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.