The Vicious cycle of panic is a diagram that shows how our thoughts, feelings and the way we behave can all be connected.
When facing a situation which causes you fear, such as being in a crowded place like a supermarket or on a bus, you may think ‘I think I am going to panic in this situation’. This could make you feel very anxious or fearful and as if you’re in danger.
These feelings of fear can trigger the body’s threat response known as ‘Flight or fight’. As the body gets ready to respond to the ‘danger’ by running away or fighting we may experience some unpleasant physical symptoms such as:
- racing heart
- breathing faster
These physical symptoms can be misinterpreted as evidence that something bad really is happening. For example, ‘I feel dizzy so I must be going to faint’ or ‘I’m going to stop breathing.’
Not surprisingly, someone who thinks that something terrible is happening is going to get even more anxious and scared. This can then affect how you behave. You might want to leave or avoid certain situations that cause you fear or start to rely on ‘safety behaviours’. Safety behaviours are things you might do to feel safer and reduce your anxiety, in order to try and stop another panic attack from happening. For example:
- only go to the supermarket late at night
- carry a water bottle and stress remedy around at all times
- only travel on a bus with a friend
Safety behaviours and avoidance can increase the belief that certain situations are dangerous and stop you from testing your fears.
This can then make your thoughts even more anxious and the cycle continues…