We all get anxious from time to time in a hectic, ever changing world. Anxiety, Panic Attacks (PD) and Post Traumatic Stress (PTSD) are learned reactions from stressful events from the past, becoming amplified and triggered in everyday situations. Fear and worry can become overwhelming, pushing rational thoughts away, allowing the Subconscious to bring the past negative experience into the present. Anxiety, PD and PTSD are not signs of mental weakness, they are understandable human responses to stressful and extreme life events (a protective mechanism). Because of the subconscious origin, unless the original traumatic event is explored and overcome, the preoccupied thoughts of threat and danger can sometimes continue to be problematic.
A panic attack forces the release of adrenaline into the bloodstream, sending a message of threat. The subconscious evaluates the perceived threat with‘what if thoughts’. In many cases panic attacks happen unexpectedly and without warning. As the body goes into fight or flight mode a series of emotional/physical responses may occur including; heart palpitation, chest pain, nausea, sweating, trembling, shortness of breath, numbness and tingling, a choking or smothering feeling, weakness in legs, blurred vision, muscle tension and fearful emotions. Anyone that suffers anxiety or panic attacks for more than one month should consult a doctor to rule out any medical conditions; minor cardiac problems, hyperthyroidism or adverse reaction to stimulant use, as well as medication that could be contributing or aggravating panic symptoms.
Non Pharmacological Treatments:
Psychological interventions support the process of Changing The Patterns Of Thinking in order to reduce the overall anxiety. Learning to become aware of worry patterns and identifying unhelpful thinking styles, improves managing anxiety. By restructuring thoughts (happy thoughts release pleasant emotions), the emotional response changes, interrupting the anxiety cycle. In the case of panic attacks, rather than fighting the emotional response, accept that the panic attack is happening, this allows the rational mind to steer the direction of attention, rather than the emotional mind running into a fight or flight response. By stating, “I am having a panic attack and I know that it is just a reaction in my body, eventually it will go away”, an objective observation occurs, rather than being dominated by the vicious worry cycle.
The vicious cycle is a reaction from interpreting emotions as truth, therefore seeking evidence to validate the emotion. If someone was to have an emotion of anxiousness, then the thinking processes may seek reassurance, obscuring the positive and perpetuating worry leading to physical reposes (cheats pain, sweating, muscle tension ect). Many childhood beliefs we have unknowingly misinterpreted as truth, we cling to these beliefs as a reference without realising that they may not be accurate. In adulthood we don’t often question these beliefs which can cause negative self-talk that contribute to anxiety.
Relaxation and Grounding Techniques:
Whatever we focus on, becomes stronger, Mindfulness strengthens and trains the attention part of the brain. Being in a present state of awareness increases the ability to focus attention, rather than thinking about past (ruminative thinking) or future-orientated (worry) thoughts; which often worsens anxiety, panic attacks and PTSD. A grounding technique is to become present and aware of 5 things you can hear, 5 things you can see and 5 things you can feel. When practised regularly, mindfulness enables the thoughts to shift to appreciation of the smaller things and often overlooked beauty in life, shifting to a state of Gratitude. Its only by being present and not repressing our fears that we can have hope to be free of them.
Progressive muscle relaxation (PMR) is laying or sitting comfortably with eyes closed and take a couple of deep full breathes, focusing on the inhale and slowly exhaling all the air out. If your thought wonders, just bring your attention back to your breath. Begin by tensing feet and toes for 5 seconds on the inhalation, then relaxing the tension on the exhalation for 10 seconds. Then tense the calf muscles for 5 seconds on the inhalation, then release the tension on the exhalation. Continuing up the body (upper legs, hands, forearms, biceps curls, forehead, mouth, tongue, neck, shoulders, chest, stomach) tensing and releasing each muscle group, pay attention to how the tension feels and when you relax, focus on the sensation of the muscle being relaxed. PMR can be practiced routinely but should not be used during a panic attack.
Meditation and Self-Hypnosis create a stillness in the mind with affirmations repeated in a relaxed state the subconscious automatically responds to the internal psychological (increases concentration muscle) and physiological (reduces cortisol level). The daily practice of stilling the mind promotes a positive attitude and cultivates a healing response to reclaim emotional health.
Physical exercise (especially cardiovascular exercise) reduces panic attacks and anxiety by releasing emotional tension stored in the muscular system. Becoming fit gives a higher sense of self-esteem, improves concentration, Sleep and limits the emotional effects of stress and depression.
Getting adequate minerals, vitamins, nutrients and calories by eating healthy, heightens energy, improves body function and immune system. Omega-3 rich foods (salmon, tuna, sardines and tofu) stabilise blood sugar levels. Eating dark chocolate can increase calm and relaxed feelings (helps release serotonin and dopamine). Oranges (vitamin C) lowers cortisol levels, reducing stress levels. Tryptohan rich foods (milk, cheese, yoghurt, bananas, peanut butter and oats) produce serotonin (reasonable for calmness and relaxation). Folic acid foods (spinach, brown rice, fish, dates and oranges) balance chemicals (neurotransmitters), this dramatically reduces the effects of the symptoms of anxiety.
Reduce or eliminate stimulant consumption (caffeine and nicotine increase heart rate and heighten anxious feelings). Limit or eliminate alcohol intake, whilst it is a depressant and does seem to have calming affects, it serves only as a temporary relief. Self medicating provides short term relief that contributes to long term problems.
Our worrying thoughts are like clouds passing by. Sometimes they are ambiguous and dark, other times they are light and abstract. Clouds can change and take different forms, as we observe them floating by, sometimes we can make a similarity and comparison of their form, for just a moment, but we cannot push them away or control them, they just float by us. We can let our worrying thoughts just float by in the distance, let them float by in the cloud and observe them drift by.
Successfully overcoming the onset and effects of anxiety panic attacks and PTSD will improve many areas of life. The inner strength will cultivate confidence and reclaim a sense of freedom. The good news is most anxiety disorders can be successfully treated. Hypnotherapy teaches clients how much more control they have over their body and how they perceive the environment; therefore increasing health and well-being.
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