Saturday, March 10, 2012

The psychology of panic attacks


Here I want to discuss what I believe to be the source, propagation and cure for panic attacks and anxiety in general.

Panic attacks often materialize from what we can only imagine as spontaneously. We are going to work, watching TV or getting ready for bed, and suddenly a wash of anxiety pours over us. We may even been talking to someone when suddenly panic is unavoidable. If you've ever experienced something like this, it may be due to what I call "seed notions".

These seed notions are simply small fragmented thoughts that pass by quickly through our minds. They are deeply embedded memories of ideas, subjects, or perspectives that are really not enjoyable. Such things may be from the nightly news (please - if you watch the nightly news, stop!) as there are often murders, shootings, killings, deaths, etc plastered all over the media. There is a good quote: "The nightly news is usually started by 'good evening' and followed by exactly why it isn't." These seed notions may also be from painful past experiences, such as car accidents, or other traumatic experiences, or, as in my case, they may simply be from depressing thoughts.

It isn't trivial to erase memories, and thus most of us will carry some throughout our entire lives which we have rather never gained. They are there, and repressing them is never a good idea. But here is my explanation on how they play a role in panic attacks and anxiety in general:

The brain is a funny thing. If something is wrong, but unidentifiable, it will SEARCH for something to pinpoint what is wrong. Seed notions are a source of this searching. Here is an example of what I'm talking about:

Perhaps you were talking to a friend, when they mentioned they bought a new car, and "car" is inevitably tied to your "car" accident you had 4 years ago that was traumatic. Yet the idea and memory of your car accident may have gone by so quick you did not notice while talking on the phone - the seed notion has cascaded a negative effect on the mind. It may take a few seconds, or perhaps a few minutes before the negativity is felt, but here your mind, unable to identify what exactly caused the negative idea, will begin to search for what is wrong. You will end your conversation with your friend, hang up, and suddenly notice you are feeling anxious - "But why?" In your mind's inability to pin point what is wrong, the negativity will amplify, and you will find yourself quickly becoming consumed by anxiety - But nothing is wrong!

For years I was plagued by this, and could never find a cure. I attempted to suppress and ignore the feeling, with little effect. I attempted to counteract it - by smiling and thinking of happy thoughts also with little effect. I attempted to "accept" and embrace the anxiety, with some effect, but still not what I would call a cure. Then suddenly I had a glimpse of it. I was riding on a bus, listening to a song on my iPod. The song was tied to an experience I had a few years ago that caused me great stress, but quickly the bus made a wrong turn and I became distracted. I forgot about the stressful incident and became fixated on my current predicament on the bus. The bus corrected itself (well, the driver did) and I sat back in my seat - but a great dealing of grief rushed over me. It took a few seconds before I could identify the problem, and hence my idea of seed notions was born.

Ever since that day, when a sense of panic comes over me, I take a step back and distance myself from the emotion. I retrace my mind's steps a few minutes back and see if anything I have thought of caused the anxiety - and with 100% accuracy I have found a seed notion.

What this does is it allows the mind to work efficiently in identifying the problem. Without knowing what is wrong, the mind will inevitably amplify a feeling of fear until the notion is resolved or we feel safe (Which, in the worst cases can end in the hospital!).

I suggest to you, too, that if you have anxiety or panic attacks, please practice this.

Here is another helpful tip to reduce the amount of anxiety in the day:

Take some time every day to worry about all of your unknowns and problems. Set aside 15 minutes each day to dwell on things. People in northern Europe centuries ago would do this. It was called the brooding time. The women of the household would stay at home for 30 minutes or an hour every day and simply "brood" - thinking about how awful things are or the how awful their lives are (SHEESH!) and then get on with things after that.

The mind must be balanced - if you do not do it yourself, consciously, there can be some nasty side-effects.

Have fun, good luck, and feel free to contact me!

1 comment:

  1. Hi, I'm Ellie from HE. Brilliant post!!! This helps me a lot and gives me much to think about. Thanks Jesus ;)