Panic disorder is an extremely unpleasant affliction that can be resistant to standard therapy approaches. Panic disorder gets “set up” in certain people due to a combination of genetics and circumstances. If you are susceptible to acute adrenaline rises, you are more likely to have panic disorder, but touchy genes aren’t enough to create this mess. You also need to have once felt badly cornered at some point in your life, and had a panic attack.

Once you have had a single panic attack, it is very likely that you will have multiple attacks, and this problem might persist forever unless you break the pattern. The reason is that your mind learns that a modest adrenaline rise is a sign that a panic attack may emerge. In other words, having once had a panic attack, you become sensitive to the signs of a panic attack. A pattern has been established, and unless it is broken, it can be a long-term, even a lifetime, curse. In this article, we will explain the two ways to tackle and cure panic attacks forever, yet the most important component of the approach is a detailed understanding of panic disorder itself.


Description of Panic

Panic attacks usually have the following features, varying slightly from person to person, and from attack to attack: Heart pounding, shortness of breath, sweating, nausea, desire to urinate or defecate, fear of going crazy, fear of dying from a heart attack, feeling frozen, unable to move, and feeling a great desire to escape.

The attack can often linger for an hour and be very intense for a large portion of that hour. It will eventually subside, but only after an extremely unpleasant experience.


Why there are Panic Attacks

Every feeling that you have ever had was the result of the activation of neural circuits that were built by the genetic code. Each circuit serves a critical purpose for your survival or reproduction. For example: Have you ever felt hungry? Of course. Why do you have the potential to feel hungry? Because your ancestors evolved this circuit to signal them to eat when their glucose stores were low. Proto-humans that did not feel hungry when their glucose stores were low failed to make food an important enough priority – and they died out, as a result of eventual starvation.

Every feeling is a signal! And every feeling you have ever felt was felt by your ancestors at some point in your natural history. You cannot have a feeling without a neural circuit, and you cannot have a neural circuit without genes designing the circuit. Feelings are signals of either something good (food, mates, a nice warm fireplace), or something bad (poison, predators, a mating competitor). The feelings themselves are a signaling device to tell us about some situation in the environment that is either good for us or bad for us. The feelings/signals carry a prescription of what to do about it. When you are hungry, you don’t feel lustful or sleepy. You feel hungry. You might also feel lustful or sleepy, but only if your situation also dictates those feelings.

First, a panic attack is no real stress on the heart, and is not related to having a heart attack. It is just a gentle, quiet running start for the heart, in order to hit the ground running in case we have to run.

Panic as a Signal

Panic is a fascinating signal. Despite how problematic it is, it has rarely been discussed in a useful fashion by psychology self-help books. Here is the correct explanation for the panic signal:

Imagine that you are an early human, living in the swampy grasslands of sub-Sahara Africa, some 200,000 years ago. Keep in mind that all humans originated in Africa, so the following situation would have been an important and recurrent dilemma. You are temporarily by yourself and your companions are a few hundred yards away. You are thirsty and want a drink of water so you carefully pick your way through a little path down to the river. As you bend down to drink, you see a lion on the other side of the little river, maybe 50 feet away. He hasn’t spotted you yet. He could easily jump across the river, and have you for lunch.

Let’s see what happens next. First, you freeze. Deep in your brain, you are innately aware that the best solution to this crisis is to not move. You might actually feel unable to move. This is true despite the fact that you have a desperate feeling of wanting to run and escape. Instead, you sit there frozen, not moving a muscle. That freeze is a biological defense against the predator. It increases your odds that you won’t be eaten, and reduces his odds of an easy meal.

You wouldn’t notice, but there are several other bodily changes that are taking place inside you:

First, you start to sweat profusely. The reason you begin to sweat is that you are about to run for your life, and while you run as fast as you can, you will generate a great deal of heat. The heat you generate will reduce your efficiency, and thus the heat makes it more likely that you will die. However, if you start sweating in advance, as soon as you start running, the evaporation will cool you down. So your sweating is actually a biological defense against the predator.

Next, your heart is pounding. Now, in these circumstances, you won’t be noticing this. That’s because your mind is 100% focused on the predator. But if you were paying attention, you would notice your heart pounding.

The person sweats to keep cool, as they are about to run and overheat. Their heart is pounding – not because the heart is in trouble. It isn’t even close to its capacity. But the heart is getting ready to go to full speed.

Normally, when you are just sitting around, your heart is beating at about 20% of its maximum capacity. Just like when you are walking, you are moving at about 20% of your speed capacity, however, in this situation, you are getting ready to run for your life. And when you start running, you will be running at 100% of your capacity. If we get the heart beating faster in advance of the race then we get an advantage. And that is why your heart starts pounding. In fact, it starts beating at 40% of its full capacity, as you just sit there by the river, not moving. This pounding isn’t even close to your full capacity. You aren’t going to burst an artery or throw a clot and die. No way. This is child’s play for the heart. It is just 40%, and it’s just getting ready.

Next, another reaction you might not notice is that your stomach immediately stopped digesting any food. In fact, the digestive system is getting ready to purge itself of any unneeded weight. The energy within the food in your stomach is useless so there is no need to continue to digest it. Instead, the blood in your stomach, helping the digestive process, and the blood needs to be directed toward the big muscles in your legs. They are soon going to need every drop of oxygen-carrying blood that they can get their hands on.

In order to get the blood to your legs, your blood pressure needs to be raised. And in order to do this, your breathing starts to be shortened into tiny little intakes. That is what you are doing, as your breath is now very short. Your heart is pounding, and your arteries that direct blood to your legs and arms have widened. This is all a carefully, and brilliantly, orchestrated process of survival defense.

Finally, you may be almost ready to poop or pee. This is because these materials are extra weight that is dead weight – slowing you down. Think of walking in the woods and suddenly coming upon a deer. If you startle the animal, it will run away, pooping as it goes. It gets lighter, and faster, as it poops while running away. You have the same neural circuit and the same instinct.


A Short Recap.

So now we can understand all the symptoms of a panic attack from a new perspective. The person sweats to keep cool, as they are about to run and overheat. Their heart is pounding – not because the heart is in trouble. It isn’t even close to its capacity. But the heart is getting ready to go to full speed. And even at full speed, it isn’t in trouble. Hearts are very strong. The person feels frozen, because their ancestors that had the tendency to freeze in such situations lived more often than those that just ran. The person might feel like escaping, but also feels like they can’t move. This is the perfect dynamic tension that you should be feeling as you wait to see if the predator spots you. Nothing about these symptoms is dangerous to your body. All of them are normal, lifesaving reactions.

This is a panic attack. It is being directed primarily by the hormone adrenaline. All over the body, systems are instructed to modify their activity in order to increase the likelihood of survival of a predator threat. This is all nothing more than, and nothing less than, and ancient defense reaction.

So now, picture this taking place within the safety of your own home. Only, it is now 200,000 years later, and you are you, not your ancient ancestor. You can’t figure out why this is happening, as there is no external reason. So the logical next step is to guess that maybe the threat is internal. Your heart is pounding, you are sweating, you are having a hard time breathing, and you feel frozen like you can’t move. Hey! Maybe you are having a heart attack!

You wouldn’t be alone in thinking so. It is estimated that more than 90% of all emergency room admission for heart attacks are actually panic attacks. These symptoms are dramatic, and they cry out for an explanation. The two most common guesses are “I’m having a heart attack” or “I’m losing my mind.” The reason that some people feel like they are losing their mind is they feel like they can’t move or can’t figure out why they can’t move. Perhaps they are just going crazy. Their thoughts are jumbled, panicky, racing from possible explanation to possible explanation for the crisis. The mind can’t figure it out. One idea is simply that “I must be losing it.” That’s what it can feel like. But it isn’t. You aren’t losing anything.


A Simpler Explanation.

First, a panic attack is no real stress on the heart, and is not related to having a heart attack. It is just a gentle, quiet running start for the heart, in order to hit the ground running in case we have to run.

Second, a panic attack has nothing to do with losing your mind. Instead, your mind is racing around its stimulus environment, trying to figure out where the predator is. It can’t find one, so it next infers it is going crazy. In truth – there is no predator and no crazy. All is well.


What To Do When An Attack is Happening

There is a simple technique that solves the problem when a panic attack is happening. It is to let the body follow through and live through the predator attack by using the large muscles as if an attack were underway. If you feel a panic attack coming on, the right solution is to go ahead and run for your life.

You won’t want to move. The “freeze” circuit wants you to wait to move until all is lost, until you are clearly under attack from the predator, and hiding is no longer an option. But if you force yourself to run, then your “frozen” feeling will quickly break free! Your brain will recognize that you are “all in” on the running strategy, and there is no turning back. Get up out of your chair, and start jogging in place. As you run, your breaths will get deeper, as you start gasping for oxygen. At some point, within a minute, you will feel like stopping. Go ahead and stop.

When you stop and are panting hard, ancient circuits in your brain will be eavesdropping on this whole process. They will say to themselves “Hmmm. The race must be over, and we survived, or we would not have stopped! We can begin to turn down the adrenaline valve.” And the adrenaline flow begins to subside.

A minute later, you still can feel some of the panic. So, start running again. Run until you are tired, gasping a bit for breath. Pause. Once again, the brain infers you must be safe, and adrenaline is reduced. Repeat this a few times. You will see that the panic will go away. It may linger for awhile, but the nasty part of it will go away in a matter of a minute or two.

If you can’t get up and jog, because of social circumstances, there is another way to do this. Suppose your panic attack is taking place right before you are to give a speech at an awards banquet. You can’t get up and start running in place. So instead, do the closest thing. Intensely contract the muscles in your legs and arms for 10-15 seconds, until they tire. Then let them relax. Your mind will infer you survived the fight. Repeat as needed. Within 5 -10 of these short cycles, the panic will be greatly reduced. You will move past the panic in a matter of just a few minutes. Often in less than three minutes.

The solution is to make yourself intensively use the big muscles of the body during an attack. When you do, the attack will dissipate. Once you do this a few times in a row, your mind starts to become less intimidated by adrenaline rises! With a little sense of control over these events, you will be able to break apart the panic pattern that has been set up.