Therapy for the Treatment of Anxiety and Panic Attacks
If you have ever experienced anxiety or panic attacks, you know how uncomfortable the experience is. Your heart may pound, you might be short of breath, your head might hurt, there might be a general sense of dread or racing thoughts, or a feeling of being stuck, frozen, unable to think. Some panic attacks send people to the hospital, worried they're having a heart attack.
Fear and anxiety have helped us to survive as a species - if we were not tracking for danger, listening closely to signs that we were unsafe, we wouldn't have survived predators and other threats.
Stress, worry, and criticism can feel the same in the body as physical danger. When we are under a great deal of stress, the same hormones that are released when we need to fight, run, or freeze are released into the bloodstream. The problem is that when our daily stressors and fears are not life threatening, our reactions are are too big for the situation. If this happens repeatedly, we create a pattern of feeling stress, worry, or fear accompanied by sensations that feel out of control, which then intensifies the experience. When in these anxious or panicked states, more than anything, we want the discomfort to stop.
Sometimes our own reaction to the anxiety provokes more fear and stress. We spend time thinking and worrying about feeling anxious again. We are afraid of our own fear.
With therapy, we work towards having a better relationship to anxiety, which eventually changes the anxiety itself. Using mindful awareness of the body and thoughts, and bringing in compassion, we can train ourselves to respond differently to our fear and stress. We can override our instinctual responses to stress by calming ourselves - even if not in the moment initially - and eventually create new mental pathways of more tolerance and ease in difficult experiences.