When I’m having a panic attack my thinking is completely distorted. I “feel” like I’m dying so I’m certain I’m dying.
Even if it makes no sense to think that way, I still do, because rationality is not part of a panic attack.
I guess it made some sense to worry I might be having a heart attack the first time I had a panic attack. After all my heart was pounding and I felt terrible shortness of breath, What makes less sense is that every time I have a new panic attack I still think I’m dying. I’ve been to the ER and to see a cardiologist and they’ve done plenty of tests. By now I am quite confident that my general health is quite good. I know these are episodes of anxiety and that they are not dangerous. But still, when I’m having an attack the thoughts of imminent death still become prominent in my mind.
Since I am seeing a CBT therapist I’ve started practicing CBT techniques to correct my thinking in general, but specially when I am having a panic attack. I’ve been doing Stress Log exercises and Though Challenge exercises. A Stress Log is similar to the first part of a thought record. I describe the situation and then I report my feelings (usually panic!!) and the negative thoughts that go through my mind while I’m feeling stressed out or having a panic attack. Clearly separating what are feelings from what are thoughts is already helping me. It is a lot better to say “I feel very anxious because I think I am dying” than to say “I feel like I’m dying”. When I say that I think that something is the case it is already obvious that this is just a possible belief or interpretation that can be challenged. When I say “I feel like I’m dying” I leave no room for questioning my interpretation of what’s going on.
I’ll tell you more about challenging negative thoughts in my next blog. For now I want to share with you my first Stress Log: