counseling, psychology, self-help

Panic Attacks: When We Fear Our Fear

Imagine…your heart is pounding. You suddenly feel like you can’t breathe. You wonder if you are dying and feel like you are going CRAZY.

This, ladies and gentlemen, is what it feels like to have a panic attack.

panic attack is a sudden episode of intense fear that triggers severe physical reactions when there is no real danger or apparent cause. Panic attacks can be very frightening. When panic attacks occur, you might think you’re losing control, having a heart attack or even dying.

What You Feel

A panic attack means you experience some of these following symptoms (from WebMD):

  • Feel like you’re losing control or going crazy
  • Pounding heart
  • Sweating
  • Trembling or shaking
  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest pain
  • Nausea
  • Dizziness
  • Chills or hot flashes
  • An out-of-body sensation
  • Like you’re choking
  • A fear that you’re dying
  • Tingling or numb hands, arms, feet, or legs

While extremely unpleasant, panic attacks are NOT life threatening.

As a clinician, I can see the anxiety become palpable as my clients describe this debilitating disorder to me in great detail. Panic disorder has a way of making someone live in terror of the next attack. You see the thing about people who suffer from panic disorder is they begin to fear their fear. A panic attack is an extreme form of fear that causes physical and physiological symptoms. But a panic attack is not physically or medically dangerous. You are not in ANY danger of dying when you suffer from a panic attack but in that moment you truly may think you are dying. It is THAT psychological painful.

Panic attacks can lead you to constrict your life out of fear of having an attack in a place where you perceive there to be NO escape. Unfortunately, when I work with people who suffer from panic disorder, I often see symptoms of agoraphobia present as well. I will see people refuse to drive, refuse to leave their house without a “safe” person with them (someone they can turn to for help if a panic attack arises), struggle with social situations out of fear of having an attack in front of people, refuse to be in crowded places such as malls and concerts, and be afraid of any activity that reminds them even remotely of their panic attacks.

This is no way to live.

Panic disorder is NOT a life sentence.

People who struggle with this disorder start to limit their worlds: being particular with where they will go and what they will do. They try to be as “safe” as humanly possible.

Vigorous exercise may become a no go because the rising heart rate reminds them of their last panic attack when their chest was POUNDING. Caffeine is treated like it is poison because of the jittery, sweaty, high blood pressure feeling it produces which brings about a flashback of their last panic attack. Going into a hot tub and starting to sweat? No way—I can pass out in here and drown, they may tell them self.

One’s thoughts become increasingly irrational with panic disorder.

Anything that produces symptoms similar to a panic attack (increased heart rate, sweating, shortness of breath) will be avoided at all cost. Driving on the highway where you can’t get off an exit for another THIRTY miles? NO WAY. I am not getting STUCK.

The thing is the fear of being stuck and or in a place of no escape is a form of “internal” claustrophobia~existing in one’s mind and not in the external world.

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You see panic disorder and agoraphobia go hand-in-hand.

IF you suffer from panic attacks on the regular, you may begin to fear you have will have another attack at the worst possible moment. In the middle of a presentation at work, waiting on-line at the store, driving on a bridge, flying where there is no perceived escape, at a social gathering–embarrassing yourself in front of many with nowhere to hide….

These fears can be so powerful you can begin to plan your life around them—allowing your range of experiences to become smaller and smaller. Your world becomes limited.

What can you do if you suffer from panic attacks?

Consider seeking treatment immediately. This is not something you should struggle through on your own. Counseling can help you with coping skills, relaxation techniques, and help you become cognizant of how one’s thoughts can amp up our body’s fight/flight response.

You see a panic attack is a response to something we view as threatening–even if in actual there is NO REAL DANGER FACING US. We can be triggered by other people, certain places, or the mere thought of facing down our fear.

During a panic attack, our body’s alarm response is triggered even in the absence of real danger.

Remember, you can overcome your panic disorder. When we avoid panic or treat it like our enemy, it will in turn ONLY get stronger. Don’t run away from that which you fear–it will only strengthen it. Accepting you struggle with anxiety is the first step to becoming better.

Acceptance drops our resistance.

Be gentle and kind to yourself. Don’t judge and criticize yourself for panicking. This will only make your more susceptible to an attack.  YOU ARE NOT WEAK.

This disorder is HIGHLY responsive to treatment. Taking care of your mental health should always be a top priority. 

And remember…this too shall pass. What you resist will persist. Do not try to fight the feelings of anxiety and panic.

Stay calm.

Breath through the thoughts and feelings.

Remember: 1) You are not going to die; 2) This is a panic attack and it WILL end — it will not go on forever; 3) Work to calm your baseline anxiety which will help reduce the severity and the duration of the panic attack — going to a quiet place, focusing on regulating your breathing, stating over and over again, even if you don’t believe it, “I will be okay, this too shall pace, I am safe.”

You WILL come out on the other side.

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Below I share with you a TED talk from my fellow UDEL alum, Summer Beretsky, on the struggle of dealing with anxiety & panic disorder.

 

To schedule a counseling session with me (AND if you are a reader who lives in New Jersey):

https://anewcounselingservices.com/erin-theodorou%2Cm-ed-%2C-lpc

Anew Counseling Services LLC

617 Oradell Avenue, Suite 3, Oradell, New Jersey, 07649

(551) 795-3822
etheodorou@anewcounselingservices.com

 

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counseling, psychology, self-help

Can You Tolerate Uncertainty? The Answer May Reveal Why You Struggle with Anxiety

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We live in an age of uncertainty.

Not knowing can be the worse.

 All of us experience anxiety from time to time. 

It is a part of the human condition to feel the discomfort that is anxiety. Many of our “firsts” trigger such feelings of anxiety-our first day of school, our first time away from home, our first date, our first kiss, our first job.

Anxiety can also be brought on by life events: going away to college, getting married, your first job, having a baby, buying a house, getting divorced, selling your house, retirement. Any major life change, positive or negative, can produce worries and feelings of apprehension. In life changing moments or when you are in unfamiliar waters, these feelings are to be expected.

As human beings, we have a tendency to hate change.

Dealing with an uncertainty is an inevitable part of life. None of us can predict the future. For some of us this is just an inalienable truth to life–none of us know what the future will bring. But for others, their INability to tolerate uncertainty causes distress and suffering.

Anxiety is the root cause of controlling behavior. Many people struggle to control themselves, the people in their lives, and their environment. For them, this is a way to try to ensure certainty in an increasingly uncertain world.

Some of us can tolerate a large amount of uncertainty in our lives but for others even a small amount can feel unbearable.

The sad thing for people who suffer with anxiety is they miss out on many of the unpredictable, unplanned for moments of life that come with going with the flow. Of spontaneity. Of just waiting to see how the day unfolds.

For people who cannot stand uncertainty–their increasing levels of anxiety makes their world smaller and smaller. If anxiety isn’t effectively managed it can take over your life.

Anxiety suffers tend to use safety behaviors designed to eliminate uncertainty.

As many as 1 of 4 adults suffer–meaning there are people in your life who struggle with this disorder and you may have no idea.

Anxiety is the most common mood disorder in the United States (NIMH).

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If you are wondering if you or someone you know may be struggling with anxiety below are some behaviors and red flags of people with high anxiety:

~You have trouble having fun

~Seeking reassurance from others

~Withdrawing from others

~Sleep disturbances

~Refusing to delegate tasks to others

~Difficulty focusing

~Mood swings

~Procrastinating

~Needing to be in your comfort zone (usually your house or some other environment you feel in control of)

~Planning things down to the minute (can’t let others make the plans)

~Unwilling to travel to new places (or at all)

~Relationship issues (constantly checking in, codependency, not going anywhere without your partner)

~Overthinking

~Struggling with anger

~Second guessing (yourself and others)

~Underemployment or unemployment

~Difficulty with change

~Preparing for every possibility (or trying to)

~Having a dislike for anything new (new equates to uncertain)

~Avoidance of said new places, new people, new experiences

~Avoiding any situation (or person) you feel you cannot control

 

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If you recognize yourself in these behaviors, there are steps you can take to mitigate your anxiety.

1)Stay in the present moment. Anxiety comes from projecting our attention into the future. Anxiety is negative thoughts about the future–negative what-ifs and worst case scenarios. Practice bringing your attention back to the present when you feel your anxiety levels rising.

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2)Expose yourself to the things that make you anxious. Avoidance behavior is an effective way to relieve anxiety in the short-term, but increase your anxiety in the long-term. Anxiety will continue to make your world smaller and smaller unless you push yourself outside of your comfort zone. Take baby steps out of your comfort zone.

3)Reflect on your personality. Certain personalities are more prone to anxiety–some people have a more active brain than others–reflecting, worrying, analyzing things to death. You may worry too much about what others think or about making a mistake. If you fall into this category, you are more likely to struggle with anxiety.

4)Stop focusing on yourself. Anxiety is a very much a focus on your feelings, your thoughts, your reactions. A large part of anxiety is centered on how things affect YOU. Try to step outside of yourself and focus on helping out someone else. As someone who works in a helping profession, I find helping others is one of the most effective ways to lessen my OWN worries and anxious thoughts. It is hard to sit in worry and anxiety when you are busy with connecting and helping others.

5)Seek counseling. A good therapist has numerous technique and coping skills they can provide you with. They can also help you work through the root causes of your worries. Counseling is a good place to start your recovery from anxiety.

And lastly, what is the likelihood something bad will happen? I often have my clients discuss with me things they worried about that never came to fruition. It helps them to recognize that most of the things we worry about, never happen.

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