Why am I having panic attacks?

Maybe you’ve had symptoms of anxiety your whole life; people labelled you as a “shy” child, you didn’t like going over to friends houses for sleepovers, and you despised giving presentations in front of your class.

Maybe you’ve been mostly comfortable for your whole life; lots of friends, a loving family, always had a job – and now, moving through your late 20’s- early 40’s, you’re starting to have worsening symptoms of anxiety.

Wherever your baseline levels of anxiety are…

Social Support

One of the most challenging components regarding panic attacks is that it can seem like others don’t believe you or understand what you’re going through. Maybe you even ask yourself “Am I overreacting?” or judging yourself by saying “I have a great life, I should be able to handle this.” Sometimes your loved ones or those closest to you might seem annoyed or sick of what you have to say about your symptoms. This creates tension in the relationship and can cause you to question yourself, building further disconnect and lack of trust between your mind and body.

To help with this, I recommend that you: 1) Journal – get to know yourself and how you’re actually feeling, 2) Get curious with your physical symptoms – what are they trying to communicate to you? What has gone unacknowledged?, 3) Check-in with your family doctor, incase the symptoms are related to an underlying medical condition, and 4) See a therapist, often times you might feel like you’re alone in this and that everyone has stress and anxiety and that you should be able to manage on your own; a therapist will help you to unpack what’s going on underneath the panic symptoms, guide you through coping skills for panic attacks, and validate and normalize your experience of mental health.

Symptoms of Panic Attacks

Just kidding – I’m actually not going to list the symptoms of panic attacks on here because 1) They can show up in different ways for different people, 2) Sometimes, when you read about a symptoms, it can have the effect of a self-fulfilling prophecy, and 3) Some symptoms could be related to something medical and you need to talk to your doctor about this.

Here are a few behavioural components of panic symptoms, for when it’s gone too far without care and support and is now causing you distress in your personal functioning, social relationships, and work life:

  • You’re feeling scared that you might put others safety at risk if you have a panic attack while you’re with them
  • You spend a lot of time searching your symptoms online, looking for answers
  • You often create a back-up plan in your mind about what you’ll do if you have a panic attack while you’re out in public
  • You’re experiencing tension, resentment, and disconnect in your relationships
  • You don’t feel present, you don’t feel like yourself, and you’re not enjoying everyday life
  • You’re finding that this is beginning to have an impact on your work life, even though it didn’t before

The Basics

You need to support yourself physiologically – nourishing foods, restorative sleep, guilt-free rest, movement and activity, setting boundaries and saying no to adding more to your already full plate, or taking time off from work, communicating your needs to others, meditating and relaxation, play and leisure.

Shift your routine – our bodies become addicted to the stress hormones (cortisol, adrenaline, norepinephrine) released when you’re experiencing panic. Your body craves these chemicals because there’s certainty there, maybe you haven’t felt relaxation, calm, or joy in a long time – those are unknown, your body doesn’t know what it’s like to feel the ease of serotonin – peaceful, in balance, at rest, or in homeostasis. Try something different in your day – get outside, switch things up, change your environment, sometimes, what we’re looking for is in the unknown – which is scary – but is what you’re doing right now working for you?

Numbing behaviours such as scrolling endlessly on your phone, smoking a lot of weed, having a few glasses of wine every night, obsessing over high intensity workouts, frivolously online shopping, sex addiction, bingeing and restricting food – these can all be ways in which that you might cope with symptoms of panic because of that overload of stress hormones – your body just wanted to come back to neutral; these behaviours are a product of the chase, the hunt, the search for something to make you feel good again.

What you need to know is that you can begin to work through this. You can begin to unpack what’s going on underneath of your symptoms. It might seem useful to learn coping skills, but without going a little bit deeper into your emotional state and the causes of your anxiety, your symptoms will return and they may even change as you adapt; rather than putting a “Band-Aid over a bullet wound” I recognize the importance of addressing underlying causes, while guiding you through tools and strategies that you can begin to apply to your daily life. You can learn how to heal, you can learn how to support your nervous system back to a place of balance, you can learn to regulate your thoughts and emotions, and learn to shift your behaviours so that you can be fully engaged in your life once again.

If you’d like to talk more with me about your panic symptoms click below to schedule a free, 15-minute, online, consultation.

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