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Dealing with panic and anxiety

Panic is the highest form of anxiety and can be described as a rapid and sudden onset of intense fear. It is usually accompanied by the feeling of losing control of oneself and the situation.
What is it?

Panic is caused by an interaction of two systems; namely external stimuli (things from outside) that trigger fear (associations) and the way you deal with fear (emotion regulation, a combination of thoughts, feelings and behaviours). 

  • Someone points a gun at me (external fear stimulus) and I think "Oh, this is staged, I recognise this situation from a television show where they prank people" (thoughts). This makes me feel curious (feeling) and I want to find out if my assumption is right by shouting "are you from television?". (behaviour).
  • Someone points a gun at me (external fear stimuli) and I think "Oh no, a terrorist is about to harm me!" (thoughts). I feel fear coursing through my body (feelings) and as a result I freeze (behaviour).

In these examples, you notice that different thought patterns trigger different feelings and behavior, which in turn stem from past experiences. These, often unconscious thoughts can lead to the feeling of anxiety and or even panic .

Forms of expression when in a state of panic
  • Physical: our body reacts intensely during a panic attack. Possible physical sensations include dizziness, hyperventilation, palpitations, sweating, vomiting, feeling of an unrealistic situation, etc. Some may even have the idea that they are experiencing a heart attack;
  • Behavioural: avoidance of anxious stimuli;
  • Psychological: mulling.

What can you do yourself?

Although hiding/avoiding is a very common response, these problems will often come back at a later time. By avoiding the stimuli, you will maintain your negative association with that stimulus/stimuli. And by doing so it will increase the impact on you. A more helpful strategy is to talk about your feelings with people you trust and seek help. Panic attacks can be treated ed effectively. This may be done by using EMDR. See your general practitioner for a referral to a psychologist. If you are not sure what it is you are experiencing or if you find the step to the general practitioner hard to make, you can schedule an appointment with one of the Fontys student psychologists.