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What is a panic attack?

What is a panic attack? A panic attack is a sudden episode of intense fear that triggers severe physical reactions when there is no real danger or apparent cause. Panic attacks can be very frightening. When panic attacks occur, you might think you’re losing control, having a heart attack or even dying.

Panic attacks are uncomfortable, involuntary, and often occur without warning.Although panic attacks themselves aren’t life-threatening, they can be frightening and significantly affect your quality of life. But treatment can be very effective.

A panic attack is a condition of adrenaline being released into your bloodstream. A message of fear sends a signal to the adrenal glands that there is an emergency. The adrenal glands are pea-sized organs that sit on top of your kidneys. They are filled with adrenaline that, when released into your body, gives you heightened abilities to respond to emergency situations. This emergency response causes physical symptoms that many people misinterpret as a heart attack or other serious physical conditions. Misinterpreting these symptoms can cause the fear response to continue.

Adrenaline causes the heart to pump extra blood. This extra blood gets pumped into your major muscles to increase your ability to run fast and to increase the strength in your arms. Extra blood also goes into your brain to give you heightened abilities to respond to the emergency.

It takes three minutes from the time that your brain sends the emergency signal until your body is fully adrenalated with extra blood in your large arm and leg muscles and in your brain. In that three minute period you experience your heart pumping hard and extra blood flowing throughout your body. As long as your adrenal glands keep getting an emergency message, they continue to produce and release additional adrenaline. Once your brain stops signaling an emergency, your adrenal glands hold the adrenaline instead of releasing it.

It takes three minutes for your adrenal glands to fill your body with the adrenaline response. It also only takes three minutes for your body to stop the adrenaline reaction. If you stop a panic attack as soon as it starts, the reaction only has to last for three minutes. Stopping a panic attack is very simple and my next blog will cover it in detail. All you have to do is stop the emergency message from being sent to your adrenal glands.

Getting more carbon dioxide into your lungs – the re-breathing technique

Breathed-out air has more carbon dioxide in it than ordinary air.  If you breathe it in, the carbon dioxide will get back into your lungs more quickly.  To do this, follow the steps below in a relaxed manner:

1.Cup your hands together

2.Place them over your nose and mouth and keep them there

3.Breathe in slowly through your nose and out through your mouth

4. Breathe your own exhaled air no more than four times.

A paper bag works even better than hands; so if you can find one easily, try that. (Do not use plastic.)

Need some advice and support?

If you are struggling with panic attacks or indeed any other emotional issues or life challenges and would like to talk things over in complete confidentiality, call Alison Winfield, Mindfully Well Counselling Cork on 087 9934541.


See also: Panic Attacks, All You Need to Know About Panic Attacks

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