panic attacks

During a panic attack, the nervous system goes into overdrive, big time! Panic attacks trigger a series of physiological responses that are part of the body’s natural “fight or flight” reaction. This response involves the activation of the sympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for preparing the body to deal with perceived threats. The sympathetic nervous system releases stress hormones like adrenaline, which increases heart rate, dilates airways to make sure your body gets enough oxygen to fight, and redirects blood flow to essential organs like the heart and muscles for strength during combat. The only thing that’s missing with this bodily response is the actual threat. At the same time the body is going into fight mode, the parasympathetic nervous system, responsible for calming the body down after stress, becomes less active, this causes an increase in feelings of anxiety and physical symptoms. This combination of high arousal and low relaxation contributes to the intense physical sensations experienced during a panic attack.

Symptoms of a panic attack most people experience in my practice

Symptoms of a panic attack can vary from person to person, but most of my patients tell me they experience the following symptoms when theirs is happening.

The first time someone experiences a panic attack is very scary. You’re not sure what’s happening and it may even cause a visit to the ER or urgent care, especially if there’s chest discomfort. Some people think they are having a heart attack. 

How neurotransmitters play a role in panic attacks.

Neurotransmitters are like messengers in your brain, carrying important signals between nerve cell. Think of them as little chemical couriers that help your brain and nervous system communicate effectively.

These neurotransmitters play a vital role in regulating various functions in your body, such as mood, memory, sleep, and appetite. Different neurotransmitters have different jobs—some help you feel happy and relaxed, while others make you feel alert and focused.

Overall, they’re essential for keeping your brain and body running smoothly and maintaining overall health and well-being.

There are 4 key neurotransmitters that become more active and less active during a panic attack.

  1. Serotonin
  2. Norepinephrine
  3. GABA
  4. Glutamate

Serotonin
Serotonin is like a brain chemical that helps keep your mood in check, kind of like a natural happy pill. But when there’s not enough serotonin around, it can mess with your emotions and make you feel anxious or stressed out.

Norepinephrine
Norepinephrine is a stress hormone and neurotransmitter that plays a key role in the body’s fight or flight response. During a panic attack, the release of norepinephrine increases, leading to increased heart rate, and other physical symptoms associated with anxiety.

GABA
GABA is like the chill-out chemical in your brain, helping to keep things calm and relaxed. During a panic attack, your brain might not have enough GABA to put the brakes on those anxious thoughts and feelings. It’s like the calming signal gets lost in the chaos, leaving you feeling overwhelmed and on edge.

Glutamate
Glutamate is like the brain’s messenger for excitement and alertness, keeping you on your toes and ready to tackle challenges. During a panic attack, it’s like there’s too much glutamate firing off signals in your brain, making everything feel heightened and overwhelming.

Acupuncture can help bring your body into a deep relaxed state by balancing neurotransmitters in the brain.

Acupuncture is a powerful tool that can help balance neurotransmitters by stimulating the release of Endorphins, GABA, Dopamine, Serotonin. These chemicals create a balance with norepinephrine and glutamate because remember, too much of these chemicals are what causes the feelings of being in a state of panic. Acupuncture will promote a balanced flow of Qi within the body’s meridians and optimize functioning of the nervous system. The ability of acupuncture to support the body’s self-regulation and balance, contribute to its therapeutic effects on mental and emotional well-being.