Orange Zone: Panic Attacks
This lesson introduces us to one more zone - panic attacks.
Panic attacks are actually part of that hyper-aroused nervous system activation that occurs in the yellow zone. The reason I’ve put it into its own “orange zone” is because panic attacks are kind of like an extreme, super-charged version that can sometimes have symptoms from both the yellow and the red zone, and can feel quite scary if you don’t understand what’s happening.
In this lesson we'll talk about what they are, how they function, and what a panic attack might look or feel like for you.
Panic attacks occur when the nervous system becomes triggered into an extreme danger response, even when there’s no apparent danger in sight. A part of the brain known as the amygdala, which is in charge of detecting danger and activating our fight/flight response, goes into overdrive, almost like declaring a full-body emergency. Our body becomes flooded with adrenaline, which can make our heart beat faster and our breathing become more shallow or hard to do.
This experience can feel really intense and overwhelming, and it often comes on really suddenly and seemingly “out of the blue”.
Because of this extreme response of the nervous system, it’s almost like we’re feeling both the intense feelings from the yellow zone while also feeling some of the immobilising feelings of the red zone - like we’re frozen in fear or that everything is closing in around us.
Below is a list of signs and signals of what a panic attack can look like in the body and mind. Have a look at the list and notice which ones feel familiar in your life. You might find that only a few apply to you (or perhaps none at all if you haven't had a panic attack before).
What it might feel like:
Heart palpitations/pounding heart
Vision problems/can’t see
Can’t hear/it all sounds muffled
Tingling/numbness in hands/arms/feet
Feeling like you’re having a heart attack/stroke
Feeling like you’re going to faint/like you’re falling/dizziness
Feeling as if you’re dying
Feeling like everything is a dream/isn’t real
Feeling detached from yourself
Fear of losing control/going crazy
A sense of impending doom
Losing your sense of time/feeling like this will never end
“Do I call for help?!” thoughts
It's important to know that even though it might feel really scary, panic attacks are not life-threatening, and they will pass. Once the body metabolises the adrenaline, which might take 5-10 minutes, your body will return to a more normal and manageable state.
Another thing to keep in mind is that often what makes panic attacks worse is a fear of the body sensations that often go along with it. This is so understandable considering how uncomfortable and intense they can be, especially if you don't know what's causing them.
Being aware of the signs and signals of the orange zone, and remembering that they are just physiological responses in the body that will pass, is extremely helpful when coping with panic attacks.
This lesson talked about what the orange zone is, why it occurs in the body, and what it might feel like for you.
For more information, strategies, and exercises that can help you cope if you find yourself having a panic attack, check out the orange zone section of the 'Cope' course.