Welcome to Joy Lab!: Welcome to the Joy Lab podcast, where we help you uncover and foster your most joyful self. Your hosts, Dr. Henry Emmons and Dr. Aimee Prasek, bring you the ideal mix of soulful and scientifically sound tools to spark your joy, even when it feels dark. When you're ready to experiment with more joy, combine this podcast with the full Joy Lab program over at JoyLab.coach
Henry: Hello, I'm Henry Emmons, and welcome to Joy Lab.
Aimee: I am Aimee Prasek. So here at Joy Lab, we infuse science with soul to help you build your resilience and uncover your joy. Now, if you caught episode 109, we shared our new podcast schedule with our Saturday episodes. And most often, um, those episodes will fall into this resilience lab space where we'll talk more about resilience, like lifestyle medicine, uh, mental health issues also that need more attention, that need less stigma, um, and that need more of a spotlight on some empowering ways to help us feel better and tap and tap into our resilience.
So that's kind of the focus of these Saturday episodes as best as we can do to stay on track. on topic. We may veer and there. Um, but in this episode we're gonna talk about anxiety attacks and panic attacks and the differences and similarities. And to sort of get us started here, I wanna note just a few things. The term anxiety attack and then term panic attack. They're usually often used interchangeably. I kinda do. Uh, maybe a helpful note here is that anxiety attack isn't a clinical term, so there's not really like a definition, whereas panic attacks certainly are. And panic attacks are really common.
About 40% of folks, at least in the US will experience one in their lifetime. I also think that there's nothing wrong with sort of interchanging the panic attack, attack language, but I think that distinguishing between panic attacks and anxiety can be really helpful. We'll do a little of that in this episode.
Um, and it's important to note that both anxiety and panic attacks can be helped with treatment.
Henry: Yeah. Well, it's certainly easy to see why there is some confusion about this because they're both very common part of our language nowadays. They're used frequently. They're used loosely, I'd say both by clinicians and the general public. And, and you know, there, as you said, there is a ton of overlap.
They both stem from our kind of anxiety slash alarm system. You know, we have this built in mechanism for vigilance, for scanning, for danger. Kind of keeping our eyes on the horizon, so to speak. And it's worth saying that this is an evolutionary advantage,
in a sense. It's a good thing that some of us are just a lot more prone to this. Um, you know, if, if you imagine, our far, far ancestors, it would be really good to have somebody in the tribe who's paying attention, you know, who sees the, the danger coming. Whereas, you know, the rest of us can be sort of you know, not, not noticing exactly. So, so, you know, we're point being that we are wired differently in that regard and some of us are much more prone to it than others. And, therefore also more prone for something to go wrong. Um, the way I think of, an anxiety attack is that, it is someone who's just trying to convey that they experienced unusually intense, bad anxiety over a period of time.
Whereas I learned to think about a panic attack as a very discreet, almost always, very short period of time of the kind of an anxiety that is so intense that you really do fear that you're going to die from it. It is all you know, all systems go. Um, everything is opened up to allow in this sense of fear that something awful is about to happen.
Henry: And, you know, physiologically there are a lot of similarities, but there also are some, some differences.
Aimee: The term alarm system helps me. I think of when, between sort of an anxiety attack or high level anxiety vigilance and a panic attack, when you have to arm a house or a building or something and you, you set the code and you have like two minutes to get out. I get really anxious during those two minutes where you're like, oh God, where's my, my jacket, my purse?
But then . There's that next part where if you don't get out, that alarm hits, and if that alarm hits, I crumble. I just freeze. So for me it's sort of like, you know, that that anxiety attack, that high level anxiety, you can kind of still function in, it can be really difficult when that alarm hits and it's just all consuming, it's the only thing you can hear. It's uh, it's really hard to function and that's kind of a panic attack in my perspective.
Henry: You know that what you, what you just described is another kind of nice way of distinguishing them because your, your own experience of becoming anxious in that circumstance was clearly related to some stressor in your environment. Something happened outside of you that kind of set off your own, miniature alarm bells. And that's another way of distinguishing because a lot of times what we refer to as anxiety attacks are stress related. They are triggered by something going on either within us or usually outside of us.
And, and that's not always the case with panic attacks. The way I think of of it, somebody who has what we call panic disorder, where they're having fairly frequent of these intense episodes. Um, it is almost always genetic in, in nature, at least to some extent. And it is very strongly biological and sometimes it happens totally out of the blue. There is no apparent trigger whatsoever. So to me it's almost like, you know, that home security system you're describing has gone rogue.
It's just doing its own thing, regardless of the fact that there is no danger in the vicinity, there's no trigger. Nobody's trying to break in, but the alarm system is set too sensitively or something wrong with the monitoring system or whatever.
It's not a no longer a normal response to something that's happening. Whereas, you know, for the vast majority of folks who, who are struggling with anxiety, even if it's pretty severe anxiety, it is stress related to one degree or another.
Aimee: Yeah, I think that's a really important distinction. I'll share my experience 'cause it speaks exactly to what you're saying there, Henry. So when I was in my early twenties, I had several panic attacks and I remember that first one, like it was this morning. I was driving on the Pacific Coast Highway was actually feeling pretty good.
I was coming around a bend, I could see the ocean on my left. It was kind of peaceful. Um, and then literally out of nowhere. Just this wave of terror came over me. Something I had just never experienced before.
And I'm sure those of you who have experienced before can completely relate. You have this unexplainable, overwhelming sense of dread. And generally I can push through this kind of stuff like anxiety.
Like I was saying, I can gather up my jacket and purse and get outta the door, but here I could not function. I pulled over. And I just had to sit there for several minutes, which felt like hours until it receded. It did recede, and there was nothing I could do to assist it at that moment. I just had to wait for it to finish.
And I guess in some ways I was kind of lucky because I knew what had happened, at least after it ended, after I realized I was still alive in the car. I didn't have a heart attack, which is something that often gets, misinterpreted for panic attacks as well. But, after it was over, I realized, okay, wow, that was a panic attack. I'd read about these things.
Aimee: And for me, actually, that panic attack was sort of a clear sign that my body was holding onto stuff that I needed to work through. At least that's what I thought. You know, that this unconscious, uncontrollable panic was like a volcano eruption. It wasn't my fault. I'm not saying that at all.
But there was something there. To me, it was sort of this evidence that I, I, needed some help actually to figure out how to make my way out of anxiety and depression. That was the message I received. I'm grateful I was able to do that work and haven't had panic attacks in 20 years now. So they certainly can be cared for.
They can be treated, you can move beyond them.
Aimee: Maybe they are telling a story. Um, at least, you know, again, that's what my experience was like. There was a lot of molten in me. There was a lot of energy, a lot of emotions, a lot of feelings that I maybe couldn't name that I didn't understand, but that certainly needed some care, that needed some attention, um, so that they could make their way out in... if I was, you know, gonna do this work so that they could make their way out in a way that wasn't so explosive either individually, like manifesting as a panic attack or even outwardly, and, which is not really a wild thing to say. There's a lot of evidence that folks with anxiety disorders will also have what are called anger attacks, which is just exploding at folks, or impulsive aggression.
So maybe we could change this episode too, anxiety attacks versus panic attacks versus anger attacks. But it's interesting how all of really relate.
Henry: They do. And you know, I I think one of the things you're getting at is that sometimes there is just so much energy in our system, in our, in our poor little bodies, you know, it's, there's so much extra activation movement, um, you know, that it just has to get out, uh, in some way or another.
Aimee: a hundred percent. That's exactly how I felt. There was too much. It needed a way out and there was nobody out in my car for me to have some impulsive anger at.
Henry: Well a couple of things that you did that you described, I think are kind of pointing toward a really good way to deal with this kind of really intense anxiety, and one of those is that, you know, you very quickly understood what was going on. You know, and that's, that's not always the case for folks, especially with the first episode.
I think it's incredibly common to go to the emergency room, and I think that's actually probably a good thing to do, you know, because it, who knows? It could be cardiac related, it could be something else. It is a good thing to check out once or twice maybe, but not repeatedly, you know, you don't need to keep doing it if you've had a really good, thorough assessment. But yeah, it's, it's okay to do that initially. And, and then the other thing you said that I thought is a really good approach is to kind of, uh, talk yourself down in a sense. You know, that we, we talk a lot in Joy Lab about the observing mind, which is very different from the mind that's caught up in whatever's going on.
And, and this is a nice way to think about utilizing that. We're able to use our capacity to step back. There's part of our brain that can step back, see what's going on, not be so caught up in it and worried about it, and, and then kind of talk down the part of the brain that's feeling frantic and scared and everything else, and, and using language that, okay, I know what this is. This is just a panic attack. I am not going to die.
Um, this is not going to hurt me in a severe, you know, incapacitating way. It's really super uncomfortable, but I can get through this. And it will pass.
You know, and the first time you're going through it, you might not realize it's gonna pass, but you will quickly learn that. And it's, it's very helpful, very reassuring to have that ability to kind of soothe yourself with that kind of language.
Aimee: Yeah. I think that's it. I think that's super effective. There's a lot of evidence to support that.
Henry: Well, I think it's worth, um, saying that there is a very real sense in which anxiety and even panic anxiety is normal. You know, it's how our bodies are designed, it's how we're built. And I think especially with what we're seeing are anxiety attacks, that's probably a normal response.
Maybe an over reactive response, but it's still a normal response to being super stressed in one's life or carrying too much emotion that is just has to get out. But, uh, a panic attack is also an absolutely normal mechanism, but that has gone wrong,
so to speak. know, we're supposed to have a panic reaction when we are truly threatened, when our life really is at risk, but not out of the blue. And so that's sort of a, there's, there's a glitch in the system and it needs to be addressed because you know a lot of people and what you just described, it will start with that one discreet, intense episode. But then it kind of grows. It kind of spreads. A good example is you were driving while this happened, and often people will be scared to drive again. They kind of associate that with what happened, even though it's not, it wasn't the driving that caused it, presumably.
But, you know, with anxiety, you don't wanna let it get a foothold and spread like that. You, you want to do something to be able to pretty quickly, disrupt it, disrupt the cycle of anxiety that otherwise can grow and take over more and more aspects of one's life. And that's something we want to try to avoid. It's just much easier to come back from it if it doesn't grow too much.
Aimee: Yeah, there's something about befriending in a strange way, that experience of having a panic attack and our anxiety. And giving some love back to ourselves. And then the practices we do here at Joy Lab.
Henry: That's right. It, it's a, a really good reminder that anxiety of this nature, even this intensity is best approached by developing skills. This is something that we can learn how to manage effectively through creating, just more effective mental and emotional skills. Learning to tap into that observing self. Learning to dissipate some of the energy that's building up in our body through movement or through relaxation skills or techniques, breathing. But a lot of what is helpful, especially with anxiety, is to really learn to work with our thoughts. And with our emotions in more skillful ways, which is really the heart of what we're trying to do in Joy Lab.
Aimee: Yeah. And we're happy you're here with us 'cause we can do this together. I think before we close, there's just some simple wisdom that I wanna share. it's kinda a little pithy statement that I turn to when I feel that expanding anxiety monster creep up as you described Henry, that one that has tentacles, that wants to grab onto everything.
And I don't actually have the source for this quote, so if anyone knows it, please comment over at YouTube or let me know. But here it is and I hope it helps you also a little bit, invites some ease and lightness as well. " Not everything that weighs you down is yours to carry."
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