A Personal Story:
I have a phobia. It’s called Siderodromophobia … no, I can’t pronounce it either! Basically it’s a fear of trains. Phobias are usually caused by some traumatic event, or they can even be hereditary. In my case I fell off a train in my teens. It was at Cholsey Station in Oxfordshire and the train started up and pulled away as I was getting off. I remember hitting the platform just before it ended and grazing all the right side of my body. Since then I’ve had a fear of trains. Initially I couldn’t hear a train without breaking out into a cold sweat and I certainly couldn’t watch them. I took very scenic routes to avoid having to drive across level crossings. I did force myself to travel on them if I really had to, but I distinctly remember, in my early twenties, standing at the bottom of an escalator on the London Underground having a full blown panic attack and my boyfriend at the time being less than sympathetic. I was going to the Boat Show and I remember spending the whole day dreading the return journey.
On another occasion I had to travel from Trowbridge to work at Bath by train because of a fuel strike. I was in such a state all day that a colleague went miles out of her way to drop me at home that evening.
Then two years ago I qualified as a Mindfulness Tutor. Last year I had a day trip out with my Husband which involved catching the train from Chippenham to Bristol. I couldn’t get on without him holding my hand and I asked lots of questions like, ‘What’s that noise? Should it do that? How does the driver know when to stop? Do other trains travel towards us on the same track?’ However, despite my endless questions I applied mindful breathing techniques and I survived both journeys – to Bristol and return – without having a panic attack. I can’t say I enjoyed the experience, and I would be very reluctant to travel by myself, but I did it!
Anxiety and the Stress Response:
Let’s start by looking at anxiety and how that links to the Stress Response.
Anxiety causes feelings of unease, or worry or fear. Take a moment and think about what anxiety is to you.
What situations make you anxious and how does anxiety display itself in your body and mind?
Common causes of anxiety include sitting exams, or certain subjects such as maths, or perhaps walking into a crowded room. It could be financial stress or marital stress, stress caused by medication or family issues. Change is a major cause of anxiety, moving house or divorce, perhaps changing jobs.
When we feel anxious it triggers our Fight/Flight Stress Response. This is an inbuilt response, which evolved out of the need to survive. It makes us more alert to danger. Hormones are released which help aid our thinking, we have the ability to run away or react quickly by ‘fighting’ the danger. We breathe faster to enable more oxygen to travel to our muscles and our heart beats faster to aid this.
Panic attacks are extreme stress response. We think we are in danger so our body goes into Fight/Flight mode and the symptoms become disabling for us. Our heart beats faster, we feel faint, we sweat, feel nauseous, may experience chest pains and shaking. When a panic attack grips us we may feel we are losing control, that we are having a heart attack, that we can’t breathe and that we might die.
Panic attacks can last for five to twenty minutes and we need a period of time for our bodies to recover from the Stress Response so in extreme cases we may feel panicky for up to an hour.
Self Help for Panic Attacks:
I’m going to describe two methods for dealing with panic attacks, and the good news is that if you can apply them once you are likely to experience panic attacks less frequently in future. You can take control!
The first piece of information you need to hold onto is that panic attacks will not cause you any harm. This is Step One in taking control.
Step Two is that your body is only capable of keeping up an extreme Stress Response for a short period of time. It will end, and it will not cause you any harm.
So, hold onto both of those thoughts and you are already taking control.
The first technique is called, ‘BLOW OUT.’ Knowing that your body cannot keep up this response, and that it will not cause you harm, let it blow itself out.
The more you do this the less likely you are to experience panic attacks.
You are in control!
The second technique uses the letters from the word, ‘PAUSE.’
A Absorb the detail around you
Notice the floor you are standing on, the curtains in the room, your surroundings.
U Use Relaxation
Activities which activate our ‘Parasympathetic Nervous System’, such as relaxation or breathing techniques help us to recover faster from the Stress Response.
E Ease yourself back
So, two techniques to try if you experience panic attacks. I find the second works for me and now I can ‘nip panic attacks in the bud,’ before they occur. At the first sign of extreme anxiety I PAUSE and can prevent a panic attack occurring.
So, know that you are in control. That panic attacks will not cause you any harm, and that they will end.
Armed with this knowledge you can start to apply either of the techniques above and decrease your experiences of panic attacks.
As always, if this affects you then please let me know, and let me know how you get on.
With Serenity & Balance
Each month, throughout 2017, I will be posting in more detail about the topic of the month. Let me know if there's anything specific you'd like me to discuss.