I have already written extensively about the connection between the experience of childhood trauma and the consequential development of anxiety disorders later in life.
One type of anxiety disorder that can be particularly incapacitating is called PANIC DISORDER.
Panic disorder gives rise to both psychological and physical symptoms.
Psychological symptoms include fear, terror and, very frighteningly, sometimes the overwhelming (false) conviction that one is about to die.
Physical symptoms include a rapid heartbeat, sweating, trembling, feeling faint or dizzy, and, OF PARTICULAR RELEVANCE to this article: HYPERVENTILATION.
WHAT IS HYPERVENTILATION?
It is also sometimes referred to as PSYCHOGENIC DYSPNOEA or BEHAVIORAL BREATHLESSNESS.
In essence, it involves rapid and shallow breathing, alterations in levels of CO2 in the bloodstream and having a sense of ‘not being able to get enough air’, breathlessness and suffocation.
HOW DOES THE BRAIN RESPOND TO SUCH SYMPTOMS?
In response to altered levels of CO2 in the blood, feelings of breathlessness and suffocation, it has been hypothesised that a kind of ‘SUFFOCATION ALARM SYSTEM’ is triggered, the brain having been, to all intents and purposes, tricked into believing it is currently involved in a life or death situation.
The researcher, Cohen, has carried out research that suggests this ‘suffocation alarm system’ is located in the part of the brain known as the AMYGDALA and that, in those who suffer the type of panic disorder which I have described, this system is OVER-SENSITIVE.
Position of the AMYGDALA in the brain – it is likely to be dysfunctional in many individuals who suffer from panic disorder
Indeed, it is well established that the development of the AMYGDALA can be seriously adversely affected by individuals who have suffered severe childhood trauma.
Also, Cohen’s research indicates that the inheritance of a particular gene (ASICIa, for those who are interested) may predispose individuals to develop these problems.
HOW CAN THE CONDITION BE TREATED?
– understanding the physiological reasons why one experiences the feelings of dread and fear that accompany panic attacks can, in itself, be a comfort. Once these are fully understood, the person who suffers from panic attacks can come to the realisation that having them does not mean s/he is ‘going to die’ (to read my article about fear of death, click here) or is ‘going completely and irrevocably insane’ (another common false belief of those in the grip of a severe panic attack).
– relaxation techniques such as hypnotherapy and mindfulness
– cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT)
– medication (if considering this treatment option it is essential to consult with a suitably qualified and experienced health professional).
N.B. It is important to rule out any possible physical causes which may underlie hyperventilation by consulting an appropriate medical professional.
RELATED ARTICLES: You may wish to read three of my previously published articles :
- AMYGDALA HIJACK
- IS YOUR ANXIETY CAUSED BY HYPERVENTILATION?
- HOW CHILDHOOD TRAUMA CAN MAKE US CONSTANTLY HYPERVIGILANCE
David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).