Don’t panic, it’s just an attack - And here is how to fight
Recently I saw a new client, Jennifer, who felt as if she had totally lost the plot. She was consumed by fear; not some of the time but all of the time. ‘I know it’s ridiculous, but I can’t get out of my head that I am being stalked by a man. And wherever I am, I feel his presence and I am scared to death. I can feel my heart beat, my breathing is shallow and I want to run. And it’s getting harder and harder to move away from the fear. This week I have had twice a panic attack, where I felt as if I was going to faint and I could not move at all. Apart from trembling. It is so embarrassing, because I have no evidence of being stalked. So, what can I do about it?’
Jennifer feels out of control, because her initial fear has developed into an anxiety. Fear is a sense of danger that refers to a moment; when something happens or seems about to happen (a car is approaching while you are about to cross the road), the amygdala (stress centre in the brain) picks up the signals of danger and immediately the production of cortisol and adrenaline starts, to prepare you for a flight or fight response in this situation. Physically, you feel your stomach cramping, your heartrate goes through the roof and your hands become sweaty. You don’t cross the street and the next thing you know is that you take a deep breath in, expressing the lucky escape. You felt the fear, and survived the situation.
Fear becomes anxiety when there is a mental/emotional repeat of the fear situation, without being in the situation. This can happen on a subconscious level. The fear manifest itself regularly, without a direct stimulus. The stimulus is created in the mind; like Jennifer imagined time and again she was being followed or observed by someone.
Anxiety, the feeling of fear without a direct stimulus, can develop into a panic attack. The energy of the anxiety has to go somewhere and could explode in an attack.
The scary thing about an attack is that it might come totally out of the blue and it takes over body and mind, leaving you totally powerless.
Tips to deal with anxiety
- Accept the anxiety; don’t run away from it, but just sit with it. Trying to avoid it means you will attract it.
- Do not avoid situations associated with your anxiety; the fear for the fear is worse than the situation.
- Don’t beat yourself up about it. This is a passing stage in your life and it is an invitation to develop your resilience.
- Talk about it. Speaking words create a realistic picture and people can help you when you need it.
- Do breathing exercises – the breath is the carrier of emotions and works two ways: if you want to feel calm, but are not, just breath slow and deep as this will make you calm. If you are calm, your breathing is naturally slower and deeper. And if you are hit by a panic attack, breathing will help you straight away.
- Start meditation. The pre-frontal cortex of your brain is developing in a way that stimulates anxiety; by doing meditation you affect the PFC and will enhance the aspects of positivity, trust and control.
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About Mariette Jansen
Dr Mariette Jansen (Dr De-Stress) is a psychological coach, using therapy models, coaching techniques and mindfulness meditation to help you become balanced, stress free and in control of your life.
Focus areas are work-life balance, confidence, food/diet stress and general stress.
Author of two books: on meditation and exam stress.