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:
- Do not start the process until you feel rested and steady. It’s not something to do during a period of emotional instability.
- 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.
- 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.’
- Belly breathing – this will double the amount of oxygen in your body. Remember to exhale first, this is very important! Read more here
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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. 🙂
Categories: Panic Attacks