Anxiety and Panic

Anxiety and panic can be all-consuming experiences that can feel out of control. As a result of not understanding what is happening in our emotions and bodies, our brains can try to make sense of the symptoms and can misinterpret them (for instance, in the case of panic: “I’m going to die, I’m having a heart attack, it’s cancer,” etc.), leading us to worry further or feel even more distress. We create more charge about the charge because of how we perceive it or react to it, and have to use a tremendous amount of energy to manage or avoid it.

Anxiety, panic and fear are at one end of the spectrum of nervous system dysregulation, which can happen as a result of traumatic, stressful or overwhelming situations. Our nervous systems, accurately or not, perceive a threat and begin to mobilize survival energy (flight response) to deal with that threat, even if it is something from the past that is not happening now or something we are worried might happen in the future. This high state of activation can feel draining, impacting our ability to sustain relationships, employment or perform at school.

Anxiety can be general and present itself as a state of overall nervousness, or can be tied to specific situations, social or family interactions, separation, performance or fitting in, or bodily sensations / health conditions. Anxiety can also present itself as an obsession, unwanted thoughts, intrusive images, fears or phobias, or cognitive distortions (unhelpful or inaccurate thinking patterns), and be accompanied with an array of physical sensations. Sometimes the opposite occurs, where physical sensations occur first and the anxiety comes second as we create fearful stories about what we are experiencing.

For some, the signs of anxiety or panic can only be alleviated through a certain behaviour (compulsions), such as checking something repeatedly, washing or cleaning over and over again, picking at oneself or repeating a movement, etc.

Symptoms of anxiety include:

  • heart racing or pounding
  • shallow or shortness of breath
  • tense muscles
  • fatigue
  • tremors or twitching
  • feeling on edge
  • racing or obsessive thoughts
  • upset stomach
  • dizziness
  • headaches
  • frequent urination or diarrhea
  • insomnia
  • bad dreams
  • sweating
Symptoms of panic attacks include:

  • heart palpitations
  • hyperventilation
  • chest pain
  • upset stomach or nausea
  • trembling or shaking
  • numbness or tingling
  • muscle pain
  • desire to escape or run away
  • hot or cold flashes
  • sweating
  • thinking you’re going to die
  • feeling surreal, not present
  • feeling of choking
  • lightheaded or dizzy

You may have tried to cope by avoiding what is causing you distress, which often results in reinforcing the fear response and ensuring the pattern continues. Addictions and self-medicating are other common strategies. Blocking or bracing against scary emotions or sensations can also prime the system to stay in an anxious, self-protective state, as opposed to getting grounded, orienting back to the present, safely tracking what is happening, and allowing symptoms to rise and settle. It can be empowering to shift from a state of anxious hypervigilance to a state of alert curiosity.

The Refuge offers therapeutic approaches that take your neurobiology, personality style, body, cognitive patterns, and emotions into consideration to help you rediscover your natural capacity for self-regulation.

© 2013 –   The Refuge.