Question for Dr. Debra:
I am a mother of two young boys. I am also a working mother. How can I help myself reduce the panic that I am experiencing?
The key to moving beyond panic disorder is to break the cycle of fearing fear. A panic attack is an alarm, a very loud and powerful alarm, going off in your brain. It sends you the signal, "You are in immediate danger. You must do something right now to either fight or flight ". If you were camping in the woods and awoke to a bear hovering above you, this primitive, and oh so attention grabbing, fight or flight response would be quite welcome. Or if a loved one was trapped under a large vehicle and you required super human strength to lift the vehicle, once again, this powerful fight or flight response would be desirable.
The difference between a helpful rush of adrenalin pulsing through your body in order to assist you in escaping from an angry bear and a panic attack occurring as you are driving home from work, on your usual route, in no immediate danger, is that in the first situation there truly is an emergency and in the second situation, there is a false alarm going off in your brain. In both situations you are experiencing identical physiological changes. Your body is mustering all resources to deal with what your brain has decided is an imminent threat. When facing a true threat, such as an angry bear charging towards you, you would not be thinking "Why am I having a hard time breathing?” Or “Why is my heart beating so fast?" or “Everyone can tell that I am freaking out”. You would instead be using all of your energy to escape from the immediate danger. Given that there is no bear charging at you when a panic attack occurs, all that you are left with are the uncomfortable physical sensations of your body operating in “fight or flight” mode.
Your mind attempts to make sense of all of the uncomfortable sensations it is experiencing. You may have catastrophic thoughts such as “I am having a heart attack” or “This must be a brain tumor” or “I feel like I am losing it”. The goal of effective treatment for panic disorder is to retrain your brain to learn that a panic attack is uncomfortable but not dangerous. Once your brain learns this, you will be able to break the vicious cycle of fearing fear which leads to more fear. You will get there. Be compassionate with yourself as you do this hard work and if possible, find an anxiety expert to assist you.