Do you suffer from anxiety issues? I’m not talking garden variety stress. I refer to crippling fear that makes you do crazy things and seems to come from nowhere–what Mayo Clinic calls “panic disorder.” I’ve dealt with panic attacks all my life. Here are drug-free tips for managing anxiety with cognitive restructuring.
* Know the signs. Panic attacks manifest a little different for every sufferer, but there are similarities. I feel a sickening sense of dread. My stomach constricts. My heart pounds. I feel like I’m choking. I break out in sweat. My hands shake. Panic takes over my brain and pervades my every thought. I sense impending doom, like the Sword of Damocles, poised ready to destroy me. Like a cornered animal, I default to fight or flight. I either run from or blaze at whoever I see as my “assailant.” I might scream, rant, even get violent. The key thing is that you usually can’t shake the sensations, stem the panic, until the “emergency” has passed, at least in your own mind (where most of it exists).
* Know the triggers. Panic attacks may seem to have no perceivable cause. The operative word is “perceivable.” There is a cause. It’s just generally buried deep in layers of memory. I get panic attacks when I feel threatened or abandoned or when my husband or children is hurt maliciously. I’ve always been vulnerable to exploitation, manipulation and shame. I’ve always struggled with abandonment issues. I’ve always been an empath. If something happens, no matter how innocent, that reminds my sub-conscience of those feelings or experiences, I respond with panic.
* Create a safety system. It took me till adulthood to understand my panic attacks. By then, I’d had so many they were second nature. I’d developed no self-protect mode. So I had to build in safety valves, limit switches, that would shutdown my auto-responses before meltdown. I had to rethink who and what was safe and distance from people and things that weren’t. I had establish safe places to decompress and safe experiences where I could find healing. I had to set and patrol boundaries. I had to ask for help from trusted people.
* Now work on behavior change. Many people start at the wrong end. They try to change their behavior before they deal with the cause. That’s shame. Panic, trauma cause dysfunctional behavior. People get hurt. There’s a lot of remorse. Nevertheless, you can’t heal yourself or anyone else till you understand the extent of the injury. You can’t fix it till you know what’s broken. You can’t change till you feel safe enough to do so. A cat will only stop snarling when he senses the danger is past. When these things are in place, you’ll be able to practice healthy responses.
* Be easy with yourself. The entire recovery process is long and arduous. It means dismantling your old belief and behavior system and rebuilding from the ground up. You still fall into old habits years into recovery. But remember, it took your entire life to that point to develop unhealthy habits, it might take at least that long to repair the damage. So praise and reward yourself for every positive choice, every step forward. Every time you feel panic and deal with it safely, exult in that success.
You’ll find peace one day at a time.