The paralysing pain of panic attacks and anxiety
Did you know that we are born with two fears? A fear of falling and a fear of loud noises. The rest, we learn.
Hard wired into our physiology is an ancient reaction to a threat, whether real or perceived and is often called the fight and flight or the survival response.
Anxiety can be terrifying and paralysing, it is essentially a kinaesthetic flashback.
When we feel very frightened various physiological responses take place, such as an increase in our heart rate, rapid breathing and stomach churning sensations. As digestion ceases, the energy is diverted to other muscles, preparing us to fight our predator (real or imagined) or run like crazy, to escape.
As Neanderthals we could do just that, fight or run but as we have evolved to be more civilised, these really aren’t options open to us anymore.
A quick snap shot. A little boy, lets call him Edward, is shouted at on a weekly basis throughout his childhood by his father, he eventually becomes somewhat immune to the shouting, accepting it as a way of life. Sometime later in adulthood Edward starts a new job. One day seemingly out of the blue, he experiences panic attacks and extreme anxiety on the train going to work. Edward tries desperately to understand these feelings but cannot link any thoughts to the anxiety, other than being on the train.
So associating the two, he avoids the train and has an extra long journey to work, changing buses several times. After a year of this, the panic attacks strike whilst on the bus and over time Edward skips work, calling in sick more and more. He is doing his utmost to feel safe yet the anxiety and panic continue to creep in.
Eventually Edward turns to counselling to explore these and other uncomfortable feelings. He mentions in passing, how his new boss has similar facial expressions to that of his father and that he sounds very like him too. Counselling helps Edward to understand the significance of this link, offering the breakthrough needed for him to start working on the real underlying cause of his anxiety.
In time the anxiety and panic attacks diminish as Edward identifies them as (kinaesthetic) flashbacks. He discovers that as a child he dealt with his father’s anger by supressing his own feelings of fear, shame and anger. Unconsciously pushing these uncomfortable emotions into the body is called somatising and they will bubble up at sometime in the future, as they did with Edward in the form of panic attacks.
Another way to look at this, is that as Edward encountered his new boss, he was reminded at a deeper level of his father’s anger, albeit unconsciously. He effectively regressed into feeling like a helpless, frightened child who was scared to go to work.
Through counselling and therapy Edward manages to heal his old wounds. Learning breathing techniques, healing the inner child exercises and working on developing better self-esteem Edward finally starts to feel more grounded and adult.