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Panic Attacks

Fear of the bleat without the bite

The word “panic” is derived from the ancient Greek god, Pan. It was said that when the ancient Greek gods were battling a horde of giants, the half-man-half-goat god’s cry was so overwhelming that it caused the giants to flee in untested fear. The giants were defeated, with simply a goat’s cry.

Of course, when the giants experienced the panic attack, their body did not seem to care if it was bleat or bite. They experienced a sudden, intense fear or discomfort that reached a peak within minutes. Their body responded in full flight (without fight) mode, with four or more of the following symptoms:

  • Pounding heart or fast heart rate

  • Sweating

  • Trembling or shaking

  • Sensations of shortness of breath

  • Feelings of choking

  • Nausea or abdominal distress

  • Feeling dizzy, unsteady, lightheaded, or faint

  • Chills or heat sensation

  • Numbness or tingling sensations

  • Derealization or feeling detached from oneself

  • Fear of losing control or “going crazy”

  • Fear of dying

With those symptoms, even a casual observer would have a hard time knowing whether there was absolute cause for alarm given the physical distress, let alone those suffering from the attack. A thorough evaluation, however, would reveal an absence of real physical compromise.

Armed with the understanding that panic attacks were the reason for their swift retreat, how could the giants better prepare themselves for future battles? To reduce the intensity and frequency of panic attacks, they may opt for psychotherapy, medications, or both. Through cognitive behavioral therapy, panic attack sufferers learn to recognize and replace negative thoughts that trigger the intense, awful physical sensations. They’d learn to build healthy coping strategies to challenge maladaptive behaviors (like meditation, or yoga before heading off to battle). A therapist may also attempt to desensitize the panic attack sufferers to the anxiety-producing stimuli-  repeat plays of gradually increasing volumes of Pan’s war cries, for example. Alternatively, the giants may opt for medication, in which case, medications such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) may be prescribed. 

Panic attacks can be incredibly disabling. While they are intensely uncomfortable, they are not dangerous. But panic attacks can also mimic symptoms of other serious health problems, such as a heart attack. A bleat can be ignored, but a bite should be immediately attended to. Don’t go the way of the giants. Get medical evaluation as soon as possible if you are not sure what is causing your symptoms.

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