By Blaine Scott
Most discussions of panic attack symptoms concentrate on the physical reactions to panic attacks like heart palpitations, sweaty palms, trembling, shortness of breath and nausea. As a result, most people have a fairly good understanding of their physical reactions to an attack, but there are also some mental symptoms that interact with the physical.
These interactions will build on the length and severity of the attacks. Thus, the negative thought patterns of a person suffering from these attacks will serve to dramatically increase the physical symptoms--so... their thought patterns start to make the attacks even worse.
Let's say someone is suffering a panic attack and their heart starts racing. They can easily assume they're having a heart attack. While they are more than likely not having a heart attack, they think they are which elevates their physical symptoms. These physical and emotional feelings build on each other and make the entire episode much more intense.
Some people will become nauseous as part of their panic attack. They may also develop other stomach issues like irritable bowel syndrome. Even during the times they are not suffering from anxiety issues their stomach might be upset. They will begin to fear they have some physical problems like cancer or an ulcer and these fears will build up over time. While sleeping their stomach may make strange noises and wake them up. There is no worse time for people who suffer from anxiety than being awake in the middle of the night and experiencing some of their physical symptoms. This is the "perfect storm" for panic attack sufferers as there are no distractions in the quiet of the night--- the mind is free to play its tricks. They may not have an attack during the night, but their anxiety is heightened making them all the more prone to have one in the future.
Many who are in the throes of a panic attack will have a mental dialogue with themselves. The mind will seem like it's screaming at them with all the things they should fear--their anxiety grows--and soon they are mentally awash in their destructive thoughts. Obviously, these are not physical symptoms, but the operation of the mind will make the physical symptoms worse. This is why it is important for someone suffering from these issues to try and divert the mind and focus on some type of external stimulus. This will help get the mind under control and serve to stop it from magnifying the physical symptoms of the attack.
There are lots of ways to divert attention from a panic attack--it can be as simple as throwing cold water on your face. But, those methods will be the subject of one of my future articles.
Clearly, it is important to understand there are mental, as well as physical symptoms of panic attacks and any series of treatment should address both issues.