by Thomas Larkin
Panic attacks are rushes or spikes in anxiety. We get flooded with it. But the key thing is it comes from inside us, not from the outside.
People often come to psychotherapy saying ‘I get panic attacks but there is nothing to be frightened of’. They are right, nothing is happening externally to make them anxious. What we are afraid of is the appearance of the anxiety itself from within ourselves. We are anxious about being anxious.
We either grew up in an anxious household or we experienced something in our lives that made us frightened, such as a car accident or health worries or any manner of frightening experience. If these experiences remain unprocessed the anxiety stays with us.
The longer it remains unprocessed, the more anxious it becomes. For example, if we were in a car accident with a red car, after some time, we can react with a lot of anxiety to the colour red. We get a spike of anxiety from the part of us that experienced the accident.
Soon our anxious self becomes more anxious about more things as it seeks to protect itself. As a reaction, people often make their worlds smaller and smaller to avoid the anxiety, for example, they won’t go shopping. But the anxiety is within and it doesn’t matter what we stop doing, the unprocessed anxiety remains.
Psychotherapy for Panic Attacks
Psychotherapy is particularly effective for panic attacks. In the therapeutic setting, space is given to the anxiety itself and, as it becomes processed, we feel less and less anxious about more and more things. Until we reach a stage where our anxiety is the more natural alarm bell for real external danger.
As our anxiety goes down, confidence goes up in exact relation, the two are interlinked.
Thomas Larkin is a registered therapist with ICP, available at www.thomaslarkin.ie