Afraid During A Panic Attack … Or Afraid OF Panic Attacks?

This is one of those recovery concepts what will make you tilt your head and wonder what I’m talking about.  But there is a difference between being afraid during a panic attack, and being afraid of panic attacks. That difference matters because it speaks to the mechanics of issues like panic disorder and agoraphobia.

TL/DR: EVERYONE is afraid during a panic attack. That’s normal.  That’s natural.  You can’t get rid of that.  The problem is the fear that persists BETWEEN panic attacks, where you’re afraid of the next one.  That’s the part we’re working on in recovery. See how that can be subtle, but important?

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Being afraid during a panic attack and being afraid of panic attacks are actually two different things. Recovery from something like panic disorder, which was my own personal experience, has nothing to do with having a panic attack and not being afraid during that panic attack. Being afraid during a panic attack is normal, natural, and to be expected, even for fully recovered people or even people who have never had an anxiety disorder.

If you are working overtime to try to not be afraid DURING a panic attack, you can stop doing that.  You’re supposed to be afraid during a panic attack. That’s not a thing we get to eliminate.

When you hear me say that I do not care if I have a panic attack or not, that is 100% true, but do not get confused.  This does not mean that I feel nothing during a panic attack.  I am afraid too, especially in the first few seconds or minute!   Trying to find a way to panic – but to not be afraid during that panic – is a very unrealistic goal that will keep you stuck and make you frustrated.

As we advance in the recovery process, we remain initially afraid when panic arrives.  We’ll have those initial catastrophic thoughts and have those flashes of intense fear.  But as we learn through experience, we gain the ability to recognize when we’re latching on to those thoughts and feelings, gluing ourselves to them, and riding them into the ground or down the rabbit hole. We learn that we can take a short step back from those things, put some space between us and them, and let them ride without engaging with them.  As we learn this, we discover that while we are afraid during panic, that fear does not last as long as it once did. It fades faster and has less lasting impact after the event is over.

Look to the many millions of people that experience panic attacks that never develop panic disorder or agoraphobia as a result.  Are they unafraid during a panic attack?  Of course not.  We call it a “panic attack” for a reason, and we tend to all agree on that name for a reason. It includes the sensation of panic which is entirely fear based.  Those people – who never develop the disorder – are also afraid when they panic.  They’re just not afraid after they panic.  They do not worry about the next attack.  They do not start engineering their lives around panic and avoiding it.

The experience of surrendering to panic and allowing it to peak, then fall naturally without resorting to special techniques to stop it or manage it, teaches us that while we might be afraid in the moment, we are capable of handling that fear and moving through it productively.  We can do that.  When we learn through those experiences that we are capable and not in danger of being destroyed by natural bodily sensations and expected scary thoughts, we no longer have to worry so much about the next attack.  We learn, over time, that we might be afraid during a panic attack, but we become less and less afraid OF panic attacks.  That’s where recovery happens.

We you are not afraid OF panic, because you’ve learned a new way to relate to fear DURING panic, things change … for the better.

One of the keys here is accepting the lesson of reality shows you that even when you were at your most frightened and sure that you were done for or about to lose it for good and unable to handle it … you handled it. It didn’t look great.  It didn’t feel great. But you handled it.  You must be willing to at least consider this interpretation if you are to make your way into that space where you feel fear during panic without being afraid OF panic.

And finally, if you have been working overtime to try to banish all the fear so that you can panic without feeling things, give yourself a break.  That likely has not worked for you simply because you are human and that is never going to work for you. It does not mean you are doing it wrong, failing, or beyond hope. It just means you were operating under some incorrect assumptions that you might have to modify a bit going forward.


Links of Interest

Panic Attacks Explained – My Panic Attacks Workshop

Epsiode 168 – The Panic Attack Hangover

Episode 172 – Not Accepting The Lessons of Recovery


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Founder and host of The Anxious Truth Podcast. Former anxiety disorder sufferer. Now fully recovered and dedicated to providing no-nonsense, straight-forward, actionable advice on how to overcome anxiety problems.