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You’re engaged in an ordinary activity when “out of the blue”, something triggers overwhelming feelings, which rage through your body. Suddenly, you’re having a panic attack! People tell you it is all in your head and you are advised to either pull yourself together, or unwind. The reality is that, you can go ahead and “pull yourself together until you have literally pulled yourself right out of shape. The panic attacks and your levels of anxiety, will however, remain exactly the same.

The symptoms of panic attacks can mimic heart attacks. Heart palpitations, chest pains, changes in breathing patterns, dizziness, nausea, heartburn, and numb feelings in the fingers are some of the symptoms that one can experience. The person could also feel a resulting terror, sense of unreality or fear of losing control.

Initial panic attacks may occur when people are under excessive stress, whether it is from an overload of work, loss of someone close, following surgery, serious illness, accident or childbirth. Excessive consumption of caffeine, use of cocaine or other stimulant drugs or medicines can also trigger panic attacks. Nevertheless these panic attacks usually take a person completely by surprise, and this unpredictability is one of the reasons they are so devastating. The Depression and Anxiety Support Group offers counselling on weekdays from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. and on Saturdays from 8a.m. to 5 p.m. where trained counsellors are available to provide information, counselling and referrals to those in need of assistance.

Generally, the belief is that something ‘out there’ triggers the anxiety and panic, with the effects ‘shooting’ through your body like a gunshot wound. While it is true that stress can precipitate the onset of anxiety and panic attacks, there is another element that occurs internally, making it an ‘UNDERCOVER’ operation.

We may know the trigger, we certainly feel the ‘pain of the shot’, coursing through our body, but what is it actually, that acts as the final wounding ‘lead bullet?’ The ‘bullet’ can be said to be the chemical shifts that take place on a physiological level within the body. Stress has earned itself a heavy reputation and can disguise itself in many forms. Whatever type of mask this stress may present itself in, the reaction in the human body is typically the same.

The human body responds to fear provoking and apprehensive contexts by releasing a shower of ‘bullets’ or, more appropriately, hormones into the blood stream. Two of these in particular, are the hormones; adrenaline and hydrocortisone. The person’s response to this inflow of hormones is either, a flight or fight one.

Adrenaline, is the culprit that accelerates the heart rate or affects breathing patterns, while the Hydrocortisone works hard at assisting the body’s maintenance in coping with the onslaught of stress.

A once off ‘showdown’ of this type of ‘gunfight’ poses no problem to the body as it has been designed to cope with ‘ambushes’ of this nature. However, when the human form is subjected to a constant and continual flow of these hormones in the blood stream, the effects can be extremely detrimental.

Excessive Adrenaline can offset high blood pressure while the Hydrocortisone can produce unacceptably high cholesterol levels. This, in combination, places one right in the ‘line of fire’ of a possible heart attack.

A second possible reaction that can occur, is a ‘blow to the gut’. The Hydrocortisone acts almost like the ‘lead poisoning of a bullet’, which means that it affects the natural acids of the stomach. This can result in the onset of ulcers and Hiatus Hernias. Colic of the oesophagus, as well as Hiatus Hernia, often-mimic symptoms associated with heart problems. Such symptoms include chest pains, breathlessness and feelings of panic. In Hiatus Hernia, a part of the stomach pushes upwards through the diaphragm into the chest. It thus moves into the chest area and problems may then arise.

Should you identify with any of the symptoms presented, or be suffering from anxiety, perhaps it is time to consider having your own “showdown” with your medical professional to prevent further health problems.