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Why Do Panic Attacks Happen? With Dr. Martin Brunet

Why Do Panic Attacks Happen with Dr. Martin Brunet

If you're struggling with anxiety, panic disorder, and agoraphobia, chances are that you've experienced a panic attack at some point in your journey. Whether it was a single panic attack that led to a bunch of disordered thinking and more panic, or you experience them regularly, this episode will really help to demystify panic attacks and explain why they make you feel the way you do!

On this episode I'm joined by Martin Brunet, General Practitioner and medical educator from the UK to talk all things panic attacks, I'm so excited for you to hear from him, I really enjoyed this one! Let's get to it!

What is a Panic Attack?

Panic attacks are a type of fear response, where your normal response to danger, stress, or excitement gets dialed way up.

Martin describes panic attacks as anxiety on steroids. If you have anxiety, you may be familiar with with the symptoms at a low level, but with a panic attack these symptoms build up and can overwhelm you.

Martin and I discussed the two main causes of the symptoms of a panic attack. The first is a surge of adrenaline, also called epinephrine. This is our fight-or-flight hormone, which is released when we are doing something exciting or scary. It can lead to symptoms like a fast heartbeat, feeling shaky, sweating or causing an upset stomach. However, during a panic attack, these symptoms occur without a purpose or clear external threat, making them overwhelming and scary. Because you're not about to fight something, or run away, you just feel panicked.

The second main cause is our breathing. That surge in adrenaline causes faster breathing, as your body prepares you for that exciting or scary moment. Taking in lots more oxygen and breathing out carbon dioxide changes the acidity in our blood, which while not harmful, can cause some unpleasant symptoms like feeling lightheaded, dizzy or tingly.

Knowing what's going on inside your body can be a big help in dealing with panic attacks. Acknowledging them, understanding them and using past experience to build resilience will all be helpful tools to move forward.

Why Do We Panic for "No Reason?"

One of the scariest and most frustrating parts of struggling with anxiety and panic is having panic attacks when you know they're happening for no good reason! You're not alone in thinking this. Martin explains that there is usually a logic behind panic and anxiety, but it's not the necessarily the one you'd expect.

If you're prone to panic attacks, or have experienced them before, your brain will consciously and unconsciously link certain things with panicking. Maybe you've had a panic attack in the supermarket. Suddenly, everything about the supermarket will remind your brain about that time, and it will feel a sense of threat. Even if you logically know there's nothing to fear at the supermarket, the conditioned association can still provoke panic. Over time, this conditioning can lead to panic attacks without any external triggers, as the brain has become primed to expect them in certain situations.

The good news, is that our brains are so capable of relearning and rewiring though patterns to create new experiences and help us to work through panic and anxiety.

Practice & Exposure

Exposure Therapy for anxiety as part of lots of healthy action really works. Martin compares exposure therapy, where you gradually allow yourself to experience the things that make you feel anxious, to practicing a skill.

Martin is increasingly interested in the concept of practice. Exposure therapy can be quite a scary thing to consider, so it can be helpful to think of it as simply practicing the things we'd like to get better at, gradually learning how to overcome anxiety through small and healthy steps.

Okay, so that covers a few of the highlights from this episode. I loved chatting with Martin and we dove into lots more good stuff together. Make sure you check out the full episode for lots of practical and helpful advice on panic attacks, burnout, exposure therapy and more!

Dr. Martin Brunet

Connect with Martin!

Instagram: @doc_martin_gp


Struggling with lots of physical symptoms and panic attacks? Sign up for my 90-minute masterclass and learn how to start approaching these things in a healthy way so that you can finally find freedom from them! And I promise, I don't just tell you to practice breathing techniques, ground techniques, meditate, or any of the other things I'm sure you've heard already tried many times before!


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