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What Causes Panic Attacks?

Aug 21, 2007
Panic attacks sometimes have an obvious cause. They can be a reaction to a very stressful situation, like driving in rush-hour traffic, or arguing with a family member. But other times, panic attacks can appear to come out of "thin air."

Talk about confusing! You could be minding your own business, going about your life when...WHAM!

When panic strikes, it's all too easy to get caught up in trying to figure out what caused to attack in the first place. But actually, this is probably the least productive thing you can do. Why? Panic attacks themselves are not the real problem, but only a symptom of the real problem.

I've coached enough panic attack sufferers to know that panic and anxiety attacks don't happen "in a vacuum."

Whenever someone is dealing with these problems, my mind immediately turns to, "what else is going on in your life?" Because even though panic attacks may appear to come out of nowhere, they are always a symptom of a larger issue in your life.

Panic and anxiety represent an imbalance in your life, and very often this imbalance is based on unreleased anger and/or resentment. Sometimes the anger is directed at a family member or spouse, but just as often, the anger is actually directed inward.

I recently coached someone who reminded me how widespread this problem is (and if they read this, I hope they'll forgive me using this example). Anger directed inward (on the "self") causes all sorts of life-problems: depression, generalized anxiety, panic attacks, relationship problems, and many others.

Anger and resentment turned inward can be devastating, robbing us of initiative, healthy self esteem and acceptance. None of us can afford to go through life that way; it extracts a great toll on both body and mind.

It's not difficult to find out how you really feel about yourself. Just ask this question: "What reason do I have to feel hateful or resentful toward myself?" If any answer comes to mind, You've got some work to do.

"Admit It And Forget It"

To move past this anger and resentment, you will need to resolve the conflict. If there is anything you have done in the past that is "haunting" you, apologize to yourself for it, and then let it go.

The past is gone, and it ain't coming back (at least not anytime soon). So make peace with yourself about past transgressions. If you were wrong, admit it and forget it.

Other times, you're not angry because of anything you have done, but because you have (inadvertently) been "programmed" to be hyper-judgemental of yourself. And nine times out of ten, it's because a parent has been over-judgemental and withheld acceptance.

By establishing this pattern early in a child's life, the parent practically sets up the child for self-hatred and failure.

If that sounds like a lousy thing to do to someone, I completely agree. But here's the kicker: almost no parent does this on purpose. It's extremely rare for a parent like this to even be aware of the damage they are doing. They're not "evil," they're just not perfect parents, and there is a BIG difference.

I don't mention any of this to "beat up" on parents. Most parents are good at the job--but not all. That's simply a fact of life.

When a child grows up in this kind of environment, they only have one recourse (but luckily it is a powerful one). They must give themselves the unconditional love and acceptance they want and deserve, and refuse to waste any more time seeking these things from the parent (or anyone else for that matter).

What we're talking about here is self-love (no, not the naughty kind--get your mind out of the gutter!). Real self-love and acceptance; NOT conceit, not arrogance or narcissism, but a healthy respect for both your strengths and weaknesses.

I recommend the following simple exercise: single out the one thing you consider to be your biggest weakness. Then make it a point to love that weakness as if it were a long, lost brother. This may not come easily at first, but you certainly CAN do it!

And when you can love your greatest weakness, even a little, you are well on your way to healthy self-respect and acceptance.

As you begin to make peace with yourself, those strange and annoying symptoms (like panic attacks) will become less and less a part of your life. As a side benefit, you will notice that the more you learn to love and accept yourself, the better your relationships with others will be.
About the Author
Jon Mercer, MA, is a personal development trainer and the founder of www.easycalm.com, a leading anxiety resource site. Eliminate Anxiety Symptoms Without Struggling. Watch this free video to learn how
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