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You Are Not Losing Your Mind, You Are Having a Panic Attack

By Debra Kissen

I will never forget the day my battle with panic came to a head. I set up an appointment with a lovely, seemingly well-informed psychologist to attempt to get help with a maddening array of mysterious symptoms I was experiencing. I fearfully described the strange and terrifying sensations that took hold of me, explaining that out of nowhere, I would begin to feel “weird and out of it, disconnected from the world around me and had a horrible feeling that I could lose control or go crazy.”  She looked back at me with her kind eyes and stated, “Perhaps you could benefit from medication.” And given that our 45-minute session was soon approaching, she then entered session wrap up mode and emotionally escorted me to the door.

I left the session in a panic fueled haze. I just received confirmation that there was in fact something wrong with me.  My panic was sending me a signal, “there is something terribly with you” and then a medical professional concurred with this taunting message.  And what a night I had after this appointment.  I did not know where to go or who to talk to.  How could anyone ever understand what it felt like to lose it? Was I going to end up locked up? How could I continue to move through life, pretending to be a high functioning member of society? What if I was discovered as the fraud that I was?

At that time, I was able to “white knuckle” my way past panic disorder and push myself forward despite the discomfort. I only wish that someone had informed me that I was suffering from panic disorder and that this was in fact one of the most treatable mental health conditions. One painful side effect of my undetected panic disorder was that I came to believe there was something wrong with me. That in some core way I was broken or lacking and that was why I was experiencing such disturbing sensations.

If only I could time travel back to 1996. I would educate my young self on the physiology of panic disorder and explain to her in simple terms, why she was experiencing those disturbing sensations. I would assure her that she is whole and of sound mind and in fact is brave and powerful. I would let her know that she has so much to look forward to, such as meeting her wonderful husband, raising three delightful (and often exhausting) children and a flourishing career as a clinical psychologist.

Unfortunately, it took me almost ten years to accidentally stumble upon the most empirically supported treatment for panic disorder, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). My goal is for this blog to expedite your journey to finding the most effective treatment to assist you in moving past your panic symptoms. As an anxiety expert (both personally and professionally), what I know is that it is possible to arrive at a place where you can experience panic and anxiety as nothing more than a brain blip. You can get to a place where you are able to observe verses get lost in your panic. These are not flippant words that I am sending out to my anonymous visitors through cyber space, but instead heartfelt and sincere sentiments that I am sharing with my anxious fellow travelers.

Top CBT for Panic Tips:

  1. Panic is a false alarm going off in your brain.
  2. Just because you feel like you are in danger does not mean you are truly in danger.
  3. Struggling with panic does not make you weak or broken, it just makes you a run of the mill, flawed human (like the rest if us).
  4. The way past panic is to face it head on.  You can teach your brain that you are not actually in danger by staying put and riding out the panic wave.
  5. You can handle panic! It is not dangerous, it is just super duper uncomfortable.

Dr. Debra Kissen is CEO of Light On Anxiety CBT Treatment Center. Dr. Kissen specializes in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)...

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