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Panic Attack Can be Part of Your Eating Disorder Experience

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Panic Attack Can be Part of Your Eating Disorder ExperienceAn OMG panic attack experience gives you more information about what's happening to you than the numbness an eating disorder provides.

 "The Panic Attack Symptoms Nobody Talks About" by Rachel Gearinger is a short, well written and candid article that may have powerful significance if you have or had an eating disorder.

Eating disorders can create a psychological numbness that dulls your senses and, for a short time, relieves an attack. But you don't feel relief. You feel nothing.That dullness or numbness could be a 
form of depersonalization and/or derealization, a little discussed aspect of panic.

Definition of panic attack from Mayo Clinic:

A panic attack is a sudden episode of intense fear that triggers severe physical reactions when there is no real danger or apparent cause. Panic attacks can be very frightening. When panic attacks occur, you might think you're losing control, having a heart attack or even dying.

If you think of your eating disorder symptoms as a reponse to panic you could have a greater appreciation of your experience and what is triggering your behavior.  You might think that ice cream or a buffet dinner or meeting new people are triggers for your eating disorder.  But that doesn't give you more awareness of your situation.


If you think those things trigger a panic attack and then a quick rush to eating disorder behaviors, you might start thinking of why or how these things would frighten you so much.

Experiences while in a panic attack:

  • Sense of impending doom or danger
  • Fear of loss of control or death
  • Rapid, pounding heart rate
  • Sweating
  • Trembling or shaking
  • Shortness of breath or tightness in your throat
  • Chills
  • Hot flashes
  • Nausea
  • Abdominal cramping
  • Chest pain
  • Headache
  • Dizziness, lightheadedness or faintness
  • Numbness or tingling sensation
  • Feeling of unreality or detachment
Coping with a panic attack

You may feel one or several or many of these above symptoms. Or you may feel them rising up in you.

Instead of rushing to a binge or other eating disorder behaviors, go to your associations: Does panic attack feel familiar? Where and when else did you have this experience?

Breathe out. Get a paper bag and fill it with air. Often, during a panic attack you will think you can't breatthe. That's because you are trying to breathe in when your lungs are full. You can't imagine breathing out. Filling a paper bag with air gets you breathing properly, reverses your continual attempt to breathe in, empties your lungs and reminds you that you can breathe normally.  You are not dying.

A panic attack can be a natural response to a life threatening situation. flight-flight-freeze.

If you are in a safe situation your panic attack could signal a reminder of a past dangerous situation, maybe one you don't remember with your mind. But your body remembers. 

Panic attack and eating disorder connection

Just before you binge or purge or have a restricting day you felt something, probably something close to what's on the above list of panic attack symptoms.  You may not have felt them thoroughly. But you felt them enough to have a sense of what's coming and ward it off the your favorite eating disorder behaviors. These are the behaviors that work for you. You reach a state of numbness that prevents you from feeling the attack.

Yet, the panic attack symptoms could be a treasure trove of clues held by your body of what really triggers your eating disorder behaviors.  Exploring your body sensations through association and familiarity gives you an opportunity to learn what your body is trying to tell you. You can find various sources of your fears and attacks. Then you have the opportunity to build inner resources to cope with them.

Finding a mental place where you can observe and reflect on your on your experience of a panic attack helps you separate past danger from present safety. That process is an important aspect of eating disorder recovery psychotherapy and the road to your recovery.



Joanna is a psychotherapist in private practice serving California, Arizona, Florida, Utah and Oregon.

Author of 
Healing Your Hungry Heart: recovering from your eating disorder. 

Please let me know what occurs to you when you think of your eating disorder behaviors as a response to panic attacks. To share your thoughts and experiences on this topic, please write: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

To schedule a free telephone consultation write: 
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