Many people have had to deal with a bully or two when they were young. As we all know if you give a bully your lunch money, the bully gets stronger, more menacing and your potential for incontinence increases. Anxiety is a bully of sorts. This blog will help you to begin to develop attitudes and skills conducive to telling the bully where to go. As soon as you no longer fear the bully, the bully loses all power. In analogous fashion, when you can get beyond the fear of fear, you ain’t got an anxiety disorder! I am going to focus my remarks today on panic disorder, but so many of the themes we will cover are relevant for anxiety in general. Keep in mind that our primitive reptilian brain regulates the majority of our bodily functions including sleep and breathing (and anxiety!}. The neocortex, our thinking brain has minimal control over anxiety. Accordingly, it’s extremely frustrating to know that your feelings are ridiculous and still have limited control over them.
Let’s start with the obvious questions of why one would want to attack one’s fears, given the fact that attacking fears generally involves exposing yourself to the very feelings that scare the crap out of you. One reason is because fear has a tendency to spread in all sorts of creative ways. In the case of panic, it spreads to any situation where escape would be difficult or impossible. Therefore, before you know it, drinking a cup of joe, being on a subway, even getting your GD hair cut can illicit anxiety. Needless to say we can easily end up with a limited life which means less joy, happiness and ultimately more depression. Life is complicated enough without having to worry every day about losing it. Not to mention that anxiety tends to reduce our self-esteem and sense of self sufficiency. We feel like wussies, ashamed and bad about who we are and who we have become.
The next few blogs will focus on state of the art strategies for overcoming fear. As I think you know our initial goal in treating anxiety was clearly symptom reduction. In light of the role [we observed] of breathing in anxiety we decided to first teach people to breathe. So please lie back, close your big mouths and breathe through your nose while allowing your belly to rise with each inhalation. If it’s hard to do, place your hand or a book on your tummy. Practice this five times a day for 30 seconds.
Breathing 201 was designed to be used when you are actually in a high anxiety state. It involves holding the breath initially, [mouth still closed] for 2-3 seconds, then push the abdomen out purposely to inhale. The first several breaths are not particularly relaxed but rather artificial and muscular. It’s kind of like when you are driving a car… To go into reverse you first must stop, put it in park/neutral and then shift.
We also realize that because people are generally tense between panic attacks, it is also helpful to teach general relaxation methods such as progressive muscular relaxation. Soon you’ll be able to download a relaxation CD from me on the internet.