The mechanics of panic

I have recently learned several things about the mechanics of panic, and thought I would share as they might be useful to others.

Fight or flight reactions are part of how we are wired up, and come from our entirely evolutionary history. Stressful situations get our bodies gearing up to fight or flight – for me it’s pretty much entirely a flight impulse. Suppressing those impulses to stay in a situation that does not feel safe, increases my risk of a panic attack. I am suspicious that panic attacks may to a very large degree be the result of not acting on my flight impulses.

If I am emotionally distressed, my automatic response is to try and hide that – the reasons are many, but the impact is that it puts extra stress on my body when my body is already in a state of distress. Physically shutting down my reactions and allowing no space for them in order to stay in a situation that I find distressing, and seem calm and tolerable to anyone distressing me, is perhaps not the cleverest way to go.

If I don’t deal with what’s actually happening, by leaving, by protecting myself, or by allowing my own emotional responses, things get worse for me. Massively worse. I’m starting to see a panic attack as a kind of violence, a reaction to what is suppressed from a body that simply cannot handle any more suppression. This is a backlash, I cannot deal with it or control it by trying to manage the symptoms. To avoid panic attacks, I need to look harder at what I do when I am distressed, or when my urge is to run away. Probably I need to start letting myself run away, or howl when I need to.

My priority has been to minimise the effect of my panic attacks on other people. To avoid being a nuisance. I pay for this. I pay for it in the shutting down of my overloaded body, and the days of feeling battered and dislocated that follow. Doing differently may make me very difficult to deal with, for other people. I may not be socially viable. I may be better off being more of a hermit, and more able to breathe, and concentrating on the spaces where I do feel safe.


About Nimue Brown

Druid, author, dreamer, folk enthusiast, parent, wife to the most amazing artist -Tom Brown. Drinker of coffee, maker of puddings. Exploring life as a Pagan, seeking good and meaningful ways to be, struggling with mental health issues and worried about many things. View all posts by Nimue Brown

6 responses to “The mechanics of panic

  • potiapitchford

    I can relate. Distance hugs x

  • angharadlois

    Yes, that really strikes a chord. It can be so difficult even admitting that there is a problem, let alone naming it! Kudos to you, and many virtual hugs x

  • sophiaschildren

    That’s a really good insight, Nimue. Thank you for sharing it. Blessings, Jamie

  • Laurie

    Be careful. Concentrating on the spaces where you feel safe seems like a sensible choice, but it can lead you to agoraphobia. It slipped into my life when I was trying to find my way around panic attacks back in 2001. I wasn’t even aware that it was happening. Read up on agoraphobia. Best wishes to you from a recovering agoraphobic.

    • Nimue Brown

      thank you for the tip-off. I’ve had patches a bit that way in the past, but I tend to retreat into rural spaces, and there are at least some people I feel wholly safe with – hopefully this will be enough to stop it tipping over into something else.

  • lornasmithers

    Absolutely. I realised quite a long while back that panic attacks are often a bodily response to unbearable situations. By shutting them out we repress those very real and true receptors telling us there’s something horribly wrong. It’s sometimes easier to do so than to express those very real symptoms of panic that terrify others with our horror. Still something I’m battling with now.

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