September is Pain Awareness Month. I hope to spread the message this month that we can heal from chronic pain. I am an example that this is possible, even though many doctors said chronic pain would be a life sentence for me. Today I want to focus on panic attacks and anxiety and the factors that helped me heal these conditions.
Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the U.S., affecting 40 million adults in the United States age 18 and older, or 18.1% of the population every year.
However, people with anxiety disorders frequently have intense, excessive and persistent worry and fear about everyday situations. Often, anxiety disorders involve repeated episodes of sudden feelings of intense anxiety and fear or terror that reach a peak within minutes (panic attacks).
These feelings of anxiety and panic interfere with daily activities, are difficult to control, are out of proportion to the actual danger and can last a long time. You may avoid places or situations to prevent these feelings. Symptoms may start during childhood or the teen years and continue into adulthood.
I suffered from anxiety and panic attacks for years in response to, what seemed at the time, chronic pain. Some of the symptoms I experienced included tension, restlessness, constantly worrying, and difficulty sleeping. The doctors prescribed a medication from the class of drug known as benzodiazepines to help me cope with the anxiety. Long-term use can lead to dependence and withdrawal symptoms when discontinued. The drug lost its efficacy to calm my anxiety as I built up a tolerance to it.
Eventually, I experienced more and more anxiety, which led to the development of panic attacks. The panic attacks arrived as sudden attacks of fear accompanied by a great surge of energy in my body. I felt victimized by these attacks. I felt they were unpredictable and uncontrollable. On top of how alarming they felt, I found them very confusing because my panicky reaction was out of proportion to the level of danger around me at the time. Most of the time I wasn’t in any real danger at all. They just seemed to arise out of thin air. After experiencing these repeatedly, I had a general sense of not feeling safe as part of my everyday existence.
I went to visit my son in Los Angeles. He was driving me to an event and we were happily discussing where we were going. I was so happy to be with him. Suddenly, I felt that familiar surge of energy rise up inside of me. “Oh no!” I thought. “I’m having a panic attack!” I reached into my purse and grabbed my medication and washed it down with some water. Within a few minutes after I swallowed the pill, I felt the panic recede. I realized in that moment, and mentioned it to my son, that the medication hadn’t even gotten a chance to get into my bloodstream before the attack subsided. Clearly, something other than medication was at work here moderating this experience.
I did some more research on this class of medication and discovered that continued use had been found to increase anxiety and even bring on panic attacks. Yet this information was not in the literature provided with the medication, and neither the prescribing doctor nor my pharmacist warned me of this possibility. I was dumbfounded to discover this additional information. I decided to stop taking the medicine as soon as I could find a doctor that could help me withdraw from it safely.
I was so fortunate to find a doctor to help me. I got off the medication. I learned that even though the medication had increased my anxiety levels, I had behaviors that also contributed to my general anxiety disorder. Here are a some of the actions that I was doing that added to my anxiety:
Worry and catastrophizing – I constantly worried about what was going to happen in the future. This included concern over what would happen in everyday situations, especially after the unexpected panic attacks developed.
Fretting about past actions – I regretted things I had done in the past and had a habit of negative thinking. “I could have done it this way.” “I should have said it that way.” “If only I had done ____.”
Shallow and erratic breathing – My breathing pattern was not conducive to bringing much needed oxygen to my body and helping to calm my nervous system. This was paramount to quieting my mind from the negative spirals of worry for the future and regret over the past.
Judging my experience – I judged the energy that I was experiencing as ‘bad’. I labelled it anxiety or panic, which further reinforced the effect it had on me.
Trying to control what was happening – The stronger I clenched my fist to control my situation, the faster the control slipped right through my fingers.
Here are the foundational principles that I learned to help me heal from anxiety:
1) The mind and body want to heal.
2) You can use the ability to heal by observing Qi, or ‘life energy’.
3) You must learn to quiet the mind by using the breath and movement, such as through Qi Gong, yoga, EFT/Tapping, or other mindful exercises.
4) Learn passive observation – you observe the information you are having about a direct experience to come to you.
5) Stay in the present moment – life is happening here now. Yes, we learn from experience, and we must spend some time planning for the future, but living in a constant state of worry about either is harmful.
By quieting my mind and believing that I could heal from my years of anxiety, I was able to let go of wanting to control my experience and allow the body’s natural healing mechanism to assert itself. I learned to let go of the past and let the future worry about itself. It took some time for me to practice these principles, but my panic attacks disappeared and the anxiety dissipated over time. By incorporating these tools into my daily life, I learned a new way to live a life without suffering from panic attack or anxiety.
Here is a free toolkit to help you manage stress in your life http://5WaysToRelieveStress
#PainAwarenessMonth #LivingBeyondChronicPain #UnleashYourHealingPower