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Discussion:
Flashback vs Panic Attack
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So last night I had what I thought was a panic attack at first. Turns out it was another flashback. So this is sort of a coping technique thread.

When your starting to have a flashback, what do you do/ask yourself that helps you determine that from a panic attack
Posted on 02/21/13, 07:44 pm
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Reply #1 - 02/21/13  7:59pm
" idk if it's true, but i know one time when i was having an asthma attack they said that panic attacks are when your heart is racing.

so i check my heart rate & if it's normal but i still feel like i've gotta run & get the heck out of there, then i assume it's a flashback.

i guess i'm not sure it matter too much to me which one it is tho between panic attack or flashback. i still want to freeze in place or run & get as far away from there as possible either way. so i have to remember to connect with the small number of people i know i can trust & focus on either doing my visualizations or changing the script in my head to something positive.

hopefully others will have better ideas. "
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Reply #2 - 02/21/13  9:04pm
" Triggers cause us to have flashbacks and then the brain goes on auto-pilot and starts a panic attack. Triggers can be anything, flashbacks are bits and pieces of whatever trauma gave you PTSD and that makes your brain signal for fight or flight and your adrenal glands then release a ton of adrenaline. Adrenaline is what they use to save your life when you have an acute allergic reaction(anaphylactic shock) so it makes the heart beat faster and raises the BP, the lungs open up so you can breathe better, and it pushes blood into the muscles so if you need to runaway, you have a ton of muscle energy.

As the adrenaline levels come down you may then go into a period of dissociation where you feel like you are having an out of body reaction. It's your brain helping your body to slow down.

So a flashback in is the brain and the panic is the body reaction to what is going on in the brain.

Jen "
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Reply #3 - 02/21/13  9:49pm
" I like jen's explanation.

For me at the present time not all flashbacks result in my body going into panic attack mode even if the flashback is quite vivid

For example, running water on my head gives me a flashback, It is a trigger because I saw someone I knew murdered while her hair was being rinsed at a salon. When this memory replays as the water runs on my head I am able to just watch it and feel it, and I feel sad but not panicked. It has become a sad memory. and sad reminder of evil in the world. I view this flashback almost as a memorial to her, that she has not been forgotten.

I am much more self-protective than I was before PTSD. But once again, find that if something or someone in the world triggers me, I react to protect myself, and as soon as I have done this I feel calm and relieved not panicked. This is a mega change for me from even a few months ago.

My residual panic is often triggered by something that catches me off guard, blindsides me. "
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Reply #4 - 02/21/13  10:01pm
" In my experience, 51%'s description of the difference is right on. Yet, in the end, just speaking for myself I wind up where Gheel is on the subject, meaning it matters little which it is. I have to cope either way. That's the pain in the neck of it for me. The interruption and diversion of energy from the present moment. But it had to be done.

Lately the person I've seen posting fresh tips and tools from therapy about coping with flashbacks and panic attacks has been sisterlu. You might consider asking her for some. "
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Reply #5 - 02/22/13  8:00am
" I think they vary by versatility. My flashbacks all start with panic attacks. Flashbacks are far from the only thing that can produce a panic attack in me. I think. Typically, I don't get to know what causes my panic attacks. I just ride them out. If the root reveals itself to me, fine. If not, I let the mystery be.

In oder to stay calm as I ride the panic attack out, whether they are just a blip in my day or flashbacks that will need sorting, I start with calming techniques. If it is a flashback, I will need to get more intricate, but first I must calm the panic. I am virtually blind under the influence panic.

A related question that often puzzles me:
Is there a diff between panic and anxiety attacks? "
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Reply #6 - 02/22/13  11:10am
" Arfie, I'd say the difference between a panic attack and anxiety attack is the intensity. Sometimes I am anxious for an extended period of time and other times I go into severe panic but it may let up much faster than the anxiety form.

The reason why it's important to know the chronology of PTSD is that if you know it, you can learn to break the cycle at certain points. The flashback will always precede the panic attack but sometimes it is so fast and so confusing, it appears that the panic came first. I've been waking up at night in panic from having a flashback during sleep and I can't seem to remember what on earth I was dreaming about so the panic appears to come before the flashback. So I'm digging for the flashback/memory.

It's like being a diabetic...we learn what comes before insulin shock or diabetic coma.....we know every symptom so we can act before that happens. Same with PTSD...learn the cycle and how to break it at each and every point. About the only thing you can't break is triggers as they change so much but even then, you can learn how to mitigate the triggers just as Letitbe3 described.

Jen "
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Reply #7 - 02/22/13  11:39am
" ----------------POTENTIAL TRIGGER----------------------

My panic attacks are so very different from the flashbacks, so I can easily tell for me.

My panic attacks start with me not being able to breathe and it really feels like someone has their hands around my throat completely choking off my air.

When I go to a difficult appointment, I take my secret weapon-- a diet coke or diet dr. pepper with me (they are a real treat). When I feel the start of a panic attack, I get that drink to my lips and and try hard to swallow and it breaks that panic hold on my throat and my breathing. I think my greedy self wants the wonderful drink more than the panic attack. I've told the therapist in his office that if I can't breathe, eventually I'll pass out then I'll definitely be able to breathe then.

My flashbacks never cut off my air. And I close my eyes and just go into another time (almost like a state where I am present elsewhere but can faintly here things were I am really located). It's bad in the flashback.era.. "
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Reply #8 - 02/22/13  12:19pm
" Astimegoesby.......Sounds like part of your panic is something called Vocal Cord Dysfunction. It causes your vocal cords to close up and you can't get air in or out. I have it too and I've passed out, blue from lack of air. But once you pass out, the spasms ends and you start breathing again. Scary as hell.

VCD is a type of asthma and can be triggered by stress(such as flashbacks) or anything that irritates the vocal cords such as a cold. If I turn my head while trying to swallow, I go into it immediately.....one of the reasons I fear more neck surgery as that can really trigger bouts of it.

I've learned a trick that helps me....I visualize my cords....an upside down V and in my mind I stroke them to get them to relax...and it works. Pulmonologist taught me that trick. I actually suspect that drinking Coke or Dr. Pepper works for you as caffeine is used as a way to stop the bronchospasms of asthma and can stop the spasms of VCD too. I drink 1 coffee and then diet Coke all day to help keep those spasms down. I now carry the water additive Mio in the Energy form as it contains caffeine and I can get water anywhere...so I have my remedy at all times and won't panic.

It's not in your head but a real disorder. If you ever want to know more, check with a pulmonologist. ENT's and even asthma specialists don't seem to know much about it but a good pulmonary doc will.

Jen "
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Reply #9 - 02/22/13  8:27pm
" Jen, thank you so much. I never knew about VCD and just thought that what I experienced, others experienced. I get it when I am speaking and extremely stressed and it suddenly starts and I have to drink right away because I'm not breathing or speaking. I'm really bowled over to find out all about this.

I don't have caffeine at home except to enjoy a cup of tea and I enjoy white tea and green tea too at home. So I'm not an every day caffeine drinker.

So diet soda is a big treat for me and I use it for my difficult appointments and meetings. I always thought it was my greed for wanting the tasty drink treat that broke the panic attack----I never imagined it was the caffeine that was breaking the VCD attack.

THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR ALL THIS INFO. I thought everyone went through what I did and now I know and understand what I have and what happens and why. Thanks for that so much. "

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