Ever had, or been with someone having, a panic attack and some well meaning soul tells you to ‘breath’… this is great advice but not really well accepted when your in the middle of an acute anxiety episode. Before we go any further lets call this what it is! Anxiety is FEAR! Panic is FEAR! and FEAR is way more easy to deal with than nebulous terms like anxiety and panic.
Step 1: From now on drop the words anxiety and panic and call it what it is: Your having a ‘fear attack’ or “fear episode” or even better “feeling fearful” (you need to ‘get’ that before you move to the next bit!
Fear has to be a fear of……… right??? Yes, right now your either thinking ‘but I have fear of everything’, or’ I don’t know what I am afraid of’ OR you are disagreeing with step 1. That’s OK… read on. For the moment though, just assume that I ‘could be’ right.
There are 2 components to your fear attack; one is the physiological and I will deal with that shortly. The other is self talk (internal dialogue) the thoughts in your head AND the ones on your hard drive (conditioned/programmed attitudes, beliefs, self-doubts, habits etc.).
So your having a fear attack with the shakes, shortness of breath etc. etc. your head is bouncing around with fearful thinking, “what if’s”, and catastrophising the current situation.
Check your immediate surrounding…. are you safe right now? at this moment where you are? Clearly if your driving you need to pull over! If the house is on fire you need to get out of there because your fear this time is very rational!
So right now, for this moment, your safe OK! Acknowledge your having an episode of ‘fear’ and that fear is ALWAYS a fear of something, you may or may not know what it is OR its likely something a lot deeper than the thing you think it is! which is why you are having an exaggerated response to the fear.
Now we come to the ‘Fear Funnel of Answers’
Imagine (or draw/write if you like) a funnel and at the top is the first question/answer What am I afraid of? Typically the first answer is ‘everything’ or “I don’t know” that’s fine, that’s why it is at the wide part of the funnel because we are going to work our way down to the narrow end.. If we were in therapy together I would probably know what is at the narrow end of your funnel but telling you would not cure your FEAR (previously known as Anxiety) the cure comes from you working your own way there! Its important that you keep asking yourself the question and every time you answer one level you ask again, and again, and again until you get down to the deep stuff.
Whatever your first answer is, work with that….. you have identified a fear… Now what: Is it something you can fix? Is it happening or are you worried that it will happen? Is it something you can prevent? Or do you have to accept it? can you see that with this process the “FEAR” just turned into a problem that can be fixed or not… I am not in any way minimizing the pain of having events in your life that cannot be fixed! Anxiety and panic do not come from concrete problems they come from ‘feeling’ or being overwhelmed, not in control, often drowning in ‘what ifs’ and fear of events that may never happen! (Dealing with actual grief/loss/stress is a whole other subject).
From there you can go into problem solving and solution focused thinking which are active brain states that you do not access when you are having a fear attack.
People tend to respond to large pills better than small ones; unless the small pill is marked ‘extra strength’ (Don’t get me wrong I’m all for placeboes when they work and they often do!).
Often people do not put enough effort into proper breathing habits: We breath all the time, its no biggie; your problem is way to big to be fixed just by breathing! Breathing on its own will not fix your problems, true; BUT when you practice deep slow breathing from the abdomen you do a lot of powerful things to your body [and your brain]: you slow down your heart rate, your blood pressure and a few other things but the biggie is your brain rhythms (the power of working with your brain rhythms s a whole other book on its own). So back to fear attacks: when everything starts racing your brain rhythms speed up and you effectively start to lose control (lose the plot) rendering you incapable of rational, logical thought and/or actions…
So by practicing the breathing everyday (and seriously you do not have to go and pay some guru a heap of money to teach you to breath; you know your breathing from the abdomen if you place your hands on your tummy with the fingers just touching; as you breath in and out your hands will separate and come together, separate and come together, as your tummy goes up and down NOT your chest.
It takes practice (as much as possible until this is how you breath ALL the time!) and it is not as easy as it sounds. Its so much easier to slip back into shallow, breathing especially if you drink a lot of caffeine or you run around in a frazzle.
If you practice your breathing all the time….learn to identify your FEARs and work you way through the fear funnel until you get to your core issues (depending on what they are you may need to get specific help for them)you WILL stop having those episodes you used to call Anxiety/Panic Attacks: It wont happen overnight but if you do the work it WILL happen:
How do YOU know it will work…you don’t! How do I know it works? 17 years and 100s of success stories. Try it.. What do you have to lose!