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Sit back, relax and panic.

Sit back, relax and panic

Many self-help books and courses aimed at people who suffer panic attacks promote meditation and relaxation procedures as the royal road to serenity. But relaxation therapy can, ironically, pave the way to panic attacks among some unwary individuals.

"We get countless patients in our [phobia and anxiety disorders] clinic who have been to the courses, listened to the tapes and then had panic attacks,' psychologist David H. Barlow told a recent National Institute of Mental Health science press seminar in Washington, D.C.

What seems to happen, he says, is that some people susceptible to panic attacks become sensitive to the slightest bodily sensations. They constantly scan their physical and emotional reactions and may respond to slight changes with panic. The loss of control they associate with relaxing, as well as breathing changes that occur early in the relaxation process, create anxiety that rapidly blossoms into panic.

Barlow and his colleagues at the State University of New York at Albany were recently able, by chance, to observe physiological changes during spontaneous panic attacks in two female patients who were being monitored while practicing relaxation techniques. Most striking, says Barlow, were heart rate changes. Panic attacks struck in the middle of relaxation therapy, and heart rates reached a level of tachycardia--excessively rapid heartbeats--within one minute for one patient and two minutes for the other. Repeated practice with supervision, notes Barlow, diminishes the occurrence of panic attacks during periods of relaxation or meditation.
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Title Annotation:panic attacks during relaxation therapy
Author:Weisburd, Stefi
Publication:Science News
Date:Nov 9, 1985
Words:246
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