Attack Panic Attacks

“A wave of panic passed over the vessel, and these rough and hardy men, who feared no mortal foe, shook with terror at the shadows of their own minds.” – Arthur Conan Doyle

Many clients who come to me for help for all sorts of different problems eventually find the start of the problem can be traced back to one single event, and an event that they didn’t understand, which left them very frightened. It was quite possibly their first panic attack. That one episode often results in phobias or fears developing, from flight fright to claustrophobia, from agoraphobia to anxiety, from insomnia to fear of crowds. These can very often be traced back to an event during which your clever brain decided that you were in imminent danger. Adrenaline was released, your heart rate was automatically raised and you were hyperventilating, you felt as though you were having a heart attack, your blood pressure increased, your legs and hands may have shaken, your feet and palms perhaps sweated and you felt absolutely terrified. Perhaps you even ended up at casualty, thinking you were having a heart attack, and you were too terrified to mention those thoughts to the doctor because you feared that even discussing them would bring on another attack. In fact, something very clever has happened, and this important mechanism should be one of the most important facets of being human – a very efficient survival response and a reaction to danger. It’s all happening in your Amygdala.

The Amygdala is that part of the brain that we could think of as our ‘security officer’ and which is in charge of our ‘Fight or Flight’ response. Hundreds of thousands of years ago our ancestors wouldn’t have slept quite so well as we do, as their level of vigilance had to be constantly attuned to anything with large teeth that may have wanted to eat them, and that very primitive part of ourselves is one of the main factors that cause panic attacks. It’s the same part of us that acts without logical thought so our ‘thinking brain’ is bypassed when something threatens us, or appears to be threatening us, because our brain has ‘pattern matched’ to a set of circumstances which, in primitive times, would have set us ready to stand our ground and fight, or to run like mad from danger. Of course, all these reactions had a really valuable place when we needed to be alert to sabre-tooth tigers, but when our primitive self senses a set of circumstances in which it believes we are being threatened it reacts in a very primitive and inappropriate way, without us thinking. So, it’s useful to have a smoke alarm fitted and working, but it is unhelpful to have it so highly attuned that it sounds an alarm when the next door neighbour burns their toast.

Most who have suffered a panic attack report that it “just seemed to come from nowhere, for no reason” and that’s quite an accurate description when you fully understand what’s happening. There are other major contributory factors, one of which is to do with the amount of oxygen we have been taking in. Thus, hyperventilation, where you have too much oxygen and not enough carbon dioxide, is often the forerunner to a panic attack, and which can trigger the attack and add fuel to it. What is also clear is that unusually large amounts of stress, either internal or external, can be the final trigger that sets off the panic attack. It is the human reaction to stress which finally puts the last piece of the jigsaw in place, and which offers the perfect scenario in which panic attacks, can thrive.

It’s worth understanding that all of this is a function of your unconscious mind, that part of your brain which cleverly looks after so many different things for us whilst we are busy being conscious. A panic attack can even occur in your sleep, as it’s not uncommon for people to wake in the middle of the night, bathed in sweat and very anxious about something they can’t explain. It seems as though you’ve been through some terribly frightening experience, but you’re not sure what, and any attempt to put your head on the pillow again sets the pulse racing and the same fears coming back.

It’s also worth realising how common these episodes can be, as it’s not the kind of thing you easily share with friends. At a recent seminar of nearly 600 GPs I asked how many in the room had ever had a panic attack, and around half the audience admitted to at least one.

Remember this; nobody ever died or went mad from a panic attack.

Happily, if you have suffered, there is much that can now be done to completely eradicate panic attacks from your life, as we can train the panic response so that it takes a more appropriate place in our armour. An in-depth understanding of all the factors that have caused your panic attacks will be very helpful in dispelling your fear, as is talking to the unconscious mind through good clinical hypnosis. We have simple but effective programmes to reduce stress levels, proven interventions to help you recognise the early warning signs, all combined with well-tried breathing techniques, which successfully assure your Amygdala that all is well, and which recondition your response to more appropriate levels. Importantly, desensitising your unconscious mind from a particular set of circumstances can be effectively completed, sometimes in only one session. This can quickly result in all the other symptoms just disappearing, allowing the sufferer to live a ‘normal’ life again, sleeping easily and living without fear. Of course, the benefits of greatly reduced stress levels will also improve health and life in many ways.

Based at The Grove Clinic in St. Peter Port, John Halker is a qualified Psychotherapist and Clinical Hypnotherapist, using the solution-focused human givens approach to help people change their minds and their lives. You can find out more about John and his work at and you will find much of interest at In Guernsey call 01481 729911 or in London call 020 7193 2842

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