It all started so innocently.
On Wednesdays at noon I typically take out the trash from my office, throw it away, and walk a few blocks home to have lunch.
Suddenly I noticed I was having small palpitations in my chest. Next my heart was pounding. Whoa! What is this that? I wondered. As I walked up the steps to my apartment my heart began to feel crampy and I was having trouble catching my breath.
What is wrong with me? I said to myself. Was something physically wrong with me? I felt scared. My hands were sweating as I unlocked the door to my apartment.
All it once it came to me: I was having a panic attack. This was just like the ones my clients describe!
But what was this panic attack trying to tell me?
Wikipedia Gets This One Thing Wrong About Anxiety (aka Panic) Attacks
Wikipedia describes anxiety as “Anxiety is a feeling of fear, worry, and uneasiness, usually generalized and unfocused as an overreaction to a situation that is only subjectively seen as menacing.”
The clinical literature agrees with Wikipedia on this one. It’s Wikipedia’s take on panic attacks, specifically, the pathophysiology section where I.know that they left out something very important.
“First, there is frequently (but not always) the sudden onset of fear with little provoking stimulus.”
AKA, there is fear with no reason according to the clinical literature.
My difference is, I believe there is always a reason! We may just not know it yet. Our parts, or the family of people inside us [link], often become extreme when we have been ignoring their messages.
Anxiety feeds on itself. The symptoms of intense fear feels like having a heart attack, but without clear explanation, and that grows the anxiety into an attack (read this WebMD entry to learn more symptoms of an anxiety attack).
Let’s find out what the reason for this fear is for you. Let’s get Curious. We can extend the Self Quality of Curiosity to learn what our anxiety has to tell us.
Follow the Trail of Breadcrumbs Inside of You
If you’re sure you are in no medical danger* and you know your body is “just” experiencing anxiety it’s time to get Curious. What is it I need to know?
We know when we have a low level of anxiety we name it nervousness and it can help us stay alert and focused and motivate us to solve problems. But what is going on that this anxious part of me has gone extreme?
This first question sets you on the trail of breadcrumbs to the answer. Next, breathe deeply and bring Calm into your body by following this exercise.
Then extend Curiosity with kindness to yourself right now. What is happening for this very vocal part? Other good interview questions can be found here https://bethrogerson.com/2015/05/12/ease-anxiety-now/
Notice what is happening physically to your body as you talk to this part.
- Go inside notice what is happening physically to your body
- What is going on now that it is so loud?
- Can you remember any time that you felt this sensation in anyway in your body at an earlier time in your life?
- As you stay with this feeling what thoughts does it give you?
- What does it think you need right now?
- If it could make happen for you exactly what it thought you needed what would it do for you?
- How would that be helpful?
- Does any of these answers give you new information?
Remember to stay with this anxious part and be curious. Don’t let your rational logical part close the door with an answer too early.
Let this part know you are getting the message it is sending you. And, let this part of you know if it overwhelms you with anxiety, you won’t be able to help it.
So…Why Was I Having that Panic Attack?
I have a part of me that likes to be in charge to manage my life in an orderly way. This part of me always stays calm in emergencies. This part told me “There’s no danger. Eat your sandwich, that’s what we came here to do.”
I only ate half the sandwich. My stomach was upset, my heart was pounding and cramping, and I had an extreme urge to leave the apartment ASAP!
For some reason I decided to take the garbage here at home outside, even though it was only ¼ full. The kitchen was a mess and I was having severe symptoms of dread, but I just had to take that garbage out. Probably only 10 minutes had passed, but it felt like hours.
I ran down the stairs to throw away this very small bag of garbage. After I threw it into the large metal container, something made me peek over the edge to look inside.
There inside the garbage container was my purse!
I had thrown my purse away on my way to my apartment to have lunch. So that is what my extremely anxious part wanted me to know! If only all mysteries could be solve so quickly!
Important Note: Of course, you should always consult with your medical doctor to make sure you are not having a serious medical problem.
“Atención” by Flickr user Daniel Lobo is licensed under CC BY 2.0.