The phrases “panic attack” and “anxiety attack” are virtually interchangeable. Whilst the word panic sums up more vividly what people experience, the word anxiety is a more accurate reflection of what is happening to our body. Unfortunately, as everyone get anxious at times, to say you’re having an anxiety attack isn’t going to get much sympathy!
Anxiety Attack Symptoms
But its useful to stick with anxiety to understand what is actually happening to our body. Believe it or not, the anxiety symptoms we all experience are part of the bodies defence system. Its what is know as “fight or fight”, getting ready to deal with threats.
Going back a few thousand years, when humans first roamed the earth, life was a bit more simple. But also more dangerous – man was as likely to be a prey as a hunter. If danger was spotted – and the brain received that message – then there were two simple options:-
1) Fight that danger
2) Run away!!! (or Flight)
If you think about it, if you do either of these actions your body if working in the same way. It will be moving fast at in heightened state of arousal. It will need to make full use of its arms and legs, whilst not want to waste energy or non important factors (such as processing the last meal in the stomach).
You can probably see where I am heading, but lets not rush ahead (this blog is never going to be about rushing!).
Lets just reiterate what happened to the body to trigger this fight or flight response.
Danger > Message to Brain > Prepares to Fight or Fight Danger
Now, in modern life we can relate to this if we think about how we would react if confronted with a real physical danger. If walking down the street and we really did see a charging bull (or bison) heading towards us, we wouldn’t just stand and stare! Without making a conscious decision we would run to safety. Once safe we would be aware of our pounding heart, fast breathing, sweat pouring off us, heightened sense of arousal….
Now I’m starting to hint at how anxiety panic attack symptoms are legacies of the bodies basic fight or flight response system. I’m sure you’d agree, the fight or flight system is necessary for whenever we encounter real dangers. But, I can hear you say, I can’t remember the last time my life was threatened this way – we don’t get many wild bulls!
I get sleep panic attacks – why?!
Unfortunately, whilst our life styles have evolved dramatically since the days when wild animals were a constant threat to our existence, our brains have not. When the brain gets the message “Danger” it react the same way – whether the danger is real or something we perceive as threatening in some way.
For example, the fight or flight responses are fully evident just before we sit an exam – even though we are neither going to fight nor run.
And “Danger” goes further than that. With our imagination and habit of negative thinking, we can create “dangerous” thoughts in our mind just by sitting alone worrying.
I will explain in a later post that there doesn’t have to be an immediate “cause and effect” to trigger panic attacks – there can be a build up. Which is why we can get sleep panic attacks or attacks when we are doing a pleasurable activity.
photo by puroticorico on flickr
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