Surprisingly they’ve all suffered from panic disorders or panic attacks at some point in their life. I say surprising because rightly or wrongly we can often put famous people on pedestals where they comfortably sit, immune to all of life’s trials and tribulations. How could they possibly be prone to stress when they don’t have to worry about the council tax and glide across sunset boulevard looking as if they’re in a constant state of airbrushingness….if that really is a word?
But panic attacks, to all their credit, don’t hold any form of prejudice. It can happen to anyone, from any walk of life and the experience of going through one is universal. They’re horrible.
Imagine you’re shopping in a supermarket; you’re quite content and happily going about your business, carefully selecting the plumpest of pineapples, when all of a sudden Godzilla rips the roof off the store and fixes his blackened beady eyes on your tasty head. You’re obviously terrified and experience panic on an unprecedented scale. Your heart races, you break out in a cold sweat, breathing becomes difficult and you think you’re going to have a heart attack. Literally.
Nothing seems real. You enter into a state of surrealism that only the Beatles in their heyday could rival. Your head feels on fire, you break out into a cold sweat and the world, for no apparent reasons seems overwhelming. Your natural instinct is to run, run far away.
Now imagine that these symptoms remain, but take away our Japanese monster and replace it with a normal supermarket full of people shopping for cheese. That’s how panic attacks feel. It’s no wonder that sufferers can easily be forgiven for thinking that they’re loosing their mind.
The exact cause can be attributed to a number or contributing factors including:
- Environmental factors such as an overly cautious view of the world
- Biological causes including hyperthyroidism, Wilsons disease and PTSD
- Short term triggers including personal loss or significant life changes
- Hyperventilating syndrome (excessive carbon dioxide in the blood)
None of the catalysts above are immune from stress. Whether they’re the cause, or a contributory factor, understanding the role excessive stress plays in the causation of anxiety is fundamental in the search to control them.
An intriguing area of research is starting to look at the role meditation can have when dealing with panic attacks. Learning how to combat the stress in your lives can ultimately reduce the risk and frequency of attacks.
A study by the Dept. of Psychiatry at the University of Massachusetts examined the effectiveness of meditation and stress reduction in the treatment of anxiety disorders. Of the 22 subjects, 13 experienced panic attacks at least once a week.
After taking part in a 3-month meditation program, only 3 of the initial 13 had a panic attack.
Meditation appears to work on a number of areas:
1 – It encourages deep breathing
2 – Reduces the hyper-arousal of our nervous system
3 – Rebalances the hormones shaken up by Godzilla
4 – Weakens negative neuronal connections in the brain associated with phobias
5 – Strengthens positive connections in the brain, reducing our fears and anxieties.
And it appears to work. After experiencing the most embarrassing moment of his life in front of 5 million viewers, journalist and news anchor Dan Harris took to meditation to help him overcome his panic attacks.
“Most of us are so entranced by the non-stop conversation we’re having with ourselves that we aren’t even aware of it. It’s this voice which has us losing our temper unnecessarily, checking our email compulsively, eating when we’re not hungry, and fixating on the past and the future at the expense of the present”.
Through meditation – he practices for 35 minutes a day – Harris taught himself to let go of his angst and enjoy the here and now.
Panic attacks although not life-threatening, can be debilitating for some, but there is hope and options available. So if you happen to come across a giant green reptile while shopping for kumquats, remember that it will pass, nothing bad will happen to you; and at the very least you’re not on national television.
Author Bio: Nick Huxsted is an independent writer who’s interested in meditation research and the effects it has on the human body. He currently works at Will Williams, a centre providing meditation in London, and is a regular contributor to Hip & Healthy.