wE'Re AlL mAd HeRe

Anxiety, Social Anxiety, Panic… and the rest!

Panic attacks – exposure therapy

What a miracle, for the first time in forever it didn’t rain this bank holiday. I would like to say that I spent it doing something cool like paint balling or surfing in Cornwall. But I actually went to Pets at Home, cleaned the flat and then went to the park. Obviously I sat the shade, because we all know how much I hate the sun. Yes I’m a vampire and no I’m not ashamed.

On Saturday however I did something extraordinary, or at least it was for me. I gave a speech… not just in front of Dan or Rigby, but to a room filled with people! I was representing my company at a book launch and had the pleasure of introducing the author with a few words. Was I nervous? YES. Was I certain that I’d pass out? YES. Did I have a panic attack? NO. Believe me nobody was more surprised that I was. Could it be that I’m finally getting stronger?

If you read my blog regularly then you will know that I’m constantly banging on about ‘Exposure Therapy.’ Out of all of the treatments I have tried for panic attacks, it’s the one that’s been most successful. It helped to reprogram my Amygdala (nope this isn’t part of the TV,) it’s the body’s natural smoke alarm. For more info, read this

The main principle of Exposure Therapy is simple, expose yourself to a situation that makes you feel uncomfortable in very small doses. Now this doesn’t mean that a person who is afraid of heights should jump out of a plane – because wouldn’t that be bloody hilarious! It also doesn’t mean that a person who has a phobia of supermarkets should go into Tesco every day. The key is small doses.. or baby steps. Now I won’t lie to you, I’ve tried a lot of different therapies and this is one of the more aggressive. Why? Well because the aim of each step is to deliberately trigger a panic attack, which is a horrendous thought!
Try and look at it this way – the scariest part of a panic attack is the threat. This is the core of it’s power, threatening you like a mugger with a gun. Those who have experienced an attack will do anything to avoid another, because fear is a crippling emotion. However, if you allow yourself to actually have one then the worst is over, it literally cannot do anything more. So why not think, ‘f’**k it.. let it come.’
The aim of this therapy is to allow your brain to experience a panic attack and find a way to acclimatise naturally.

Here are a few facts about the limitations of panic attacks:

  • They cannot physically harm you or make you go insane. Everybody thinks this, but it’s emotional trash talk.
  • You will not faint, this is impossible. Nobody has ever fainted because of a panic attack.
  • They feel awful, but they will end. Everything ends. If a box of Malteasers has to end, then a PA certainly will!

Many people (including me) are fooled into believing that PAs have more power than the reality.

Ok, before undertaking this therapy, it’s important to arm yourself with some key information:

  1. Do not start the process until you feel rested and steady. It’s not something to do during a period of emotional instability.
  2. Write out a list of exposure steps, then complete one a week. Start off really small. For example, a person who has panic attacks whilst driving should – ‘sit in the living room and imagine a car journey’ – then move on to ‘standing next to the car and imagine that you’re about to drive somewhere.’ DO NOT jump the gun. It’s better to start small and build foundations.
  3. Do not try and force the attack to stop… because this will only make it worse. Embrace it. Mentally say to yourself ‘it’s ok, I’m just having a panic attack. It can’t hurt me, it can only make me feel uncomfortable.’
  4. Belly breathing – this will double the amount of oxygen in your body. Remember to exhale first, this is very important! Read more here
  5. The desire to leave the situation will be overwhelming, so don’t feel disappointed when this happens. It just means that the exposure is working.
  6. Engage your brain. If you’re in a meeting then take notes and ask questions. If you’re driving then change lanes or turn on the radio. This ‘normal’ behaviour will help to communicate to your Amygdala that everything is ok.
  7. Once the attack starts to fade, think to yourself ‘well-done me! I was really scared, but I stayed and faced it.’ Then treat yourself to something nice.

Remember: the next time that you’re in an exposure situation you will be armed with concrete evidence to prove that you can deal with panic attacks, because you’ve done it before. This will really help.

As I said, it’s not an easy process and there will be times when you think to yourself ‘I can’t do it’ – but this is completely normal. If facing fears were easy then fear itself would not exist!

Exposure Therapy won’t be for everyone because annoyingly there isn’t a standard cure for any mental health condition, (typical huh)? But it worked for me.

Below is a list of my key achievements over the last eighteen months. To most people they will seem trivial, but to me it’s a constant reminder of what I’ve overcome.

Exposure list

  • Going back to work after a month of absence
  • Sitting at my desk without running to the toilet every ten minutes to cry
  • Attending informal meetings
  • Attending formal meetings
  • Having dinner in a restaurant with Dan’s friends
  • Participating in internal meetings
  • Participating in external meetings
  • Playing party games such as charades, which required me to stand up
  • Attending work related social events and talking to strangers
  • Having interviews
  • Leading meetings
  • Giving a presentation in front of 200 people
  • Giving a speech at an author event

Sometimes I wish that I could go back in time and tell that terrified girl just how strong she really could be. But then if I could do that I’d also find out all the winning Lotto numbers…  and so the corruption would begin!

Feel free to share some of your achievements. I’d love to hear about them. 🙂

Me mid speech!

Categories: Panic Attacks

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14 replies

  1. As someone who is scared of heights and has jumped out of a plane (with a parachute obviously) I can reccomend it as an extreme form of exposure therapy

  2. Really well done, Claire. And you look gorgeous in the picture, too – even smiling! I salute your courage and tenacity.

  3. Congrats with your presentation! I went through some exposure therapy of my own this month. Two weekends ago, I drove on the highway for the first time (had been avoiding it for years) with my fiance next to me. Had some panic at the start but it faded along the way. Last weekend, I drove on the highway alone!

  4. Congrats on the presentation! I went through some exposure therapy of my own this month. I drove for the first time on the highway two weekends ago with my Fiance sitting next to me. Lots of panic at first, but it faded as I drove. Last weekend, I drove for an hour on the highway all alone. Driving on the highway has been something I have avoided for years!

  5. Congratulations on your presentation! Great info here, thanks. You’re right… take small steps to lead up to your goal. Even small accomplishments can be huge!

  6. That’s a great list Claire – Well Done! It may sound silly but for me when I was at the peak of my PAs I wouldn’t stay home alone or sleep alone etc, constantly scared that I won’t get any help if something goes wrong. Anyway I overcame that, so I’m of course sleeping alone and have no issues being alone at home or outside. I stopped driving completely as I was always scared, even now there are times when I think omg what if I have an attacking whilst driving, but I carry on and prove to myself that it’s okay, I drive long distances and alone, this would have been unheard of 2 months ago. Also, because I lost my job due to my absence whilst I had my first panic episode, I have had to go to lots of interviews and a lot of job hunting going on still but I’m staying positive that I will find something soon. My only worry right now is re starting a new job and the “what ifs” but once I do get a job I’m sure I’ll prove to myself that I am capable of keeping a job! Thank you for sharing and writing this 👍☺️! Keep your fingers crossed so I get a job soon!
    Oh and completely random, it didn’t rain on bank holiday and I was so happy since it was my 27th Birthday on Monday 🎉🎉🎉, I could celebrate in style thanks to the weather!!!

    • I understand completely. We all have our own phobias. Sounds like you’re on the right track though 🙂 Well done for continuing to have interviews and happy birthday! 😃

  7. That’s so good Claire! My recent achievements has been getting stuck in a lift (accidentaly not exposure therapy haha) and being able to keep myself and those around me calm, and being able to sit a four hour exam and only having to walk out once!!!!! Well done again for the speech, impressive!! xx

  8. Always a pleasure reading from you and CONGRATS on the speech !! I mentally clapped my hands when I read this, so so happy for you really!!
    Two of my biggest achievments in the past few weeks have been 1) getting through a week where I could basically do nothing but lie in bed due to a cast on my right arm and having to rest it and 2) getting through a nightly panic attack with 100% intensity all on my own for the VERY first time. It might seem weird that I keep writing this but this blog is such a huge help to me I can’t even express it, especially the “Because the night belongs to Anxiety”-Post which I kept reading over and over again and made my A…. Am…..Amidala….Amygdala……well you know what I mean, it helped me start the very process you described above. Only saying thank you must get boring for you so here’s a bunny instead: (cause who doesn’t love bunnies:) )

    () ()
    O O

    greetings Lexi

    • Hi Lexi – oh no! I hope you’re arm gets better soon. I’m genuinely honoured that you find that post so useful. It always makes me feel emotional when I can help someone.
      WELL DONE for facing the attacks on your own. That’s FANTASTIC! You have no idea how solid that first step is.
      Keep at it and thank you for the bunny 😉


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