The Key to Overcoming Panic Attacks is to Stop Being Afraid of Them
1. The real problem in overcoming anxiety issues
For many anxiety sufferers the belief that overcoming panic attacks and other anxiety difficulties is possible for them is really the problem.
I think it's a bit like my belief about fitting into a size 8 (UK) again. I know that it's possible - in theory - but I lack the belief that I can actually succeed in doing it because my willpower is lacking.
Similarly, my willpower was lacking in my need to overcome the panic attacks which began when I was ten years old and which I didn't conquer until I was about thirty four. The reason for the delay was that I had coping strategies that allowed me to get by so never put sufficient effort into overcoming my panics completely. That is until, at the age of thirty four, I found myself in an acute anxiety state and afraid to go out alone. Only at that point was my motivation sufficiently powerful for me to work out what to do.
My first-hand experience of panic attacks combined with my professional knowledge as a clinical psychologist, enabled me to develop an approach that got rid of my panics for good.
2. What makes my approach different?
- I had panic attacks myself so I know how sufferers think and feel
- My approach doesn't involve doing anything that makes you feel uncomfortable
- It doesn't matter how long it takes as long as you follow the instructions
- My approach teaches understanding first so what you have to do makes sense
- You become competent at necessary techniques before applying them
- My professional knowledge means the theory behind my approach is sound
3. What resources do I offer for overcoming panic attacks using my approach?
"Overcoming Anxiety the Feelgood Way"
Online video course to do in your own home at your own pace,
This course teaches a full understanding of anxiety issues as well as instruction in the techniques necessary for unlearning them.
Overcoming any anxiety problem - including panic attacks - is possible by following this course step by step at your own pace. 35 of the 39 lessons are videos.
Find out more and obtain the course at a reduced price by following the above link to the dedicated course page.
At around the time I finally overcame my own panic attacks in the early 1980s, I conducted a research project into panic attacks after which I wrote a self help book about them. This was initially published by Dunitz but is now published by Random House under the Vermilion label. The book is still relevant and available as both a print and electronic version.
More details about the book by clicking the yellow box below
A practical guide to recognising and overcoming feelings of panic.
My approach relies upon mindfulness-based techniques. I have found that many anxiety sufferers find the idea of meditation difficult to come to terms with. During my clinical work I developed a way of teaching patients to learn to become mindful in small simple steps that didn't involve any special time to be set aside each day. I taught them to just do it as part of their everyday lives.
The instructions for this are included in the online course (above) but I have also included most of the information from the course in a book which is available in print or electronic versions. Find out more by visiting the dedicated website.
"Can't Meditate, Won't Meditate"
Self help in a book for overcoming anxiety the Feelgood Way without struggle and ENJOY DOING IT!
You can read the story of my own panic attacks - how they came about, how I got by for many years, and how I finally got rid of them for good.
You can read this on this website HERE or download it as a pdf to read at your leisure by signing up to receive occasional email updates about this site.
FREE pdf download
How my panic attacks started and what I finally did to lose them for good.
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4. 7 Steps to overcoming panic attacks for good
1. Catch it at the first "What if..." thought (before your survival instinct really kicks in)
2. Trust yourself. (You must believe that if you don't think about it then it must fade away. It is only your fear of it that fuels it.)
3. Let your body go dead weight (letting your survival instinct know that you are not buying into its warning)
4. Dare to refocus your thoughts onto a calm scene. Really go there and imagine sensations as well as just the scene.
5. Never check back to see if the panic has gone - if you do it will come back again.
6. Focus back onto the here and now - be in the moment
7. if another thought of panic occurs, do it all again... and again...
Eventually your survival instinct will get the message.
5. More detail and believing it's possible
Overcoming Panic Attacks is possible.
Retraining the survival instinct
Panic Attacks are something the sufferer has inadvertently trained their survival instinct to record as threatening. This happened when it noticed something which reminded it of that first panic attack, sent a warning to the person and that person responded with raised negative arousal i.e. by becoming afraid it would happen again and then looking for the symptoms (see supermarket drawing).
The means to overcoming panic attacks once and for all lies in retraining the survival instinct that having a panic attack is not dangerous. Easier said than done? Of course it takes a bit of persistence and also, the first time, bravery. But do you want your life back or not?
Accepting that if you don't think about it, it can't happen
The key to overcoming panic attacks lies in first accepting the belief that if you don't think about a panic attack, it can't happen.
For many years whilst attempting to control or overcome my own panics, I often thought I was doing just that and kept wondering why it didn't appear to be working.
Then one day it dawned on me - I wasn't actually not thinking about them.
I would typically have the automatic thought, "What if I panic?" which I had learnt to recognise as it happened. I would then try and block this out of my mind by deliberately concentrating on something else.
I recall on one occasion when in church during the wedding ceremony of one of my friends, I had the "What if...?" thought. Church was one of the places where I often had a panic attack as a child so my survival instinct would start trying to get me to think about them as soon as I sat down. On this occasion I was determined not to have to leave feeling faint. In order to keep my mind off panicking I set about trying to learn the next verse of each hymn whilst we were singing the one before.
This would work for a bit but the thought of panic kept coming back. I finally realised that I wasn't really not thinking about it because every now and then I would check to see if it had gone. That equalled thinking about it so in it would jump again. In addition, if you are trying to block something out you must be aware of it, otherwise how do you know you are blocking it?
It was only years later when having a wisdom tooth removed that I finally realised the error of my ways and never looked back. I have written about some of my experiences in My Story (link above).
Using mindfulness as a technique
To help with overcoming panic attacks it is advisable for a sufferer to learn a technique, such as mindfulness, to help them not think about panicking. It is a skill which requires a bit of practice for success, but worth the effort. Before attempting to not think about panics, however, it is important to become consciously aware of those times when the "What if I panic?" thought jumps in.
After learning some mind control skills to use (more about these here), the next step is to catch the "What if...?" thought as early as possible, before the arousal level has had the chance to increase very much, and hopefully before the survival instinct has been activated fully. This gives the sufferer a better chance of reversing the process.
Start with the easiest problems
When overcoming panic attacks people often make the mistake of trying to conquer the hardest symptoms in the most difficult places first and then become despondent because they fail. Always begin at the easy end.
When that "What if...?" thought occurs, the body will tense as the arousal starts to increase. The sufferer must then immediately let their body go Dead Weight - like we all did as children if somebody went to pick us up and we didn't want them to.
This relaxing of the muscles helps to tell the survival instinct that we are not buying into its warning and it starts to doubt. If the sufferer also moves their mind to other neutral matters the survival instinct waivers (this is where the mindfulness training helps). It may have another try at issuing its warning but as long as the person remains physically relaxed and keeps the mind on other things, the survival instinct will eventually assume it got it wrong and switch off again.
If this behaviour is repeated on each and every occasion, eventually all panic warnings will be deleted and panic attacks will largely be a thing of the past.
I say, largely, here because a panic attack sufferer will always have the potential to have an occasional attack if there are abnormal stress factors in their life, but they need not become a victim again if each is just dealt with calmly.
In my twenties I would have panic attacks when travelling on the London Underground. During some trips I would have to get off the train to compose myself and get back on the next one. When on the train it was a constant battle to keep calm between stations and I wouldn't go on them in the rush hour.
One day recently I found myself on the London Underground during the rush hour when the train stopped for a very long time in a tunnel. As I stood there reading the adverts and having sneaky looks at the other passengers, I recalled that once upon a time I'd have been panicking. And now I couldn't even make myself anxious at all.
There is basic information on this website about overcoming anxiety the Feelgood Way but greater detail is available in the online course or "Can't Meditate, Won't Meditate" book.