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26 Oct
2009

Seven Steps Towards Freedom from Panic Attacks

Your trolley is half full, mind trying desperately to remember that item you know you’ve forgotten, something for dinner, or was it the bathroom, looking along the rows of checkouts, shortest queue… fastest queue… it’s so busy… so many people… can’t move… can’t get past… palms starting to get a little slippery on the handle… it’s hot in here… where’s the exit… not too far away… people in front… people behind now… feeling trapped… why can’t she scan faster… why can’t you have your card ready to pay instead of spending 10 minutes rooting around in the bottom of your bag keeping us all waiting… heart rate increasing… mouth getting a little dry… people looking at me… finding it difficult to breathe… can’t get any air in… going to faint… need to escape… need to get out…

If any of that sounds familiar, then you probably know all about panic attacks. Well you probably know all about them from the inside. You will also know all about how after that first time you experienced one – whether it was in a supermarket, cinema, theatre, aircraft, out in a busy street…, you became wary. Wary of going out; wary of trusting your body not to let you down; wary of people being around you, especially strangers.

You’re not sure but you think you might have been having a heart attack, or a severe drop in blood pressure, or a brain tumour. So you visit your doctor who checks you out very thoroughly and pronounces that you are as fit as a fiddle. ‘You’ve probably just had a panic attack’, opens the door and bids you farewell as if you’ve been wasting his/her valuable time, or as if this collapse of your whole world is the most trivial of health problems and ranks with a minor cut or bruise.

But you know that something is wrong. Seriously wrong.

And quite suddenly your world was no longer safe. But the worst part of it was, that deep down, you knew it wasn’t your world that was the problem. It was you. Your body was no longer reliable. You couldn’t trust it to keep you safe and comfortable. And the nightmarish aspect of it all was that you couldn’t predict when it would let you down. I mean you’ve shopped in supermarkets quite happily all your life, but now they are dangerous places and perhaps best avoided, or only visited with a trusted and close friend so that if anything happens there will be someone with you to deflect the embarrassment.

Then you have another.

Step 1: Decide right NOW that you will do whatever you need to do in order to free yourself from this problem.

That’s when life gets really difficult and your world starts to close down quite quickly. You can never be sure when the next one will hit so you avoid anything that even slightly reminds you of the circumstances surrounding a previous Attack.

Step 2: As soon as you notice yourself hyperventilating (rapid breathing/breathlessness/difficulty breathing in), just close your mouth – and keep it closed.

The only problem you have is Fear. Fear of what might happen to you. Fear of dying. Fear of ending up in hospital. Fear of being carted away in an ambulance. Fear of lying on the floor with a circle of people around you. Fear of acute embarrassment. Fear of not being able to ever go back to that place in case someone recognises you.

So just forget for a minute what the fear is about, because that’s just cosmetic. Fear is the problem.

Step 3: Just accept that during a panic attack you are frightened. Don’t pretend anything else is going on.

Now, if you were out wandering alone in the African bush and there just 30 feet away was a full grown rhinoceros, you wouldn’t be at all surprised if your heart rate increased suddenly. If it then took a step towards you, you wouldn’t be in the least surprised to find your breathing rate increasing, your mouth getting a little dry, your gut feeling uncomfortable and so on.

Interestingly these are exactly the same ‘symptoms’ that you experienced while having a panic Attack. In the supermarket it was an embarrassment. Here it could save your life. Increased heart rate gets more oxygen to your muscles so you can run or fight, or climb a tree, rapid breathing gets more oxygen in your blood, dry mouth is an indication of a withdrawal of fluids from your extremities so that in the case of injury you won’t lose so much blood. Gut discomfort so that if the worst comes to the worst you can easily create a smelly distraction to give you time to escape (this evolved in the days before underwear was invented). Your body is working perfectly to keep you safe. And you feel pleased that it does so.

Yet when your body does exactly the same thing in the supermarket, you are unhappy with it. Maybe we should get supermarkets to stock rhinoceroses!

You can’t have a panic attack if you are smiling.

Step 4: Next time you feel those first warning signs, have a look round, with a smile on your face, and ask yourself ‘Where’s the rhinoceros?’

What causes all those ‘symptoms’? It’s adrenaline, released by the adrenal glands sitting on top of your kidneys. Adrenaline is a hormone and consequently is produced in tiny amounts that have instantaneous effects on a whole range of body processes. Now what you might not know is that your mind can’t tell the difference between fact and fantasy. Just picture yourself cutting a juicy, bright yellow lemon in half, picking up a piece, holding it under your nose and breathing in that wonderful fresh scent and then gently squeezing it until sour lemony juice drips onto the tip of your tongue. I’ll be very surprised if you don’t get an increased saliva flow – yet there’s no lemon, just a mental image. Your brain really can’t tell the difference between real and imagined, fact or fantasy.

Adrenaline is produced in response to danger – perceived or real. So if a mild fear thought about say, finances, relationships, getting home in time, problems at work, socially and so on wanders through your mind, you might not notice it, but your adrenal glands will. Now physiologically sensitive people will notice the effects immediately, focus on them and worry what they mean. This is another fear thought and releases more adrenaline. Then you notice the intensification of symptomology and think ‘oh my God! I was right to be worried, it’s getting worse’. This is another fear thought, releasing yet more adrenaline, and so the whole process snowballs and before you know where you are you are in the middle of a full blown panic attack, and you have no idea where it came from because you weren’t noticing all the individual little steps that happened so fast it seemed instantaneous.

Step 5: Remind yourself that you aren’t going to die. No matter how bad you feel, no one has ever died from a panic attack.

Step 6: Remind yourself you are ONLY feeling the effects of an adrenaline release.

You may not know why the adrenaline was released. You may not be able to track down the thought that released it, but all you are dealing with is an adrenaline release that is either escalating, or reducing. When it starts to die down, because you haven’t done the physical stuff, like running away or fighting, you will still feel uncomfortable, this is when you may feel light-headed, get jelly-legs or feel a bit wobbly or nauseous. It’s still just adrenaline you’re suffering from. You’d be more likely to die without it than with it.

Step 7: Carry a notebook and pen with you at all times. If you experience yourself having a panic attack, get the notebook out and start to make a note of all the symptoms you are experiencing and make a pact with yourself that whenever you do this you will continue writing down your symptoms (you could score them on a scale of intensity of 1 to 10 as well if you like) until they start to reduce. As soon as you notice them start to lessen you can go from wherever you are to somewhere ‘safer’, but you must stay in the place where the symptoms first became noticeable until they start to diminish.

When you do this you break the Fear Cycle.

When you break the Fear Cycle you are on the road to freedom.

Author: Michael J. Hadfield

Source: Hypnosisiseasy

1 Comment

So, what do you think?