I was just talking to a friend, Greg, the other day about stress and anxiety and panic attacks. And I was just talking about my personal experience and realizing that panic attacks, (even though I haven't had one in a few years) they're the kind of things that usually start to build up a few days in advance. And, since I've spent a lot of time trying to be aware of these types of feelings and effects in myself, I've tried to notice these cycles in my body.. What I've noticed is that if my schedule gets out of whack or I'm starting to sort of look at the internet or FaceBook too much (which is an OCD machine for me) or obsess about things or get worried about things that are out of my control that's where there's trouble. All of those things engage and encourage the "thinking" mind. I can indulge in that behavior for a while, but eventually it builds up as stress, and then my mind becomes more scattered, and then over a couple of days that stress builds up momentum and eventually can manifest into an acute place of anxiety...or "panic attack".
So I have realized that it's actually a "building up" process to actually get to those panic attacks. Also, I have realized that there is also a "building up" process of relaxing, de-stressing too. I've noticed that really putting in that daily practice and daily time of adjusting my schedule, managing my flow, and doing things that balance my nervous system like meditation and yoga, eating well, etc.. are not only important for avoiding stress, but that I can also can also feel "high". For me it has also been a process of realizing that working on these things actually helps me stay in that place of BALANCE. When I stay on that path, it even helps build up a bank of good vibes that can lead to these states of bliss, inner joy and feeling "high" without drugs. (The opposite of an anxiety attack :)
I have tried going for prescription pills, or alcohol (because they are quick, endorsed by society and available) and other ways to get out of that box of stress, but I think the truth is (my observation anyway) is that it's actually more of a process that I contribute to daily. So I have to be aware of that every day by being aware of my schedule, my actions and watching where my own consciousness is going. (..and ask, Am I leading my mind, or is my mind leading me?) PS> I don't have any judgements against prescription anti-anxiety meds etc.. but for me though I think it was more of a temporary patch that was useful for a time, but not a permanent solution to the changes that I needed to make (and am still making) in myself.
So, I'm trying to be aware of the fact that my "thinking" mind which is the part of my mind that can sort of get bogged down in that mind chatter and those worrisome thoughts can carry me away to that stressed place, and before I know it I'm lost in that mind chatter and chaotic thinking. But if I just bring my mind into the present moment, then I'm much more centered and I can break that cycle before I get into it. I think ultimately meditation is nothing more than concentrating the mind into the present and breaking that mind chatter. Ultimately, it's the "mind chatter", in my experience, that contributes to all of the physiological responses that ultimately can lead to things like panic attacks.
For me, meditation and sound therapy has functioned essentially like resetting the nervous system. The brain, heart and breathing are all connected in the nervous system. So if you can slow down your breathing consciously, you can also slow heart rate and brainwaves..or vice versa. We live in a rhythmic universe, everything follows cycles and rhythms and we do too. Heartbeat, pulsation brainwaves..circadian rhythms etc.. and night-day, seasons, orbits etc.. we are enmeshed with the cycles. Stress is disharmony. SO, it also follows, that lack of stress is harmony with in the system of the body. The "ego" causes stress, because it is obsessed with self identification and recognizing external patterns for it's "survival" (note: this very idea of egoic survival is a self-deception). In many cases this is focused on things that aren't really essential. This creates a low level of stress that becomes a new "normal". By meditating or "resetting your rhythms" I think it's possible to reset our physical body and also unload the psychological stresses of the "ego". Yoga is also focused on controlling the breathing while the body is experiencing stress (physical exertion). Also, keeping the breathing steady when the heart rate is rapid (because of physical exertion). This gives increased control of the nervous system, and allows a new level of awareness beyond the primal, survival concerns of this false idea of self, or "ego". There is a whole science of rhythmic and metered breathing in yoga called Pranayama. Prana is the breath or "life force" (aka "chi"). Chronic stress can in general hinder the breathing (shallow, short breathing) and hinder the flow of life force. This also causes the brainwaves to increase and heart rate and can kick off things like panic attacks etc.. (I know this from experience..hah) .. Meditation, sound therapy, diet and yoga can work together to unwind the internalized stresses that the body has endured as a result of the unconscious ego.
The rapid unwinding of this built up stress can be unnerving, and hard to get through. (I, personally, had to go from moment to moment for weeks and remember to choose love, not fear in every second and realize the present moment is all that exists.)
So, I think that conscious relaxation via meditation, sound therapy, yoga, contemplative prayer, drum circles...etc..etc..etc.. are a major part of this puzzle. The other part is our brain chemicals, which I believe are also related and interdependent on these things. So consciousness (the way I think and then react to those thoughts) affects brain chemicals and brain chemicals also affect consciousness. I am currently reading a book called "the mood cure" which talks a lot more about this connection and I hope to share more from that soon..
Just a personal note: There is nothing new under the sun. I am just attempting to present info. here that has helped me. I hope to present it in a clear way based on my experience with anxiety which was a spiritual, psychological and emotional awakening for me. In retrospect of this experience I have been reading as much as I could to come to a deeper and more grounded understanding of this seemingly mystical thing that happened to me (so that I could share it with you). I'm not a doctor or a scientist. Please know this is only my experience. Yours will obviously be different, but since my experience was so similar to others I've talked to, I am hoping this may be helpful or useful to you in some way. It's also a way that I hope to share the love with you. That is my purpose here.