Delayed Stress Reaction: Panic After the Storm
Tuesday, June 15 2010 Aimee White
Have you ever been in a stressful situation and made it out alright, but then had a panic attack afterward when everything calmed down? I had a family vacation I was stressing about once. I was worried before we left, but I didn't have any anxiety on the trip itself, until the drive home when the worst was over. I suddenly and unexpectedly got hit with a panic attack I couldn't manage. What's up with that?
Why Some People Experience Anxiety and Panic Attacks After the Stress is Over
In my last post, I wrote about how horribly overwhelmed I felt. I knew I had so much to accomplish that weekend and it felt impossible. I made it through as I always do, however, this week, when there is nothing pressing on me, I suddenly feel anxious.
I also had a reader, Annie, comment on the same scenario. She learned about delayed anxiety and panic attacks from Edmund J. Bourne, author of The Anxiety and Phobia Workbook:
"Within your brain, panic attacks are more likely to occur when this entire system (brain/fight or flight) is overly sensitized, perhaps from having been previously activated too frequently, too intensely, or both. Thus the neurological basis for panic is not exactly a "chemical imbalance," as your doctor may have told you, but an overly sensitized 'fear system.'"
It goes on to say that essentially our brains are so keyed up -- in hyper vigilant mode -- long after the perceived danger is gone and that is why there is often an exaggerated response to the stress and strain of our lives, and why we often don't feel "safe" and "OK" when everything really is OK and problems are within a manageable range.
It made me feel better to read that because when I've had periods where I've struggled with panic and anxiety, I've always been perplexed about "why now?" - since it's usually AFTER some really stressful or hard event. I've never understood why I was able to handle the "crisis" situation without losing my cool, but then a few days later, I'd start falling apart. This explained a lot for me. So now, when I go through a stressful event or situation, my goal is to not only be patient and work with myself as I go through it, but to really support myself and continue to practice my calming exercises, etc. AFTER the fact and help "bring myself down". - Annie
I have read that for some of us, turning on the fight or flight response is easy to do, but its much harder to turn it off. It's a good reminder that we need to continue to work on our anxiety, even after we are out of that triggering situation.