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Panic Disorder: Three Keys to Living Panic-Free

by Dr. Blumberg on July 19, 2010

Key #1: Stop Devastating Emergency Room Panic
When struck with your first episode of terror, the physical sensations of heart pounding and shortness of breath can be so frightening that you are convinced you are on the verge of death or insanity. You can, suddenly, find yourself in an ambulance traveling to the nearest ER at 2:00AM!

Naturally, the top priority is to develop powerful lasting methods to take control when panic strikes.

During that first attack strike “Out of the Blue” you become sensitized to natural normal feelings of adrenaline. You develop a body phobia… a heart pounding phobia, a lightheadedness phobia.  The fear of recurring panic consumes you and the natural tendency is to try to avoid and eliminate the panic experience from your life.

I have witnessed thousands of my patients use DISTRACTION or shifting your attention away from the symptoms to eliminate panic attacks. While the panic and anxiety may disappear momentarily, the dread of the return of panic builds.  Distraction is a form of escape and avoidance.  When you run from panic symptoms you feed them with fear and panic begins to take over your life.

Seven Bad Nasty Habits of Distraction

  1. Calling a friend or family member on the phone
  2. Visualizing a pleasant scene
  3. Listening to the radio or watching TV
  4. Leaving the panic-provoking situation
  5. Taking a walk
  6. Counting backward
  7. Even deep breathing when your focus is on ridding yourself of symptoms

What is the Alternative?  Preparing for a Positive Symptom Encounter
First, you must break the false connection between rubbery legs and the fear that you’re going to fall down.  Then you must train yourself (counter-conditioning) to feel the feeling of rubbery legs (or whatever your symptom(s) may be) without fear. Stare the symptom down and watch it turn into a fleeting flash of adrenaline.

Here is my question to you:  How will you react the next time your panic symptoms come for a visit?

Duck and dodge and run until there is no place to hide, or draw a line in the sand and hold your ground and watch the symptoms flash away.

Key#2: When You Reach the Panic-Free State, Don’t Celebrate: The Beginner’s Mistake
It is so tempting when you taste the panic-free life again, to think “it is gone forever!”  I call this response the “Hooray Reflex.”  You drop your guard. You stop your training program.  When panic strikes again, the three D’s take over. You feel Discouragement, Despondency, and Despair.  I cannot count the number of times I have heard the words “I will never get better. I am a hopeless case.”

The Second Key to Living Panic-Free is Being Permanently Ready for the Return of Symptoms.

This positive orientation to the return of symptoms is not as hard as you may think it is, when you lose your fear of the symptoms. Relapse Prevention is the cornerstone of any scientifically based cognitive behavioral training (CBT) program.  The second key is maintaining the panic-free state.

Key#3: Understanding the Complex Triggers for Panic Attacks.

We must know the causes for panic attacks.  Since the first attack, the question is always looming.  Why do I feel this way?  My life is going fine.  You know once you see where the panic symptoms are coming from, you will be more secure in maintaining the panic-free life.

Four Areas Where You Must Know Yourself

  1. Your Interpersonal Style (How do you relate to others?)
  2. Your Cognitive Style ( Your thinking style)
  3. Your Core Stressors ( The type of stressful events that upset you most)
  4. Your Emotional Management Style (How do you manage your emotions?)

Once you develop insights in these four areas, you will begin to see the triggering events for panic symptoms right before your very eyes.  The mystery of “Out of the Blue” panic is gone.  When you understand the context for your symptoms, they are no longer frightening and blend into your life.

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