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What Is Causing My Panic Attack Symptoms?

by Dr. Blumberg on April 23, 2011

*Uncertainty about the Cause of Panic Attack Symptoms

Initial panic attacks appear “Out of the Blue” for no apparent reason. Experiencing intense physical sensations with no explanation can be very disconcerting.  You immediately think “Why am I feeling this way? What could be causing me to feel such intense surges of physical sensations in my body?”  Uncertainty about the cause of intense physical sensations prompts high anxiety and worry about causation.  The question “What could it be?” creates doubt and uncertainty.

Attribution Theory and False Catastrophic Thinking

Consistent with attribution theory, we are explanation seeking creatures. Thus, we are determined to find the answer to the “Why am I feeling this way?” question.  When faced with uncertainty about the cause of an event, panic prone individuals conclude the worst case scenario. We are catastrophic thinkers.  When a loved one arrives home later than expected, we worry about loss, e.g. a car accident.  The more logical explanation that an uncharged cell phone battery prevented a call to inform you of a change in plans is never considered.

The Meaning of the Panic Attack Symptom Determines the Experience

When the accurate core underlying trigger for panic attacks is hidden from awareness, we search and arrive at false terrifying explanations for why we feel panic attack symptoms. Head pressure means a brain tumor.  Heart racing means cardiac arrest. Numbness and tingling in the hands and arms means a stroke. These catastrophic false interpretations of normal bodily sensations of adrenaline and can change the entire experience of a panic attack symptom. Head pressure and “Head in a Vice” viewed a muscle tension feels totally different than head pressure viewed as a “Growing brain tumor”. The meaning of the panic attack symptom determines the experience.

Panic Attack Sufferers Attach Three Different Types of Meanings to Their Panic Attack Symptoms

False catastrophic explanations for panic attack symptoms fall into three general categories.

Category One Meaning includes all terrifying beliefs about dreaded diseases including cardiac disease, neurological disease and other rare life threatening illnesses.

Category Two Meaning includes all worries about Loss of Mental Control, including fears of snapping, going crazy, going berserk, nervous breakdown, being locked up in a mental ward and general fears about inability to function in society.

Category Three Meaning is more subtle and more difficult to detect. I call this category negative dwelling about your symptoms. The three most common dwelling symptom thoughts include, “why won’t these symptoms go away? I can’t stand feeling this way! What could be causing me to feel this way?”

An Exercise To Change The Meaning of Your Panic Attack Symptom

What does your panic attack symptom represent to you? Your interpretation of your physical sensation of panic determines your experience. Now, I ask you right now to write down your most dreaded panic attack physical symptom in column one. Next, review the Three Meaning of Symptom Categories above. Then, write down what your symptoms represents to you in column two. Remember, the meaning of the symptom determines the experience. Work at changing your interpretation of your panic attack symptom and observe how your panic attack experience changes.

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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