Do you struggle with anxiety and panic attacks?
If you do, you are part of the ranks of the clients I see who also have the same issues; and for the record, I can join you too. Since I am autistic, anxiety goes hand in hand with me, but I have some great strategies for coping and dealing with it.
Two panic attacks stand out for me; one that occurred on the phone when I was about 19, having a business discussion. It triggered an asthma attack, my first ever, and it was fairly scary not being able to breathe out while having this conversation. My second, stand-out panic attack, was when I was in my early 30s, on a work trip, and I started to get palpitations. They became so strong that I could feel my heart beating through the top of my head, and I had to lie down; they didn’t subside for a couple of hours.
So, as you can see, I know a bit about panic and anxiety, both on a professional and personal level.
So, here are your top 5 anxiety questions answered.
What’s the point of anxiety?
Good question. When we were cave people, and had sabre-toothed whatevers chasing us, anxiety served us pretty well.
Our body responds to a threat in exactly the way it’s supposed to. So, isn’t that comforting, when your digestive system feels like it’s being thrown around a tumble dryer? Your body is working juuuuuuust fine.
So while your body is doing what it’s supposed to, in preparing you to either fight, take flight, freeze where you are or fidget, you have blood running to where it’s needed (away from your extremities, which is why you may have jelly legs), all other processes pretty much shut down while you take stock of the situation; and your mind is yelling “Danger, danger, danger, let’s beat the crap out of it/run/stay stock still and not make eye contact and hope it goes away/fanny about with distractions and hope the sabre-toothed thing gets bored waiting for us.
So, the point of anxiety is to alert us to danger, and to protect us in the best way that we know how. The problem is, we don’t face the dangers that we used to anymore. You don’t need eyes in the back of your head to protect you from prowling animals. Your mind, however, thinks otherwise. If your credit card bill is a day overdue, there’s a good chance that your heart will start beating more rapidly when you think of those late fees and extra charges. We have a response system that does exactly what it should do, but our minds don’t control the intensity of our fears and panic in a way that our minds can cope.
So what is happening with a panic attack?
Your panic attack is everything we’ve just talked about, but with the added bonus that you become afraid of feeling this way again. This is why panic attacks can occur at any time.
The physical symptoms are there, and then your mind is on full-alert for any sign of them, and remembers; “woaaaahhhhh we didn’t like this last time, did we…..”
You see, when you remember something, your memory is of the event, plus the emotions and feelings you had around that event when it occurred. Each time you think of it, the memory is diluted a little and skewed with how you felt about it.
So our panic attacks can really increase in intensity because we’re allowing it to happen. Even if you’re asleep and you wake up having a panic attack, we are not controlling it because our brain is allowing us to see it through this filter of not-quite-accurate memories. You’re predicting a bad outcome, so this is pretty much what we feel as if we get.
Shouldn’t I just get over myself? Stop worrying about anxiety?
It’s amazing how many people ask me this. Would you say the same if you had a migraine/broken leg/open heart surgery? I don’t mean to sound flippant here, but anxiety has physical and mental symptoms that can be quite debilitating if you don’t know how to handle your mental state.
The blood pooling in your head and torso and away from your extremities will make you feel weak and trembly, and you might be quite tearful. This isn’t something where you can tell yourself to snap out of it. However, you CAN tell your mind that there is no real danger, and the amygdala, the emotional centre of our brain that generates our chimp chatter will calm down. One of my clients sees her anxiety as a swan, and whenever she feels panic incoming, she “pets the swan”.
Couldn’t we just get rid of anxiety?
Anxiety serves a purpose. It’s a useful tool to keep us out of harm’s way; as I said earlier, our bodies respond exactly the way they are supposed to, so if you step out into the road without looking, and there’s a car coming towards you, you will take action to avoid the danger. It pays to have a little anxiety, because it keeps us safe. The problem is when having a little anxiety makes us anxious. Anxiety makes us take care, be careful, not take reckless action with our own lives or the lives of others.
I feel anxious all the time and can’t sleep. What can I do?
Racing thoughts can plague us when we are trying to sleep. So, along with all the usual sleep hygiene routines, there are other things you can try. Firstly, if, like me, you’re a planner, then plan your day before you go to bed, and brain dump anything that’s on your mind. Just the act of writing down a worry means that you won’t be ruminating on it, because you’ve acknowledged it. Burying thoughts can be problematic; it’s like playing whack-a-mole, the unwelcome thought will pop up again later.
There are some nice meditation apps that you can try; my favourites are DigiPill and Headspace. I use both of these and find them very helpful.
Finally, you could listen to my sleep hypnotherapy audio, which helps you to calm down those racing thoughts. You can find it here on YouTube.
Contact me if you want to be able to learn how to axe your anxiety. We can work together face to face if you are in travelling distance of Yorkshire, and if not I’m available over Skype and Facetime, which is how I see the majority of my clients. Don’t add yourself to a long waiting list for help, and get in touch today.