Panic Attacks: Triggered by Common Medication



Life, as usual, continues to throw up challenges and surprises and just recently I have had some interesting experiences with drugs and anxiety.

I contracted pneumonia in February, which was quite a shock as I try and look after myself (I can only put it down to a convergence of badly dealt with stress over the past year and an incident when I got totally frozen in a swimming pool) and was forced to take antibiotics because of the severity of the illness which weakened my resistance to other diseases so I caught everything else that was going around and ended up taking three separate courses of pretty strong drugs to clear the pneumonia that flared up three times.

Anyway, during the initial stages of the illness I started feeling pretty anxious, partly due to waking in the night barely being able to breath and just generally feeling so helpless and sick but also, I am certain now, because of the effects of the antibiotics.

I would wake with my heart racing and have to sit bolt upright to take a full breath and this just got worse and worse until I was scared to drop off to sleep at all. The drugs gave me nightmares and seemed to target my specific personal anxieties.

Many old issues surfaced, including being in hospital at 11 months old, unable to breath, waiting for an adenoidectomy and also brought up the fear of being alone in the dark and being cold and wet.

EmoTrance and EFT came to the rescue and saved my sanity I am certain but I was still suffering from the physical symptoms of panic attacks and it was interesting to watch them even though I had cleared the fear. The attacks still hit me consistently and seemed to come from nowhere and on several occasions, being so low, really started to undermine my confidence and at one point almost lost it completely and thought it would never end.

If I hadn’t had the constant support of my friend Silvia Hartmann, who had to repeatedly remind me that it was only temporary and to wait, without freaking out and making the whole situation worse, it would have taken me a whole lot longer to recover.

At one point she actually had to shout at me to make me take control of my environment so I could weather the storm while being as comfortable as possible.

It certainly reminded me how vital support is and also how quickly our thoughts can shoot off into unresourceful places where there seems to be no hope. What would a fool be thinking but foolish thoughts! It certainly helped to be reminded of that at particularly bad times.

Even so the panic attack symptoms were very convincing on many occasions and it was a real struggle to combat the effects of the drugs with positive thoughts and gentle activities to distract myself.

It’s only recently I remembered that two years ago the same thing happened when I started using natural progesterone cream, to ease my menopause symptoms, and was slathering more and more on as the panics increased! That took months to wear off and I was left quite shaken after the experience.

A friend of mine told me recently that he suffered for years when starting to take thyroxin and it was only when he reduced his dose, which left a not entirely desirable blood test, that his panic attacks stopped. His doctors were not pleased with his blood tests but agreed to let him continue on that dose, closely monitored, as he felt so much better in himself and was starting to function normally again. Please note it is very dangerous to mess with doses of this drug without help from your doctor.

How do I know it was the effects of the antibiotics? Because the same tools I had used to alleviate my panic attacks that had worked in the past had no effect at all on the actual physical symptoms though did work to still my spiraling thoughts of despair.

So please be aware, many drugs stimulate the system to produce the exact same effects as panic attacks and if you have experienced them in the past you may use these feelings as triggers to become afraid once more thus starting a spiraling cycle of becoming scared of having an attack.

I believe these powerful drugs overstimulate or hypersensitise the locus ceruleus, the part of the brain responsible for sending danger messages to the body to prepare it for fight or flight and which then triggers the amygdala which is the centre that stores all our most traumatic events, terrors and feelings of powerlessness and zooms right back to the time before speech, which is why at its worst speaking becomes almost impossible.

The thing about the amygdala is that the only stimulus it responds to from the outside is smell, so a particularly lovely fragrance, or one that has good memories for you, can pull you out of a bad episode quite quickly. I now have a bottle of a lovely oil blend called Peace and Calming that works beautifully when I sniff it if I feel one of the shockwaves starting to hit, though they are getting less and less now, thankfully.

Another useful thing is remembering to breathe from the abdomen, a nice slow breath in then breathing out for a couple of extra counts. Breathing is the only part of the sympathetic nervous system we have immediate control over and calming one’s breathing has a powerful effect on the rest of that system and soothes it really quite quickly.

Above all do not despair! If you are on a short-term course of drugs try and remember it is only temporary and recovery can be swift using energy therapies. If the drugs are long term talk to your doctor about alternative medication, there are so many out there, or ask about reducing your dose while being closely monitored.

And try and get some help from someone who understands and can remind you what’s going on. Failing that write some reminders on little cards such as

This is only temporary, it will pass and will not hurt me, I am safe.

Another thing I found useful was recording some reminders to play back at times of distress and had it looping on my ipod when things got really bad.

You can listen below to one of my recordings and either use it yourself or take some ideas to create your own.

In that particular one I mention going to a sanctuary habitat which you will need to set up beforehand, it really is no good trying to get there when you are distressed it needs to be solid and part of your reality so it is accessible when you most need it.

Be well!

Nicola Quinn
Originally posted: 30/6/2007


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