suffer with these awful attacks to gain a deeper understanding of the fear that surrounds them. It is important that you know that you are not crazy, and you can manage them with awareness and support.
I began to suffer from panic attacks and anxiety for months following the birth of my first child. No matter how hard I tried I simply couldn’t shake it. I tried to keep busy with the baby, but whenever I put him down for his nap I was afraid to even look in his direction. I was sure he was going to sit up and talk to me, even though he was only weeks old. I believed I was going mad and because my thoughts were so crazy, I felt I couldn’t share them with anyone.
Whenever I tried to relax I felt a tingling feeling in my feet and within seconds it would travel throughout my body. It was such a frightening feeling that I often insisted on Mam calling an ambulance. I was convinced I was dying and that everyone knew but they wouldn’t tell me. This anxiety lasted for months. I was terrified to leave the house for fear I would die alone.
I was consumed with fear and unable to sleep. Regardless of the assurance I got from the doctor, a specialist and a psychiatrist. I still believed I was dying. The anticipation of what could happen was enough to ensure that I remained on edge. Night after night I would sit downstairs with mam rocking myself back and forth to comfort myself.
One night when I was so exhausted I lay in bed and the tingling began, I was so tired I gave in, I looked up to heaven and said ‘f… it if I am going to die, do it now’ It worked, the tingling stopped, and I fell into a deep sleep. It was only when I surrendered to my fear that it stopped, and I never suffered from panic attacks again.
I have thought about writing a blog on this subject for some time now but, I hesitated for fear that simply writing about it, would bring on an attack.
I experienced my first anxiety attack when I broke my leg. That forced confinement brought to the surface feelings of helplessness and dependency. However, I didn’t really understand what was happening and over time I became more and more anxious. I believe it was this recurrence of anxiety that resulted in my first panic attack.
My panic attacks come out of the blue, my lips begin to feel strange and because I had bell’s palsy in the past, I am instantly afraid it’s happening again. This is followed by a tingling sensation running through body. My heart starts to thump, and I feel breathless, fear builds up rapidly and takes control of my thoughts. The feelings that I’m about to die or have a stroke feeds into the fear. My imagination runs wild and I can see myself ending up alone or locked in a madhouse. I am aware that this is crazy, but I feel powerless to stop it.
I consider myself a rational and logical person and I can tell the difference between imagination and reality quite easily. However, when I am in the middle of a panic attack nothing can tell me that what I am feeling is not real. I am absolutely convinced that at best, I am going to have a stroke, or more likely I am about to die.
What scares me most is the place I felt safest is no longer available to me. I am most comfortable in my head and it is also where I retreat to when I’m stressed or worried. My fear around having an attack can make it difficult to focus on my work and this causes more stress. It becomes a vicious circle.
It is the actual fear and anticipation of an attack that drives my anxiety. I am sure that I have even brought on an attack by focusing on the fear. However, lately I have tried meditations and mental exercises to talk myself down and they are working for me while I work on uncovering the underlying cause of the attacks.
This may sound strange, but I am grateful for the panic attacks because they have forced me out of my head and into the moment. I have always found when I’m stressed or worried I get ill or have physical pain. The panic attacks are just another way to look at what is going on in the background. I believe they will stop when I understand what they are trying to tell me.
For those of us who have experienced trauma as children it is most likely that the triggers to panic attacks have their roots in the past. It is also likely that the fear is subconscious. Fear is only powerful when we do not know its origins, it loses its power if we understand where it comes from. Exploring childhood trauma with a professional can uncover the root cause behind the fear that drives panic attacks.
In the meantime, if you understand what is happening inside your body when having an attack, it may help to stop it before it gets going. I read somewhere that it only takes three minutes for adrenaline to fill your body and cause a panic attack. That also means that you will have three minutes to stop the adrenaline before the attack takes hold. To stop an attack, you must interrupt the messages of fear going to your brain.
During my last attack, I tried the steps below and it did stop the attack before it got hold. It didn’t remove the fear but at least I wasn’t controlled by it. I am aware that, it’s both the anticipation of the attack and the thoughts during the attack that do the most harm.
Following these steps was most helpful to me:
- Try to relax, I know how difficult this is, but it is the first step that will allow you to stop the messages going to the brain telling you that you are in danger and prevent the release of any more adrenaline.
- Focus on your breath, breathe in and out to a count of 7, then 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1. Make the breaths as deep as you can, this can be very difficult, but it really will help so persevere.
- Think of a place, person, or thing that you associate with being calm and relaxed.
- Scream in your head ‘I’m fine’ ‘I am ok’ ‘Nothing bad is going to happen’ the louder you can scream the better.
- Repeat your own positive messages to counter what you normally say during an attack. The point is to stop you repeating the negative fear filled messages that make the attack worse and last longer.
- When the attack has passed write a list of everything you fear in this moment, it is necessary to dissect these fears. You may discover the similarities in your present and your past fears. Understanding your fear removes its power.
This takes time and practice, but I found it helped me. Once you can deal with the symptom’s you will be free to begin to focus on the underlying cause. You need to know that a panic attack will not kill you. Use them to understand yourself and you will come out the other end stronger.
Paula – 28th March 2018