It is helpful to understand both what the Anxiety/ Panic cycle is and how it works to keep you locked inside it.
Millions of people across the world experience Anxiety and Panic Attacks at some time in their lifetime, for some their reaction to the way in which they are feeling will mean they go onto develop an Anxiety Disorder.
A Panic attack turns into an Anxiety Disorder simply because of the way that you react and continue to react to it, nothing more.
Panic and Anxiety work in a cycle of thoughts, feelings and behaviours. It frightens you and then works on developing your fear by manifesting in different ways to keep you stuck.
Thoughts, Feelings and behaviours make up the cycle and work very closely together a bit like a chain link. They need to feed off of each other to be effective in their job to keep this link strong and unbreakable .
An example of how this works would be that you suffer an Obsessive frightening thought, then feel frightened by it and feel a wave of uncomfortable physical sensations, which forces you to act on your instinct to protect yourself from this perceived danger and perform a behaviour which will bring down your short term fear such as fleeing the room.
Everything that you begin to do to instinctively rid yourself of these symptoms, works against you and will have the opposite effect of keeping you very stuck in the cycle. It needs your fear, your resistance to feel it and your instincts to want to protect yourself from it to survive.
Recognising that there is a bigger cycle going on rather than focusing on the content of your thoughts and feelings is a very powerful step towards bringing your symptoms into remission.
This is false fear and it is impossible to protect yourself from something that is just not at all dangerous no matter how bad it feels.
When I really stood back and looked at what was happening to me, almost stepping out of it and looking down at my situation from above with an objective eye, I began to see that it could not be real. It was distorted somehow, kept manifesting in different ways, didn't make sense and was not reality, more something that was just happening in my mind that if I wanted I could step out of and begin to see it for what it really was, just a very intense feeling of fear, that actually held no real threat to me, it was a reality that I was creating in my mind and forming a habit with.
Once you start to learn to stand back, you will realise that you can step in and out of this. Even when you feel your mind start to drift into a panic episode you can immediately start to stand back and concentrate on your surroundings deciding that you are not going to pay it attention at that moment.
When you have Anxiety or Panic, your brain is logically trying to solve your problem, the brain is a logical organ which will always try to solve a problem if you have one. It takes time to go over and over things to try and find a solution. This is what the brain does and in most cases this is a very helpful thing to do.
If Anxiety was the problem that the brain was trying to solve then this would be an hindrance more than a help. This then takes the form of Rumination and Rumination is a symptom of panic very much like spots are a symptom of chicken pox. The more you ruminate, the longer you stay stuck, so it is important not to give your brain pointers in its quest to help you "solve this". Stopping traits like feeling the need to Google your symptoms would be helpful at this point.
I learned overtime to leave the why, what and how's behind and concentrate on where I was now and how I moved forwards, that was the way to facilitate remission of symptoms, not all the years of searching and ruminating that I had done. It served me no purpose other than to keep me in the same place or make me worse. It was only when I did learn to do the opposite, which was to let go and resist the need to feed this symptom. At that point I began to feel more able to cope with the Anxiety I was feeling.
How do you fall into this cycle of fear?
As I discussed above when this starts to happen to you, you feel the fear, feel the intense physical symptoms and become overwhelmed by them. Basically they do a brilliant job in scaring you so much that you believe in them wholly, you become convinced that you are in some sort of life threatening danger, like an imminent heart attack is starting, you are going to go crazy, develop some terrifying mental illness, stop breathing or collapse and so you start to focus on the symptoms and begin to become obsessed with when they may next strike and where that may lead.
This very belief that there is something very wrong then causes you to begin to limit your life or actions as you think this will help you avoid feeling this fear again, however it is this very avoidance of these feelings and limiting your actions that will keep you stuck, gradually making you feel worse.
The fear you are feeling feels very real, however it cannot and will not hurt you at all. It feels horrible, but its harmless.
Avoidance of any kind, and that includes avoidance of yourself and your own feelings will keep this cycle going and bring you more anxious feelings not less. You must do the opposite to what your instinct is telling you to do, otherwise you will stay stuck and the grip this cycle has on you will get stronger. You must allow yourself to feel your feelings and allow them to come and not resist them, feelings cannot process until they are felt and they have to process to go away. If you are following the rule of opposite, then it is not about performing a behaviour so that the short term fear goes down but the long term fear goes up, it is about making sure the short term fear goes up so that the long term fear goes down, disarming your fears at the root.
Anxiety is suppressed emotion and so to be released from its grip you must allow this emotion to come and let yourself feel it. I cannot stress enough how important this is. You must not avoid the way you feel and these feelings must be felt to process them and make them go away. Avoidance in any way is avoidance and will ensure that these feelings stay put.
Our body has a specific way of reacting if it believes that we are in danger. This is because it knows that it may only have seconds in which to save your life.
It does this within the Amygdala and its called the "Fight or flight response" it's very quick as its activated on a subconscious level meaning that your not even consciously aware that it is happening.
The fight or flight response is made up of three possibilities:
- Fight (If its smaller than me I will stay and fight it)
- Flight (IF it looks slower than me I will run away)
- Freeze ( If I freeze it may not see me and I will be safe)
All three responses are in built from cave man times, they are there to protect you from danger.
So it's important to remember that when a person suffers their first panic attack or Phobic response they will treat it as danger and then try to protect themselves by Flight, Flight or Freeze.
Because our instinct is to protect ourselves from the terrible danger we now believe ourselves to be in, we react to this fear and activate our flight or flight mode. Teaching ourselves that we are in fact in great danger. This response is then stored within the Amygdala and will re activate once we are in that situation again. One situation or thought can quickly become a lot of situations or thoughts until everything becomes fearful and we do nothing at all. You are now firmly within the grip of the Anxiety/Panic cycle.
So, if you understand all this in principle, then why does it feel so difficult to overcome it?
I get so many people contacting me via the Website who have researched Anxiety to the extent that they seem to know everything they could possibly know about how it works and they are left puzzled by why they can't seem to put it into practice. Why?
This is something over the years and though learning from others that I managed to work out and uncover the answers to and bearing in mind everything I have said up to now the answers are quite simple.
And this is where the "Behaviours" part of the cycle comes into play.
You don't realise and get better because you took steps to "protect" yourself or applied behaviours to "keep panic at bay" and you believe that these steps or behaviours somehow protected you from the worst possible outcome, secondly your focus remains on your panic even when it is recovery you are focusing on. The focus is there. When lived before Anxiety you never gave it a thought, living each day in the present moment, now your focus is still on the Anxiety.
Normal living is the way to get back your previous life. Live in the moment and take your Anxiety with you, forgetting it is there.
You get through each attack because it's not dangerous, not because you did something to stop it.
So many people contact me saying that they are "trying so hard" to get rid of this or find the one missing piece of the jigsaw.
If your own methods of instinct are making you worse then surely the method that you are using is what you need to look at. That's how I recovered, I recognised this and revised my methods in a way in which my body understands and learns to heal itself.
Incidentally the missing piece of the jigsaw is to stop looking for the missing piece. You are where you are, stop wasting energy trying to find out why, look at where you are now and where you want to be, then work towards it in the correct way. Do not let these feelings take away your life, you are in control, and the choices that you make from this moment now matter.