You’re going about your day as usual, and all of a sudden your heart starts pounding, you break out in a sweat, you’re feeling dizzy or faint and short of breath. You might be nauseous or feel like you’re choking, and you presume you’re having a heart attack, because there's pain or pressure in your chest! You’re almost paralyzed by these scary sensations, and fairly certain you’re either dying or going crazy. Welcome to your first panic attack.
What seems weird, is that one day you’re fine, and the next day you’re not. Like thousands of individuals worldwide who struggle with feelings of panic or anxiety, you're probably wondering just how and why this has happened to you!
The mystery of Anxiety Disorder is that it appears to "come out of nowhere"and of course, this is perplexing to your rational mind. Since panic symptoms are unlike anything you’ve felt before and they seem completely beyond your control, your natural response might be to consult a physician.
Once you're examined, and obvious medical concerns (like heart disease) are ruled out, the myth your doctor may perpetuate about your condition is, "it’s treatable, but incurable." Next thing you know, you're leaving his/her office with an Rx for anti-anxiety meds, and questioning if you'll always be needing that prescription.
By the time you read this, you may have had a number of these debilitating episodes, and you're actively seeking a cure--or perhaps you've learned to live with this issue, by making certain adjustments and sacrifices. In either case, you're about to discover that you can eliminate this problem fairly easily.
Perhaps you're skeptical, and that's wise and healthy--in fact, I wouldn't expect you to feel differently at this point. You've suffered terribly, and that's why this article was written for You. Specific life experiences have contributed to your condition, and the insights you'll acquire here can be an important part of your healing. You'll get the most value from this piece, if you click the hyperlinks that take you to other pages, after you've completed reading/studying this literature.
WHAT'S IT ALL ABOUT, ALFIE?
Panic and anxiety impact the autonomic nervous system in your body which operates its involuntary responses to various stressors. These 'autonomic' responses function automatically, whether you want them to or not~ think, ‘goose bumps’ when you’re cold or frightened, and perspiration when you’re nervous or overheated.
Along these lines, feelings of anxiety and panic are such intense stressors, they trigger bodily reactions that are impossible to ignore or brush aside as insignificant or unimportant--in other words, you can't choose not to feel them! Anti-anxiety meds interact with your brain to help calm and control these reactions, but they do not address the cause of your distress. This article helps you learn why you've acquired this condition, and how to eliminate it once and for all.
First, try to understand that panic and anxiety are feeling issues. In truth, if you'd been given the kind of attention as a child that comforted/soothed you when you experienced pain, rather than forcing you to put those feelings away or disregard them, you'd have learned how to self-soothe whenever difficult feelings emerged, and you wouldn't be wrestling with panic or anxiety attacks now.
Have you ever heard yourself exclaim, "whatever!" in reference to a situation or person you're struggling with? When we're not given comfort or soothing to help us cope with painful emotions like disappointment, fear or frustration as kids, our only option is to suppress these feelings--or make them not matter. This reflex follows us into adulthood, and is actually the root of panic problems.
Addiction to drugs and alcohol often arise in children or young adults out of their need to manage anxious, uncomfortable or painful emotions. Humans typically find clever ways to side-step these difficult feelings with eating, smoking or other compulsive behaviors that may include gambling, sex, over-work, Internet activity, etc.
If you're trapped at home with Agoraphobia, you may have already explored various methods for mitigating it, and could be feeling discouraged that you're still suffering.
Most therapies and 'do-it-yourself' programs are behaviorally based, and your success depends on self-discipline (I hate that, don't you?). Unfortunately, they can't target your anxiety issues in a way that helps you overcome them, because they're not specific to how your panic triggers were established.
While this marketplace seems saturated with books, tapes and CD programs that claim to end panic attacks, you may be like many others, who respond best to more personalized attention.
FOR EVERY PROBLEM, THERE'S A SOLUTION.
Regardless of whether you're afraid of driving your car (a typical complaint) or performing another task or function outside of your home, these obstacles can be overcome! While reading this article, you might experience sudden sleepiness, or maybe a little sadness. Rest assured, there's nothing to fear from these sensations, and I encourage you to continue. These are somatic responses, which means that a part of you is identifying with elements being discussed here, that may have contributed to your current struggle. It also means that full recovery could be just around the corner.
"WHY'D THIS HAPPEN TO ME?!"
Anxiety and panic don't just happen "out of the blue," even though it seems this way to virtually everyone, after their first episode. Anxiety isn't some sort of alien entity that invades your body, when you've reached a particular age or stress level. The roots of this problem actually go way back to early childhood, and if you've become a People Pleaser, you're at much higher risk for acquiring this disorder.
You may have lived for many years with fear or self-judgment about feeling and expressing certain emotions. Metaphorically speaking, after sweeping all those feelings 'under the rug' for so long, you're now having to maneuver around on some very lumpy terrain! As this cannot help but impede your personal and professional strivings or aims, how could you possibly feel safe or secure about much of anything?
Long standing panic symptoms may be only part of an individual's diagnostic picture, that's associated with Borderline Personality Disorder. The reason BPD traits may exist, is that childhood struggles usually prompt dissociation from difficult feelings, to survive whatever's going on in the home at that time. Dissociation is discussed in greater depth throughout this literature. It generally takes the form of suppression, or forcing various emotions underground, when they seem too dangerous to experience or express. These foundational control issues can be resolved within effective feeling-based work.
When you've been diagnosed with Anxiety or Panic Disorder, at some point you'll probably be asking yourself at least one of the following questions: "Do I have to take pills the rest of my life, so I can move through my days without these disruptive, debilitating symptoms? Should I buy tapes or CD’s that teach me to talk myself through panic episodes, so I can eventually manage them? Do I have enough patience/discipline to actually use those techniques, and will they heal my anxiety condition? Is behavioral modification or 'self-talk' a permanent solution for this issue?" And finally, "What the heck caused this in the first place!?"
The real answer to all these questions, is No~ because they only address the symptoms of your anxiety/panic, not the cause of it.
MYSTERY IN A NUTSHELL
Anxiety is really just a surrogate emotion that steps-in to take the place of important but uncomfortable feelings you'd rather not experience, and have trained yourself to get rid of.
Insight begins with discovering that panic and anxiety are nothing more than very powerful feelings, that are able to break through all emotional controls you've constructed throughout your lifetime. Again, having discovered how to escape certain feelings, or make them "not matter" is at the foundation of all panic and anxiety issues.
The reasons you might have had to do this are detailed below, and keeping an open mind will be very useful in helping you mend. For now, let's respect that you've acquired some terrific coping skills that have helped you get through very challenging or difficult situations. These have served you during childhood--but at this point they're working against you, and contributing to your panic attacks! Hang on, this is about to make much more sense . . .
THE ROOTS OF A PANIC TREE
As children, we all needed the kind of attention that would help us develop healthy self-esteem. If/when we didn't get enough of it, we began to doubt our value and lovability. As we grew, our parents might have punished or ignored us, just for expressing feelings that were inconvenient or unpleasant for them to accept or accommodate.
So, in order to obtain vital supplies of acceptance and approval, or at least avoid alienation, we learned to appear and act a certain way around Mom and Dad--and some of us still do! Repetition of these experiences made us learn to suppress the feelings that our parents treated as negative or "bad," such as sadness, frustration, anger, etc., ~and what was our reward for learning to control those emotions? Occasionally we got a bit of the attention we really needed, so we could feel better about ourselves, and manage to get by.
An adult who suppresses feelings, was generally a child who felt it was safer to become invisible in his home, so as not to put more burden on his parent and feel guilty for that, or be ridiculed or physically punished for having any needs.
For many of us, suppression of difficult feelings developed into a habitual pattern of accommodation, or people pleasing. Without highly specialized help, this tendency remains alive forever, and impacts every aspect of our existence. In worse case scenarios, it prompts/perpetuates Agoraphobia.
As an agoraphobic, you're terrified of leaving your home, for fear you'll experience total loss of control and humiliation, in the midst of a panic attack. Truth is, since virtually all unfavorable feelings have been suppressed during your lifetime, you're now imprisoned by a limiting disorder that keeps you home-bound. The tragic outcome is, if you've never had opportunity to learn how to deal with your feelings, your feelings will deal with you!
Panic attacks can keep us trapped in loveless, passionless relationships. We cling to them, because we think we need the other person--even if we're no longer wanting him/her, or this partner is abusive. Quite often, it's various elements within the relationship or marriage itself, which are triggering our anxiety! Often, if we've gained some strength to help us deal with the source of our pain, panic magically evaporates.
GOOD OL' HUMAN NATURE RIDES AGAIN
We're all equipped with an instinctual impulse to survive. This is with us from from the time we're born~ or maybe beforehand, and is sometimes referred to as our 'fight or flight' mechanism. As kids, it probably felt too dangerous to take a stand and fight with our parents, so we fled. We might have done this by spending a lot of time in our room--or hanging out with our friends and their families.
Aside from these childhood 'mini-escapes,' it didn't seem practical or possible to leave home physically, so we found ways to sidestep our emotional pain. We did this by gradually shutting down/denying certain feelings and needs, because when these weren't adequately responded to, we were left with anger/rage, frustration or sadness.
Since these emotions felt bad, we came to judge them as bad or wrong, and methodically trained ourselves to avoid them! Each time these emotions surface today, you might still judge yourself as wrong/bad for having them--which reinforces your impulse to push them further away.
Emotions are often referred to as "feelings," because we feel them in our body. They are all extremely valuable and necessary, because they help us respond in appropriate, emotionally congruent ways to different situations.
All feelings including physical ones, are impacted by repression and denial; you cannot decide to 'kill off' feelings you think of as "negative," and expect the positive ones to remain alive and vibrant! In short, when we squelch our pain or anger, we also squelch our joy~ and this of course, fuels anxiety, depression and sensations of emptiness.
When you’ve been programmed since childhood to believe that certain kinds of feelings are bad or "unacceptable," you'll have a tendency to reprimand or diminish yourself whenever they start to surface. This can sure motivate you to want to throw away those feelings, but what do you suppose happens to them when they're discarded~ that is, where the heck do they go??
If you've been a fan of HBO's The Sopranos, you might have learned this answer, when Dr. Melfi explained to Tony Soprano during his therapy session, "depression is rage turned inward." By the way, James Gandolfini's character started his psychiatric treatment, for help with panic attacks! Unexpressed resentment or anger and hurt also prompt passive-aggressive behaviors, which severely compromise you and your relationships, but let's come back to this later.
ANXIETY EMBRYOS GROW INTO PANIC MONSTERS.
When various feelings get disposed of in order to have a better experience with Mom and Dad, it's pretty common for children to mentally 'fast-forward' and envision a brighter future--to escape emotional pain/discomfort in the present.
The adaptive reflex that most kids acquire is; "when I grow up, it'll be different!" This reflex is attended by fantasies of what adulthood will be like, and what we'll have or own in terms of a child's notion of happiness.
Another of these reflexes that helped us regulate internal pain or tension as kids, was drawing comparisons to others who had it "much worse" than we did. Our parents may have had a hand in creating this one, by shoving platitudes down our throat; "I cried when I had no shoes, until I met a man who had no legs," or you may have heard, "keep this up, and I'll give you something to cry about!"
These remarks were supposedly intended to obliterate any difficult emotions we had to endure back then and help us cope~ but instead, they forced our feelings underground.
Sadly, there are serious, inherent problems with these coping mechanisms, as they can easily sit for years~ like buried land mines, waiting to blow up! On one hand, they keep us from experiencing uncomfortable, but authentic feelings. On the other, they set us up for disappointment and shame when we're grown, because our adult life may not feel much happier, than when we were kids!
This is when long-held hopes and fantasies are challenged in a way that makes us think that having failed to manfest our childhood vision, is our fault. This terribly erroneous assumption has derailed your ability to thrive, rather than just survive. Surrendering your self-judgment and building authentic esteem, allows your present reality to become far more pleasurable and gratifying.
Automatic, self-deprecating thoughts can be paralyzing! At the very least, they compromise our energy and impetus, and inhibit/derail all future strivings.
Still, these childhood fast-forwarding and comparison impulses have become part of a default survival strategy, that remains embedded forever--or until we're strongly motivated perhaps by panic attacks, to alter it.
Perhaps even more tragic, this default strategy has combined with disappointing childhood experiences, that left us with very limited resources in our emotional toolbox for building healthy adult attachments.
If you've never had a chance to recognize and honor your own feelings or needs, how can you effectively respond to anyone else's?!
SELL THAT @#$+%^&* CRYSTAL BALL!
Mental fast-forwarding and scanning the horizon for disaster, are learned control reflexes. As previously mentioned, we may have cultivated these very early, when our home environments felt unstable or held unpleasant surprises, and we had to manage our feelings about that.
This tendency is magnified if there are attention deficit issues, because this neurological condition makes mood and motivation cycles dauntingly unpredictable! We've learned that 'scanning' might ease our anxiety, as it helps us envision as many different outcomes as possible, which reduces the potential for unpleasant surprise or shock. In essence, when we prepare for the worst and determine how we'll handle that, we believe we can handle anything else that comes up, which gives us a sense of safety. By the way, fast-forwarding impulses insidiously creep into our relationships--which gets us into a whole lot of trouble!
Try to realize that the future is uncharted territory, so it naturally contains elements that are unknown and unfamiliar to us. Whether we've struggled with panic attacks or not, when we project our focus beyond today, anxiety will always be invoked, because we can't predict precisely how 'tomorrow' is going to look or feel to us! Of course we can speculate, but Life doesn't allow us to completely envision much beyond this present moment in time--and would you really want to know everything that's up ahead, even if you could?
The upshot is, while we're trying to mentally choreograph our way through this unknown terrain to help ourselves feel more "in-control," this is ironically what triggers our anxiety! Seems pretty self-defeating, doesn't it? Alas, there's a big difference between planning ahead to try and bring about the best outcome, and living in the future to try and control it. Learning new tools that empower you and replace these impulses, will banish the "what-if's?" from your psychic vocabulary.
Learning to stay in the moment and tolerate difficult feelings, means letting go of platitudes you may have learned in childhood, or gotten from self-help books that used to help you cope. Anxiety-provoking tendencies will vanish forever, when you begin to experience your feelings, and start to trust that you can hang out with 'em and survive! This is when intense, uncontrollable feelings (panic sensations) will quickly dissipate.
THE LASAGNA PRINCIPLE
There's no denying that this is an extremely multi-layered issue, but we tend to learn about our emotions (or the lack of 'em) from our parents. Still, gaining access to a full repertoire of different feelings (both light and dark, positive and negative) and experiencing them without self-judgment, keeps us out of the panic zone, forever.
Unfortunately, Judeo-Christian principles strongly oppose this view. They want us to "turn the other cheek" when we've been wronged or violated, and instill in us the belief that darker thoughts and feelings are evil. Some religions (like Catholicism) take this even further, and neutralize the distinction between thoughts and actions. According to them, it's as vile a sin to think something mean or hateful, as to carry out a heinous act against another. From where I sit, this is a form of mind control that undermines our emotional and physical health--and that's just plain wrong.
Some folks apparently feel the need to ask about my religious or spiritual orientation~ presumably, because I have an irreverent streak. To them, I reply that God and I have an intimate, long-term relationship. I'm not religious, but I'm never working alone. I'm merely the conduit for human healing.
It's extremely important to note, that whatever material is not 'permitted' by your conscious mind during waking hours, will be processed by your subconscious mind during sleep.
Recurring dreams and/or disturbing nightmares can easily result from repressed thoughts and feelings, which lay the groundwork for sleep disorders. A lack of deep, restful sleep referred to as REM (rapid eye movement) or dream-sleep, reduces the availability of brain chemicals that are supposed to calm and soothe you! Any shortage of these neurochemicals can prompt depression and anxiety. Exploring the meaning behind these dreams helps us make conscious connections to discarded/buried material that could actually be feeding your Panic Monster.
Aside from religious convictions and childhood events that paved the way for panic issues, our parents may have insisted we yield to their notion of Who we should become.
Parental control can make us discard various personality facets, and abandon desires or goals that have special meaning to us. When aspirations must be surrendered, it wounds our spirit and gives birth to inner emptiness.
Self-medicating our emptiness or anxiety, may take the form of compulsive over-eating, or addictions to other substances and/or behaviors. Rediscovering our passions and reviving them, helps us mend, and create a life well worth living.
"COULD I HAVE INHERITED THIS?"
No, but you might have acquired anxiety as a fetus, in-utero. It's common for many of us to suffer with generalized anxiety our entire lives. This type of anxiety is not attached to specific fears or phobias, or attended by panic attacks. It feels more like an underlying sense of danger or lack of safety that pervades every realm of our existence, as far back as we can remember.
Research suggests that a pregnant woman transmits all of her emotions to her fetus. Thus, if an expectant mother experiences generalized or specific anxiety, such as fear of miscarrying or threat/danger from something or someone in her environment, these sensations are co-experienced and readily absorbed by her unborn baby.
This acquired condition (I've coined it, 'womb anxiety') is often reinforced throughout his childhood. When a child's mother is a Nervous Nelly or worry wort, or she's over-protective/enmeshed with her kid, she routinely transmits to him/her that the world is an unsafe and dangerous place.
This type of maternal control can inhibit her child's autonomous development or launching phase and disrupts his independent growth, so he can never gain a healthy sense of selfhood. This developmental detour derails his capacity to confidently navigate personal and professional adult challenges, which cements his feelings of disempowerment and anxiety.
While this disturbance is quasi-inherited in his mother's womb, it has typically been exacerbated by environmental influences that programmed the panic sufferer to make his/her natural feelings "not matter." Once this difficulty has been resolved, one's panic symptoms are permanently eliminated.
THE PANIC PAYOFF
I've worked with clients who've learned how to trigger anxiety, because it helps them get out of bed in the morning, show up on time at work, attend to their kids needs, etc. Their fear of failing to perform these tasks, forces the adrenal glands to flood their body with adrenaline, which literally functions like high-octane fuel that helps them push past feelings of tiredness, deadness, depression, emptiness, etc.
Even the mere notion of letting go of their anxiety 'motivator' can inspire a sense of terror in these folks, because they're sure they'll experience a full system shut-down, and cease being able to function "normally" without it. Of course, this is scary!
Essentially, one's dependence on anxiety to enliven and activate them has unwittingly become a coping mechanism they've held onto for dear life. This reflex can be dismantled and eliminated.
THE BOTTOM LINE
We all want "quick fixes." Mastering behavioral techniques and/or taking medication can help quiet our symptoms down, but neither eradicates panic tendencies that can re-emerge during various life events or developmental transitions. More importantly, these traditional methods fail to touch on very critical underlying issues, like fear of confrontation, diminished self-worth and abandonment concerns, that drove your feelings underground and spawned your anxiety issues in the first place.
As an adult, you're finally at the helm of your own ship--so whatever choices you make concerning this issue, must serve your peace of mind and personal orientation. You might decide to take anti-anxiety meds, or drugs such as Celexa or Lexapro that manage anxiety, depression and OCD traits.
Selective Serotonin Re-uptake Inhibitors ("SSRI's") can alleviate these issues, but may inhibit your libido and ability to achieve orgasm.
Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder or OCD, is just part of a reflexive control issue you may have adopted while shutting-down your emotional awareness. This horribly distressing outcome results from bypassing emotions and instincts to the extent that you've dissociated from vital feelings and senses in your body. This means, you're literally functioning on 'automatic pilot.' To put this metaphorically, when you're asleep at the wheel, your need for a system that can assist you in feeling safer or more secure, is enormously heightened.
As an effective, life-enhancing alternative to options already discussed here, you can end panic, rather than just managing the symptoms of your 'dis-ease.' The right approach mitigates your need for various medications, eliminates panic triggers and enriches every aspect of your existence.
You should learn how to identify and respond to your feelings, rather than analyzing or burying them. As you gain enhanced verbal skills and begin letting go of self-defeating patterns, your lifestyle and relationships can become healthier and far more productive. With the right help, even Agoraphobia can be healed within eight weeks. Regardless of the means you choose to overcome this issue, I sincerely hope you're symptom-free very soon. In the interim, try and remember; if you’re not living fully with all your feelings, anxiety and panic will stop you from fully living.