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Pardon The Interruption: Panic Attacks And Intrusive Thoughts

Pardon my imperfections, but they shan’t define me.
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Perhaps the most troubling symptom of panic attacks and general anxiety is the intrusive thoughts that often accompany these episodes – thoughts that may persist long after the panic attack has subsided.  If you or someone you love has experienced these type of thoughts, as a result of panic attacks or a larger panic disorder, you know all too well how invasive they can be, dominating every waking moment of your life, almost to the point where concentrating on anything else is next to impossible.  This is a very common occurrence with panic disorder, and one we will examine a bit more closely here.

What Are Intrusive Thoughts?

Intrusive thoughts can be defined as any thoughts which you did not willfully initiate.  Usually unwanted, these thoughts creep into your mind, forcing you – or so it seems to you at the time – to devote all of your energy on these unsolicited bits of information and usually causing you unnecessary or irrational worry.  These intrusive thoughts take on many forms, such as excessive worrying about money, irrational thoughts about health and death, unexplained worries about loved ones, and even bizarre thoughts which can make you question your own sanity.  Naturally, these thoughts can be quite disturbing, but since they have no true basis in reality, and were not initiated by you, they are often hard to stop.  After all, how do you stop a thought you never meant to call to mind in the first place?

Panic Attacks and Intrusive Thoughts:  The Connection

With no known cause, panic attacks are a bizarre phenomenon in and of themselves.  Characterized by a sudden and overwhelming fear or dread and physical symptoms such as dizziness, shortness of breath, numbness and tingling, a panic attack can be a truly startling experience.  Some are so shook up by the effects of a panic attack that they immediately assume a more dangerous health situation has occurred, and they rush themselves to the nearest hospital, convinced they have experienced a heart attack or some other medical emergency.  Add intrusive thoughts into the mix and it’s easy to see why panic sufferers would go to almost any length to find relief.

So why are intrusive thoughts so prevalent in those with panic attacks?

The most honest answer is that nobody knows for sure.  While in some cases these thoughts may be linked to past experiences or failures – events that left the panic sufferer subconsciously guilty – most of these intrusive thoughts are completely irrational and without any merit.  For example, a perfectly healthy 35 year old man would normally not worry excessively about his own demise, but when a panic attack is experienced you can throw logic right out the window.  He may not want to think about dying, but he can’t get the thought out of his head.  Now try explaining that to a doctor or to your loved ones.  

Intrusive thoughts can range anywhere from annoying and occasional to pervasive and constant, and when they reach this latter stage they can be quite debilitating, making it extremely difficult to complete even the simplest tasks or form any type of mutual relationships.

A Final Thought:  Intrusive

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