Many people with panic attacks develop a condition known as “agoraphobia,” which is best described as a fear of being out of the home or in places that are unfamiliar. One of the reasons that people with panic disorder may develop agoraphobia is because they start to avoid places where they feel like they might have a panic attack.
For example, if they have a couple of panic attacks while in the mall, they may stop going to malls. If they have it in a restaurant, they may stop going to restaurants. Over time, they become limited to very few places, and some people have a trauma response that makes them not want to leave their house at all.
But the problem is not just that people start to avoid places because they’re afraid they may have panic attacks. The problem is that they are often correct – if they did choose to go to a place that they feared, they would be very likely to have a panic attack. That is because panic attacks are self-fulfilling in a way that is caused by the symptoms of the attacks themselves.
How Panic Attacks Become Self-Fulfilling
Panic attacks are intensely physical anxiety events. When a person suffers from a panic attack, they often have rapid heartbeat, chest pains, light headedness, and a series of physical symptoms that can be so severe, they can be genuinely convinced that something is wrong with their health.
Because panic attacks are such overwhelming physical events, a symptom of persistent panic attacks is known as “self-monitoring.” People with panic attacks tend to pay attention to how their body feels at any given time in order to see if a panic attack is coming. If they start to feel the symptoms of a panic attack, it will often cause distress and anxiety – which then contributes to the attack.
In addition, people with panic disorder also develop what’s known as “hypersensitivity.” That means that they feel things stronger than other people do. While most people might not even notice a small pain or bit of discomfort, a person with panic attacks will not only notice it, but will feel it stronger. Both of these symptoms are also more likely the more anxious a person feels.
That is how panic attacks become self-fulfilling and reinforced. Let’s use the example of library.
- Someone with panic attacks is worried they may have a panic attack at the library.
- Because they’re worried, they’re a bit more anxious.
- That anxiety causes them to experience a very mild sensation somewhere on their body.
- Because of their hypersensitivity, the symptom feels worse than it otherwise might.
- Because of their self-monitoring, they always notice it immediately.
- That causes them to experience strong anxiety, worried a panic attack or worse is coming.
- That anxiety triggers a panic attack.
- Now their fear of going to the library is reinforced, and they may not go anymore.
This cycle can occur to anyone, even those without agoraphobia. Eventually, many people with untreated panic disorders will start to avoid places because of fears they may have an attack, or they may experience attacks more often because they have become self-fulling when they are out and about.
How Do You Stop the Self-Fulfilling Nature of Panic Attacks?
There are many ways to approach panic attacks and panic disorder, and you and your NYC therapist at Flourish Psychology will work to find the approach that makes the most sense for you. We may deploy treatments like cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), rational emotive behavior therapy, gestalt therapy, positive psychology, and more.
CBT, specifically, is often used to treat panic disorder, and many of the treatment approaches are specifically about addressing these issues:
- Monitoring your body for sensations.
- Misinterpreting those sensations.
- Avoidance behaviors.
Many psychologists have identified these issues as some of the main reasons that panic attacks keep recurring. So, your therapist will provide you with actions that you can take to address these issues. Some of them may be uncomfortable – for example, you may have to put yourself “at risk” for a panic attack again as you stop avoiding places that caused them.
Your therapist may even have you mimic some of the same symptoms that you’ve had before that have triggered panic attacks. For example, if you get dizzy with panic attacks, you may be asked to make yourself dizzy so that you can learn how to calm yourself when you experience those sensations.
The approach that we take will be based on your specific situation, but much of addressing panic attacks comes from breaking this self-fulfilling panic attack cycle.
If you are ready to take control over your panic attacks, contact the Brooklyn therapists at Flourish Psychology, today.