Understanding Panic Disorder
One out of every 5 people know the terror and confusion that is "Panic disorder". That's a lot of people!! We don't have to let this condition control our lives. Knowledge is power. The more we learn about the panic condition, the better equipped we become to find our way out of it's maze.
Anxiety is defined as an irrational apprehension or fear. Everyone feels anxiety at some point in their lives. No one is immune to stress. Why then, do so many become overwhelmed by stress and anxiety while others seem unaffected?
Most experts agree that people who develop anxiety disorders share common backgrounds and personality traits.
Common backround experiences include:
*Having alcoholism in the family
*Having a parent who was nervous or anxious
*Separation or loss of loved ones
*Emotions being surpressed
*Conflicts in the home
Common personality traits include:
*Being an obsessive thinker
*Low self esteem
*Wanting to be in control at all costs
*Need for approval of others
*Over-reacting to most things
*Over analyzing everything
Usually, but not always, the person has been under some extreme stress for a prolonged period of time leading up to their first panic episode. This stress can be anything...overexercising and dieting, studying late into the night, birth of a baby, a recent marriage or death in the family, etc. The ongoing stress causes their resistance to be lowered and their sensitivity to be hightened. It starts with a panic attack!! What is a panic attack? A panic attack has been described as a sudden wave of intense terror, that can strike at any time, any place, seemingly without warning. During a panic episode, the sufferer can experience many varied and frightening symptoms.
Some common panic attack symptoms are:
*Racing or pounding heart
*Lightheadedness or dizziness
*Nausea or stomach problems
*Tingling or numbness in various body parts
*Shaking or trembling
*Fear of losing control or going insane
*Shortness of breath
*Feelings of unreality
Panic attacks are frightening, but what really causes them? We cause them!! Nothing outside of us is causing our panic attacks. Something may startle us or make us apprehensive, but it's what we do with that stimulus that gets us into trouble. The moment we feel some "external" anxiety, we become concerned with our body symptoms. This introspection leads to concern over what is going on with our bodies instead of what startled us in the first place. We begin to fill our mind with thoughts ..."what's wrong with me", "I'm going to die", "why is this happening". Our minds react as if there was a "real" danger threatening us, chemical reactions take place; adrenaline and cortisol are released into our systems and we are caught in the panic spiral. Anxiety is a learned behavior and therefore can be unlearned.
*Diaphragmatic Breathing..deep slow breaths
*Proper diet and nutrition
When we take shallow breaths, from the upper chest, we are paving the way for hyperventilation. Hyperventilation can cause some of our panic symptoms to flare up. Numbness, tingling, lightheadedness are all symptoms that can be aggravated by hyperventilation.
On the other hand, diaphragmatic breathing or abdominal breathing, as it is sometimes called, has a calming effect. Breathing this way supplies more oxygen to our blood stream.
To see if you are breathing correctly, from the diaphragm, do this exercise. Lie in a comfortable position, placing one hand on your tummy and the other on your chest. Breathe deeply in through your nose, if your tummy rises before your chest, you are breathing properly. You should practice breathing from the diaphragm daily, so that when you are under stress and breathing shallowly, you will be able to switch to abdominal breathing quickly and easily. With practice, abdominal breathing will become natural and automatic.
In addition to the diaphragmatic breathing, "deep muscle relaxation" is essential in learning how to combat the effects of stress. There are many tapes on the market that guide you through a deep muscle relaxation exercise. You can learn to do this with or without the aid of a tape. Again, lie flat in a comfortable position, somewhere where you won't be disturbed. You can have some quiet music playing in the background. Start the exercise by taking three to four deep abdominal breaths, then beginning with your feet...tense the muscles of your feet and hold for a few seconds, then release. *Notice the difference in the sensation of the muscles being tensed and then relaxed. Continue to work up the legs, the thighs, the buttocks, the tummy, the chest, the neck, and the face, until you have tensed and relaxed your entire body. With practice, you will begin to notice tension in your body and relax automatically as you did with the diaphragmatic breathing. Try to practice this skill at least once a day and don't be concerned if you have a little trouble relaxing. It will get easier and will become one of your favorite times of the day!!
This tool is very important in our recovery from Panic Disorder. Whether we know it or not, we are very negative thinkers. We have to learn how to stop the flood of negativity that fills our days. Every time a negative thought enters our minds, we need to actively stop that thought and replace it with a positive, affirming thought. This takes practice and it will be hard to believe the "new" positive replacement thought at first. Don't give up!! Like the other skills, this one will become more natural and automatic. Some examples of turning a negative thought into a positive would be:
It's a gloomy day today......I can stay in and do some cleaning.
I don't feel well.....I didn't get enough sleep, I'll feel better as the day goes on.
Oh no, it's happening again.....It's only anxiety, it will pass, it always does.
Other positive, affirming statements might be something like this:
I will be fine. I will just relax and accept these feelings. I won't let them scare me.
So what if I feel anxious? I've been anxious before and I've gotten through it.
There is no real emergency with anxiety. It's just an uncomfortable feeling. It's a feeling, nothing more.
Remember, we got into trouble because of the way we think and we can think ourselves right out of it!!
Prayer is an essential key to our well-being. Praying is relaxing, puts us in a better frame of mind and keeps us focused. It is a form of mediation. The Bible is an excellent resource for learning to deal with fear: 2Timothy 1:7 For God has not given us the spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.; Philippians 4:6,7..Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be known to God: and the peace of God, which passes all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Jesus Christ.; Psalms 27:4..The Lord is my light and my salvation, whom shall I fear? The Lord is the strength of my life, of whom shall I be afraid?. Praying every morning helps to start our day on a positive note, and helps us remember that we are never alone.
Proper Diet and Nutrition
Foods do affect moods. Below are some guidlines for nutritional do's and don'ts.
* Limit the amount of red meat in your diet
* Choose more poultry and fish (high in Omega 3 fats which are very helpful in maintaining a healthy nervous system).
* Keep the saturated fat content low. Fats are harder to digest and will leave you feeling bloated and uncomfortable.
* Cut back on sweets. Sugar can cause nervousness, and can also leave you feeling rundown and depressed.
* Caffeine can actually cause a panic attack in some people and should be avoided.
* Eliminate soft drinks from your diet. Soft drinks are devoid of nutritional value, loaded with sugar and deplete your body of vitamins and minerals.
* Drink eight 8oz. glasses of water a day. Water is a cleansing agent. It can also help suppress your appetite.
* Don't skip meals. Try to eat 6 small meals a day rather than 3 larger meals. Maintaining an even blood sugar level will help keep your moods more balanced.
* Eat more fresh fruits and vegetables.
* Eat more slowly. Gulping down your meals is stressful...slow down and enjoy your meals.
* Supplement your diet with vitamins and minerals
Exercise is a very important part of the recovery puzzle. Exercising will better help you to handle stress, anxiety, depression, and tiredness. Another benefit of regular exercise is sleeping better. Exercise produces the body's natural relaxing hormones...endorphins. Even 5 minutes a day of exercise is enough to burn off the excess adrenaline our bodies store up. Begin exercising slowly...a little is better than none at all. Try to find something you enjoy doing, this will make you more likely to continue. Walking is an excellent exercise, it's cost effective, requires no special equipment and can be done virtually anytime, anywhere.
* Don't waste time trying to change someone else. The only person you can change is yourself.
* Do one thing at a time.
* Find a hobby or an interest, to dispel the boredom factor and provide creative distraction.
* Let go of being a perfectionist
* Lower your expectations for yourself and for others.
* Stay in the present moment, live for today.
* Be assertive, without being aggressive...state how you feel about something without making the other person go on the defensive. Use "I" statements when stating your feelings. Avoid "You" statements. "I feel angry because of what you just said", not "You make me so angry, I could scream".
* Express Anger in a positive, productive manner. Don't use it as a weapon against another. Remember, you have a choice to be angry or not. No one can make you angry unless you allow them to.
* Confide in someone, don't bottle up your emotions. Speaking about your problems has a way of making them seem smaller.
TIPS FOR FAMILY AND FRIENDS(THE SUPPORT PERSON)
1. Realize that the feelings that your loved one is experiencing are "real" to them. Never make fun of them or try to coax them into a fearful situation.
2. Make an effort to learn more about panic disorder/agoraphobia by reading books, articles, or speaking with experts on the subject. This will help BOTH of you.
3. Give the sufferer as much control in any given situation as possible. If they need to leave a situation, don't try to conjole them into staying. If they feel that they can leave without being belittled, most likely they will stay longer...it's a lack of control that sends them running home.
4. Never talk about their disorder with anyone else without their permission....this could lead to feelings of betrayal.
5. Let them recover at their own pace, you can suggest outings, but never make them feel that they are letting you down by not trying hard enough. they are trying as hard as they can!
6. Try to distract them if you see that they are becoming agitated.
7. Applaud every success that they have, no matter how small.
8. Never get angry with them if they can't do something.
9. Don't ever tell them to just "snap out of it"...trust me, if they could, they would.
10. Your loved one needs to feel supported but not babied, they already feel dependent on you.
11. Be sympathetic, but don't pity them.
12. Be patient with them. It's not easy,to be sure.. these disorders affect the whole family.... but try to remember what they are going through in order to recover. They are facing their greatest fears!!
13. Always treat them with love, respect and acceptance...it will rub off on them and they will begin to treat themselves the same way!
FIRST AID TREATMENT FOR PANIC ATTACKS
1. Slow down, stop, don't run away. Sit if possible. Take a couple of deep breaths, holding them for a count of 4, exhale slowly.
2. Get loose and floppy. Let every muscle in your body relax.
3. Think healthy, positive thoughts and allow the anxiety to pass, without fueling the fire.
SOME OF MY FAVORITE QUOTES
"Be bold and mighty forces will come to your aid."...Basil King
"Courage is not the absence of fear, but the judgement that something else is more important than fear."....Ambrose Redmond
"That which we persist in doing becomes easier - not that the nature of the task has changed, but our ability has increased." ... Emerson
"Your living is determined not so much by what life brings to you as by the attitude you bring to life; not so much by what happens to you as by the way
your mind looks at what happens.".... John Homer Miller
"Most of the shadows of this life are caused by standing in one's own sunshine" ... Ralph Waldo Emerson
"He who cannot change the very fabric of his thought will never be able to change reality, and will never, therefore, make any progress." ... Anwar Sadat
"Running from your fear is more painful than facing it."...Chuck Norris
"No man can hide from his fears, as they are a part of him, they will always know where he is hiding."...Clownhouse
"Courage is acting in spite of fear."....Howard W. Hunter
"When you believe it - you'll see it"...Wayne Dyer, Ph.D.
"Life is under no obligation to give us what we expect."..Margaret Mitchell
SOME FINAL THOUGHTS
* You are your own "safe person"... therefore, wherever you are, you are in your safe zone!!
* If setbacks happen, don't let them throw you. You can never go back to square one...you have too much knowledge.
* Stop the "what if's"
* Celebrate every success, no matter how small it may seem.
* There's no "big one" out there waiting for you. You've already experienced the worst panic has to offer and SURVIVED.
* Act as if you're already recovered.
* Be patient with yourself, panic is a habit and if it is a habit, it is a learned behavior and can be unlearned. Feeling good will become a habit with practice.
* Learning to accept the symptoms, but not the limited life is crucial.
* Through acceptance is freedom...the way to handle a panic attack is to embrace it, not by running from it or trying to fight it....allow the symtoms to happen and dissipate without fearing them or feeding them with negative thoughts.
* Stop trying to figure out every bad moment...when the "first fear" comes, it's a signal to slow down, not to begin fueling the fire of fear by adding "second fear"....the what if's.
I hope you have enjoyed this page and have found some helpful information here. *Remember to check with your doctor and rule out any physical cause for your anxiety. For some great books dealing with panic disorder, please visit my "A Merry Heart"page and for some useful and informative sites, click on My Favorite Links. Thank you for stopping by....stay well and God Bless.