When people have panic attacks, they don’t come from out of nowhere. There is a specific process by which people take themselves from one state to another. That process has to do with what they’re thinking about, and how, specifically, they are thinking about it.
For example, in order to go from a state of complete comfort and relaxation to a state of panic, something has to happen. For most people, it’s something they actually see or experience that tells them “Hey! Get ready to fight! Something bad is about to happen!” A wonderful example of this would be witnessing an elephant running through your living room.
Real or Imagined? What’s the Difference?
What’s different in people who experience panic attacks is that they can go from relaxation to panic without any external stimuli whatsoever. The change is a result of a progression of thoughts, which can be just as powerful as the “real thing.”
The subconscious mind can’t distinguish between “real” and imagined sounds and images, which is why you can simply imagine a frightening situation and actually feel the fear response in your body. If you disagree, just recall a time when you heard a noise late at night and wondered if someone was breaking into your home. Now ask yourself, was that fear “real?”
From Calm to Panic – One Man’s Journey
Here’s an example of how a person might experience a panic attack:
Let’s say a man is spending a nice, quiet evening at home while his wife is out with a friend. She said she’d be home by 11:00, and it’s now 11:30. The man says to himself: “My wife is never late… not unless she calls. She has a cell phone, so why wouldn’t she call?” Then he creates an image of his wife stranded by the side of the road, or perhaps in an accident. If he’s really good at having panic attacks, he might even create a vivid image of his wife – injured, unconscious, thrown from her vehicle.
For him, these images have the same power and impact as if they had actually happened. The longer he waits, and the more he thinks about it, the feelings become stronger. He replays those graphic images over and over again in his mind until he can barely breathe. Eventually, his experience is the same as if the imagined events had actually occurred. As for his wife… well, she was out having fun and simply lost track of the time. It happens.
Change the Path, Change the Experience
The way to deal with panic attacks is to interrupt or modify this internal thought process. There are several ways to do this. One way is by learning to manipulate those internal thoughts and images to lessen their impact.
To try this out for yourself, create a big bright image of something real or imagined which you find particularly frightening, and notice the how your body feels in response to that image. Now make the image black and white, and shrink it down so that you can barely see it in your mind. Now make it dark and blurry. Does that have any impact on the feeling in your body? For most people, the response is a fraction of what it used to be.
This is just one way you can use your mind and your imagination to your advantage. There are many others. With a little practice, you will learn to gain control of your experience and take it in a new direction.