By Dr. Sandra Scheinbaum, a licensed clinical psychologist, board-certified senior fellow in biofeedback, certified yoga instructor, nutrition coach, and the Director of Feed Your Mind Wellness Programs. A former panic sufferer, Dr. Scheinbaum has practiced mind-body medicine for over 30 years, successfully teaching hundreds of clients to overcome panic.
She is the author of the new book, How to Give Clients the Skills to Stop Panic Attacks. Here, she shares some common myths* about panic attacks.
Don’t Forget about the Myths
Along with a hopeful message regarding recovery, it’s important to address the myths surrounding panic. A panic episode may be frightening, but it’s not dangerous. Use the myth-busters below as needed.
Myth #1: Panic Can Cause a Heart Attack, Heart Failure , or Cardiac Arrest.
If you have heart disease, an electrocardiogram (EKG) detects noticeable electrical changes. During a panic attack, your heart beats faster. That’s all.
Myth #2: Panic Leads to Cessation of Breathing or Suffocation.
A panic attack will not cause you to stop breathing or suffocate. Under stress, chest and neck muscles tighten, which limits breathing capacity. But don’t worry, the brain has a built-in reflex mechanism that forces you to breathe if you’re not getting enough oxygen. You’ll automatically gasp and take a deep breath long before reaching the point where you could pass out from a lack of oxygen. Even if you did pass out, you would immediately start breathing again.
Myth #3: Panic Leads to Fainting.
You may be feeling light-headed because blood circulation to the brain is reduced, but a panic attack won’t cause you to faint.
Myth #4: Panic Causes Loss of Balance and Falls.
A panic attack may cause you to feel dizzy because the stress response may be affecting the inner ear. But panic cannot cause you to lose your balance. I understand you feel “weak in the knees.” That’s because the adrenaline surging through your body causes blood to accumulate in your leg muscles. The good news is the legs don’t lose strength, and you won’t fall over or be unable to walk.
Myth #5: Panic Means I’m “Going Crazy”.
You’re breathing quickly during a panic attack, which reduces blood supply to the brain and causes constriction of blood vessels. The result: feeling disoriented. Although it certainly feels like an out-of-body experience, you can’t “go crazy” during a panic attack or have what used to be referred to as a “nervous breakdown.” In fact, you’re perfectly capable of thinking and functioning normally because these sensations are meant to protect you. There’s no evidence that psychotic conditions, such as schizophrenia, stem from panic attacks. We don’t see visions, hear voices, or become delusional during a panic attack.
Myth #6: Panic Leads to Loss of Control.
A panic attack won’t cause you to “lose control” or act in a bizarre way. You won’t burst out screaming or harm yourself. It may seem as if you’re “losing it,” but the opposite occurs: all senses reach a heightened state of alertness in order to protect you.
*Adapted from Chapter 1: Could This Be Panic?
For information, tools and exercises about how you can help clients prevent and abort panic attacks through lifestyle change and mind-body relaxation, pick up a copy of How to Give Clients the Skills to Stop Panic Attacks or check out Dr. Scheinbaum’s website.
Copyright © Jessica Kingsley Publishers 2012.