A Key to Getting Past Panic: Stop Misinterpreting What Your Body is Saying
My clients understandably complain about the terror they feel at times during a panic attack. They notice that that the multiple signs of panic come on bit by bit. And in the attempt to feel better and escape danger, they often believe they need to leave the room, sit down and rest, take medication, or just get away from where they are and, often, not go back.
Fear is a natural feeling telling our bodies most often to flee. The right amount of fear is useful. But what if, like many of my clients you misinterpret your bodily signs of fear?
How Anxiety Lets Us Get Fooled by Fear
A noticeable increase in your heartbeat doesn’t have to mean that you are about to have a heart attack. But the clients who suffer from panic attacks invariably tell me that when they feel their hearts beating faster, they get the notion that they might be having a heart attack, or even just another panic attack.
And what do you think happens then? Their fear increases, and so too does their heart rate. Suddenly their breathing seems more shallow, and they notice a tiny bit of feeling faint or dizzy. They then interpret all this as evidence of being sick or vulnerable. And they feel worse. By the way, all this interpretation happens very fast, almost automatically.
Changing Your Focus to Get Through the Moment
So the more you focus on physical symptoms and give yourself a faulty diagnoses, the more likely you start to be overtaken by fear and suffer from an anxiety attack. For example, imagine having a mosquito bite. What happens when you focus on it? Does it itch even more? What happens when you’re distracted from it? Do you even feel anything?
My clients learn that accepting what is happening in the moment, even telling themselves “this is discomfort, not danger” is very helpful. They are taught to use how to use calming breathing techniques and short mindfulness meditations to help them get past the tough moment. They soon find out that fear subsides and they are much more resilient than they thought they were.
See a Doctor, and Then Consider Counseling
By the way, other causes for an increase in heartbeat? Caffeine, nicotine, alcohol, too little sleep, not enough exercise, a scary movie, asking a special person out, a roller coaster ride, the thrill of getting on a plane for your vacation, a bad driver, a job interview, the stress when your new boss is upset, getting ready to take a big exam, pregnancy…well, you get the idea.
In rare cases, palpitations can be a sign of a more serious heart condition. Therefore, if you have heart palpitations, make arrangements to see your doctor. If the doctor sees nothing wrong with your heart, then learning to manage your anxiety makes sense.