Don’t worry. This photo doesn’t really have to do with my topic. It’s more for looks or to grab your attention since my topic today may not yield a pretty photo.
My thoughts today are about panic attacks and panic symptoms. Many people suffer from recurring panic, waking up from sleep and feeling panicked, having symptoms when nothing bad is happening, and consistently worrying about when panic is going to strike again. Actually part of the criteria for having panic disorder is worrying about when the panic is going to strike again and adapting one’s behavior to avoid panic attacks. So often people come to therapy seeking ways to get rid of panic attacks and panic symptoms. They try meditation, relaxation, breathing, avoidance, distraction, and any number of ways around it. But the truth is that we are wired to be able to panic and can’t get rid of this, we can manage it. AND, what continues to drive panic disorder and panic attacks and what makes them worse in the moment, is FEAR of having a panic attack, FEAR of not having the control to stop it, and FEAR that it won’t stop.
Here is where the poop part comes in. Have you ever had to go really bad? I mean really, really bad? Like you might not make it? That kind of bad? I have sat around with friends and colleagues from time to time telling embarrassing moments and always there is one or two poop stories. Someone in the group always has a story about when they didn’t make it and had to deal with the worse-case scenario: the poop being released from the body not in a bathroom. Poop is a bodily function. We all know that and work with it. But, at times, you gotta go and at other times, you really gotta go and you have to tolerate feeling EXTREMELY uncomfortable until the body can release. Most adults have learned how to hold it, put on a straight face, tolerate the unpleasantness, and eventually find a bathroom, allowing the poop process of the body to do it’s thing. Sometimes it is painful. Sometimes it comes at the most inopportune times, but we “deal” with it and when I say “deal”, I mostly mean we tolerate it.
So, let me relate this to panic. Panic is a bodily function. We are build to have a fight or flight system to get us away from threatening situations and it HAS to be this way. Because of this, any one can experience a panic attack when our brain perceives threat. The problem is that sometimes our brain interprets threat when there is none. And, if we fear the panic response, this actual fear of panic causes more panic to occur. Once the body is in panic mode, it can’t just get out no matter how much breathing we do. There is a process that has to go from start to finish. Breathing can help to tolerate this, but I have clients that find themselves getting discouraged because their methods to stop panic don’t work. The key to any anxiety challenge is exposure. Other than feeling tremendously uncomfortable, what is REALLY so bad about a panic attack? If we can tolerate needing to poop and holding it, we can tolerate a panic attack. I don’t mean to make light of a serious subject, but fearing the uncomfortable actually causes more fear response to occur. And, the thing is, people can handle really unpleasant things, like really needing to poop. Letting the panic run the circuit and seeing a panic moment or panic symptoms as a bodily function, tolerating the extreme unpleasantness, and knowing that it will run its course and end can help to actually reduce the intensity and ultimately the frequency of panic over time. When people actually expose themselves to the fear, the brain learns that it can handle it. Exposure to panic, by actually allowing it if one shows up and not fighting the panic attack, is one of the best ways, IF NOT THE BEST WAY, to manage panic attacks.
Until next time,
(Author’s note: I, too, have had panic attacks from time to time and have found that by far, exposure work has helped me personally to manage my anxiety better than any other strategy.)
I have two kids. Yes, two kids. They used to be babies. I think they were babies yesterday, but then time tells me it was years ago. I used to be told that life goes by very quickly and to pay attention as time passes. In some weird way, I thought maybe that time would go by fast for others, but that I would always have time. I remember being in college and dreaming about my bucket list dream to move to NYC and go to school there. It came and went and I remember having thought about that dream so long, I was so used to thinking about it and nothing else. I remember when I was at graduation and so excited to have crossed that item off my “to do” list. But, I also remember being uncomfortable because I had NO IDEA what I would think about now. And, I realized that I had lived my life so much for that moment, that I hadn’t actually noticed the process and though I had wonderful moments along the way, I was so focused on “One Day When I Graduate”, that when it happened, and it was truly only a moment, I had missed out on participating in so many moments along the way. And, I wasn’t ever going to get my NYC journey back or my college years back. It took a long time to practice new thoughts about my future, but even more practice paying attention to the present moment.
Many people I see in my office have plans for the future. And, there is nothing wrong with having plans for the future. Actually, it’s necessary and healthy to have goals to work on and plans to look forward to. We get very cautions when people aren’t “future-oriented”. Even so, I see many people who get stuck on their one goal and live their life ONLY for that goal and get stressed out when the one goal they are set on isn’t happening fast enough. Yes, it is stressful when you can’t live until your plan happens. And, if your plan is a few years out….well, then you’re kinda missing out on a lot.
It looks like this: “I will spend more time with my family when I’m making more money.” “I will feel happy when I finally get promoted.” “When I am making so much money, then I will be able to relax.” “When I finish school and have a job, then life will be okay.” “When I move out of my parents, I can finally get settled.” “When I get that new job, my stress will go down.” “When my kids are older, I will work on taking care of myself.”
The problem with “One Day When” is that we forget to live now and spend our lives consumed with a fantasized picture of what life should be rather than practicing acceptance of our current life, practicing helpful thoughts, and making the time good in the now. We won’t be happy one day when if we haven’t practiced being happy or thinking helpful thoughts now. That doesn’t just happen. Chances are pretty strong that if we’re practicing One Day When thoughts now, when we actually get that new job or more money or whatever, we will still be thinking about one day when. And, at some point, we will run out of life.
I really started to embrace this when I realized that my children would just keep growing and that if I focused on something down the road, they would be older and I would miss out experiencing each precious phase of childhood. But more than just our children, we may miss out on opportunities to see and fully experiences phases of our own existence. If you are a “One Day When” thinker, I challenge you to open your eyes to the moments of today. Notice what is in your life today that may be gone someday and sit with it, enjoy it, and be grateful for it.
Until next time,
I have absolutely felt honored these last few months as I have met some amazing people who have come to me as clients. When I was in graduate school, we often talked about “therapy gifts” or those moments where your client begins to be vulnerable and share something that perhaps they have never shared with anyone or allowed him/herself to be vulnerable with someone who is pretty much a complete stranger. I bow to those who come in my office and have the courage and strength to seek insight, to reflect, to glance in the mirror, and to embrace change. Daily, I feel greatly blessed to have heard your story and felt of your human-ness. Every day, you remind of the power of human connection. So much research has emphasized at the important of the relationship when someone comes to therapy. I do an internal “jump for joy” when I sense that we are going beyond the superficial and are building connection and I continue to be honored to have the chance to know people in this way. So, dear client, you may be seeking help for your relationship, you depression, your insomnia, or your negative self-dialogue, and while we will work to find answers for you, know that I feel of your strength and my belief that human connection is a powerful healer is reinforced as I, too, continue to be renewed by you.
Until next time,
Food for thought.
“You don’t have to get stuck in a negative experience. You don’t have to be a victim to external events, or internal emotions. You can use your mind to take charge of how you feel, and how you act.” – Daniel Seigel (Book: No Drama Discipline).
We are so excited to announce the beginning of our seminar series. Our first seminar will focusing on managing symptoms of depression, anxiety, and stress. We believe that gaining essential skills is necessary to to having a a Good Life. We built our practice with the vision of getting out into the community and teaching necessary skills to manage symptoms, mental, emotional, and relational health.
If you or anyone you know struggles with anxiety, worry, feeling overwhelmed, has down days, can’t seem to get going, or struggles with negative thoughts, please consider joining us.
We will be hosting our first seminar on November 14th at 10 am-1pm. We will discuss in depth the cycle of depression and anxiety, how to manage worry, how to overcome procrastination, and how to challenge negative thinking.
The cost is $99 for early registration until Oct 31st, and $149 after that. Space is limited and registration will be done on a first-come, first serve basis. This class is not eligible for insurance coverage.
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