Understanding Panic


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© 2004, Trina Swerdlow

The POINTER spins around at top speed, locating the danger, so that you can instantly respond and save yourself from great peril.

But what happens when your internal alarm is a false alarm?  The POINTER spins around wildly, desperately trying to locate the danger, in order to save you.  But there aren't any tigers or cannibals around.  The only thing unusual is what's going on in your own body – sensations that relate to the activation of the fight-or-flight response.  So the POINTER, with no other place to go, points inside, to those strange and strong sensations.  The POINTER says “That must be the danger I’ve been looking for!”

What sensations do you experience during panic?  Believe it or not, all of these sensations are simply a result of the fight-or-flight response getting turned on.  Being afraid of the sensations makes them seem bigger. 

But no matter how intense they are, all of these sensations are completely harmless.  In fact, the body is mobilizing for heroic action.  If you were really facing a tiger or a cannibal, you wouldn't even notice these sensations – you’d be too busy fighting or fleeing.  But with no external danger, your POINTER focuses on these strange sensations – they are the only thing unusual that's going on.

And yes, the sensations are unusual.  The fight-or-flight response doesn’t often get turned on.  In fact, the first time you experienced a panic attack may have been the first time your fight-or-flight response was triggered without a real, external emergency to focus on.  So, yes, the sensations are unusual.  And completely harmless.



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