The first thing you need to know is that you’re amazing. You put yourself in a vulnerable, terrifying situation for a living and you don’t just survive, you excel at it. That takes an iron clad amount of self belief. You got that kid. In spades. So what is this crippling fear that has slashed it’s way into your performance and got you all sawed up? It’s our old friend anxiety, which means your ‘Fight or Flight’ mode is having a great big bloody rave.
Why do you have Panic Attacks?
Usually the build up to a panic attack has been silently creeping in for a little while. It’s all to do with your body’s breathing pattern. A change in that pattern occurs when your body is put under a bit more stress than usual. This could come from an illness, not enough sleep, anger, shock or a big cracking hangover.
The first indication you’re brain gets that you are under stress is an increase in oxygen intake, it may be so small you don’t even notice it. You may start sighing more or yawning, the more stressed you get the more you will hyperventilate. It’s a protective body chemistry change which allows your muscles to receive more oxygenated blood so you can easily run away from the big bad T-Rex pissing on your hut.
Next come the sensations. This is where all the funky stuff kicks in:
Loss of feeling in limbs
Ohhh it’s a party alright.
What takes the ‘idea’ of a panic attack to the next level (and we’ll talk about that ‘idea’ later) is you noticing the change. This is where your brain recognises the sensation as fear but doesn’t have any 3 headed dogs to be scared of. So instead, you become scared of the sensations. And rightly so, that’s a pretty hairy list.
Your brain will now start searching for scenarios to justify the sensations. Aren’t we clever little poppets us people?! This is where you convince yourself you’re going to:
Have a heart attack
Lose your mind
We are quite the creative creatures.
It’s really important that you know, none of these things are going to happen. The difficult part to get your head around, is that the sensations are actually making you stronger not weaker. Blood and oxygen are going to where it’s needed to Street Fight this up, or flee like Sir Bolt. Baby this is as close to X Men as you will get. Respect that! Respect the fear!
Now you understand why it’s happening sometimes that’s enough to calm your mind so the sensations can begin to dial themselves down. You can learn to embrace them to make you feel stronger not weaker, but that takes practice.
So, in our next part of the series we will be talking in more detail about some of the symptoms that might be affecting you and how to combat them.
How to Survive a Panic Attack Onstage
How to Tame Audition Anxiety, For good.
5 Essential Habits for Happy Actors
A Performers Guide to surviving the in-between
How to save your universe, when the world is losing theirs