Dr. Gregory Jantz

Overcoming Panic Attacks

May 31, 2014

It all started with an elevator. Janice was taking the elevator up to her usual floor at work one day when the elevator malfunctioned. She was trapped inside for hours until someone was finally able to get it working properly again.

As hard as it was to overcome, Janice was beginning to put it behind her and get a proper perspective on the traumatic event when bad luck struck a second time. Janice loved to take out-of-town friends to the Space Needle restaurant in downtown Seattle. Towering high over the city, the restaurant affords a revolving view of the skyline as patrons dine.

To get to the restaurant circling atop the Space Needle, diners ride in an elevator that has windows along the side providing a view of the surrounding area. One day on Janice’s way up, the elevator broke. This time the elevator had windows, so she could see just how dangerous a position she was in.

For a while afterword, Janice was able to go on with her life. But soon the thought of even stepping into an elevator was nauseating, so she took the stairs. Even the thought of being up that high, no matter how she got there, caused intense panic attacks. Her heart would race, she would become dizzy and lightheaded, and she would hyperventilate. Eventually she was forced to give up her job because she was no longer physically able to make it to the twelfth floor.

As more time passed, Janice couldn’t even travel up a flight of stairs without having a panic attack. The attacks were so strong she was sure she was going to die of a heart attack. She had a two-story house, but she started sleeping on the sofa downstairs to avoid climbing above ground level.

Janice had always been a high-strung person. When she was a child, her father was commanding and her mother was demanding. She had grown up very performance driven. Everything needed to be done just so with Janice. Her looks, her dress, her manners, and her work were carried out with precision and control—until she lost control twice in the elevators.

Panic attacks are specific physical events with an emotional or psychological basis. They produce dramatic physical symptoms and can be overwhelming for the person experiencing them. At the root of a panic attack is an abnormally strong fear reaction and the presence of a high level of adrenaline produced by the body in reaction to the fear. This is when emotional anxiety is given a physical outlet.

Emotional abuse intersects with panic attacks when the fear producing the attack comes from an abusive pattern in the past. Janice had always been terrified of losing control because of the emotional abuse suffered as a child. It wasn’t until she experienced a physical event—the breakdown of the elevators—that her ever-present subconscious fear found a conscious outlet.

While panic attacks can be intense and devastating initially, they are also highly treatable. Once Janice learned the true source of her fear, she was able to develop a strategy for confronting them. She no longer fears riding elevators and has found closure on much of the emotional abuse in her past.

Panic attacks are a normal symptom of posttraumatic stress disorder, but know that they are treatable. If you or someone you love has struggled with a traumatic event and continues to suffer from related panic attacks, they should seek professional help. The world-class team of professionals at The Center • A Place of HOPE specializes in addressing each person individually. They make a point to understand all aspects of a person’s past to help each person find true healing. In Janice’s case, this meant delving into the traumas of her childhood that she never acknowledged as contributors to her later panic attacks. To learn how an individualized recovery plan can help heal your panic attacks, call 1-888-771-5166 today.

Excerpts of this blog were taken from Dr, Jantz’s Hope & Healing from Emotional Abuse.