Dr. Tamar Chansky: Why Do I Panic?

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We may have the experience of all of a sudden just feeling so overwhelmed and panicked, we can't think straight. Our hearts racing, we are sweating, we are just, we are on overload and that's literally what is happening is that you cant process anything else. You've just maybe you've been in a stressful situation and you've been coping with it and you haven't realized how stressful it is and you just get to your breaking point.

You don't have to break but what you need to do is to reboot at that point. It's kind of like your computer can't work efficiently, if there are million windows open. You have to shut it down and restart and then everything is fine. What you need to do when you are in that moment of just feeling panicked and overwhelmed is to go to a quite place be willing to unplug, so that you can go back more efficiently.

Often, we know that we are on overload but we keep pushing ourselves. It doesn't work. If you can be willing to take a minute to say okay, I'm on overload. I need to go take a walk outside walk away from whatever it is that you are wrangling with. Changing the scenery will probably make you feel calmer.

Go get a drink of water. You can do some calm breaths or tell yourself, this is going to be Okay, I'm on overload. All those things will help you get back to the place that you really need to be. But you will come back feeling differently. You'll come back in a different mode. Now that's different from a panic attack which is a very specific experience where again, out of the blue, you start feeling something different from just feeling overwhelmed.

With panic attacks, you feel intense feeling of dread that something terrible is about to happen. Maybe you feel like you're going to die or have a heart attack or go crazy, or lose control. Why do panic attacks happen? That fight or flight part of the body which protects us from danger, let's us know when we're about to cross the street, that a car is coming and we stop and we run back to safety.

With a panic attack what happens is that, fight or flight reaction has switched on without any emergency going on. So, all the physical symptoms that you have with a panic attack, your heart racing is to pump blood to your extremety, so that you could run or fight. Makes total sense if you were really in an emergency, but if you're sitting in your office and suddenly feeling panicked, it's really scary to think, why is my body doing this? But that's why you want to think, you want to understand that the real reason is, you're in that fighter flight mode and you can tell yourself, this is panic the switch got flipped.

I'm fine if I can breath calmly and just not feed the panic by saying, why is this happening? What's going to happen next? What's going on with me? I'm I going to go crazy? Those kinds of questions just further perpetuate your fear. So, rather that questions you quell panic with statements.

They may not sound as interesting as those questions but they are very effective. These is panic. I'm safe, nothing is wrong in my body. If I keep thinking this way and breathing calmly I will probably feel better in about 10 minutes. So, whether it's the butterflies in the stomach or the sweating palms arms or the tingling in the arms and legs, you might even feel light headed.

All of those symptoms that don't make sense in the moment, totally make sense in the context of getting you ready to fight or flee. So just remember that your body is in good working order. A panic attack is essentially testing that emergency response, but without an emergency there, and without telling you that it's just a test.