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Panic Attacks and Distraction

by Dr. Blumberg on May 8, 2011

*Panic Disorder: The Fear of Normal Bodily Sensations

For no apparent reason, “Out of the Blue”, an intense wave of physical sensations surge through your body. Heart pounding, shortness of breath, lightheadedness, heat waves, rubbery legs, a lump in your throat and numbness and tingling in your head and face overtake you.  Naturally, you think the worst is happening!  Terrifying thoughts of heart attack, stroke, suffocate, collapse, choke to death, croak and crack up, race through your mind.  Before you know it, your body is vibrating with terror and fear and the physical symptoms are so intense you find yourself in your local Emergency Room. Even when the ER Doctor reassures you that you are fine, you life has been changed forever.  You live in fear and dread of those bodily sensations of heart pounding and shortness of breath.  Anytime you feel a twinge in your body, you worry that another panic attack is imminent.  Those bodily sensations of heart pounding and shallow breathing that used to be your friend and went unnoticed when you engaged in physical exercise, now have become your enemy. Now, you live in fear of heart racing, shortness of breath and all of those bodily changes that you now associate with impending doom.  After your first panic attack, you develop a body phobia and live in fear of normal bodily sensations.

Distraction-Running Scared From Normal Bodily Sensations

Your first instinct, at the sign of any symptoms of a panic attack, is to do anything to stop the panic from escalating into a full-blown panic attack. You quickly discover that shifting your focus of attention off of your body and the panic experience temporarily can short circuit a panic attack. You develop a broad range of maneuvers of distraction. Without realizing it, you start running from your body in fear of the feared bodily sensations.  But, how can you run from your body, when it is everywhere you go?

13 Distraction Acts Not to Take When a Panic Attack Strikes

  • Listen to music
  • Watch TV
  • Read a Book
  • Call someone on your cell phone
  • Go exercise
  • Practice relaxation
  • Picture a relaxation scene
  • Drink alcohol and use drugs
  • Eat food
  • Splash water on your face
  • Drink water
  • Meditate
  • Run out of a situation to a place of “perceived safety”

Why Does Distraction Strengthen Your Fear of Panic Attacks?

Distraction Can Cause Even More Intense Panic Attacks In The Long Run

Shifting your attention away from the feared bodily sensation of heart pounding may provide a temporary reduction in heart pounding symptoms.  Distraction is a form of avoiding or escaping the feared heart pounding. If a dog phobic runs from a dog, the fear of dogs heightens. If a panic attack victim runs from heart pounding, the fear of heart pounding intensifies even further. You begin to depend on distraction as your method of panic attack relief.  What will you do the next time you feel the dreaded heart pounding? What if you forget your cell phone or water bottle or you cannot escape the situation?   The heart pounding will surge with greater strength than ever before!

What Should You Do the Next Time You Feel Adrenaline Surging Through Your Body?

  • Continue to Engage in What You Are Doing.
  • Don’t Blink. Don’t Shrink. Don’t Pull Back One Inch.
  • Feel the Feeling Without Fear.
  • Watch the Feelings Turn into Fleeting Flashes of Adrenaline.

The ideas in this blog are developed from Dr. Blumberg’s panicLINK Program.  PanicLINK is a comprehensive, twelve session, four phase, multi-media educational program on panic disorder. The material in this Blog and the panicLINK Program are copyright protected by Out of the Blue Network, LLC. No permission is granted to reproduce this blog for commercial purposes. For more information about the panicLINK Program, connect at

* This educational information should always be used in consultation with your doctor to confirm a diagnosis and review available treatments for panic disorder.






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