Where Are You Right Now?

  I repeatedly stress to sufferers of panic disorder that learning to meditate and to perform your daily activities with full, mindful focus is what will lead you out of the morass you’re in. I can’t think of a better model for explaining the importance of living in the present than Eckhart Tolle.

Tolle (tolay) is the German Canadian author of “The Power of Now” who reports he spent much of his early life in deep depressive despair. He says he was in a very dark time  when, at age 29, he had a transformation – he realized he could live his life in bliss just by living every moment completely immersed in the time called now.

I have a chapter in my book on engaging in mindful activities as well as meditation in order to steer your mind clear of the anxiety-provoking future and the depression-invoking past. Focusing every day on your recovery program is what I give you as a way to work always in the present moment.  I had to learn how to escape the all-consuming presence of anxiety for at least brief periods of time so I could know what I was searching for.  I know that getting into a clear state of mind was what allowed me to be creative – to invent ways to heal myself.

The reason I think Tolle is so brilliant at helping folks learn this vital skill, or habit, or way of being, is that he, when you see and hear him, is the perfect embodiment of peace and joy. His sweet face and compassionate manner are the result of being always here instead of back there or on up there.  I have watched hours of youtube vids on meditation and living in the present, and somehow get the most help from Tolle.

I’m giving you a link to a vid that will help you see what he’s about, and you will see many more presentations from him on a variety of subjects.  Do what he tells you and what I tell you and you will free yourself from your own prison.

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PTSD and Panic Disorder – the Big Difference

 

I get asked from time to time about the difference between “panic disorder” and “post traumatic stress disorder.”  I know about panic disorder from personal experience and PTSD from association as a mental health social worker. The definition of the word “trauma” is what separates the two anxiety disorders.

I developed PD as a result of having had one too many panic attacks. My first attack was at age 10, and I had episodes of panic attacks at various times during my youth. The one I had while traveling at age 19 was the topper – the one that turned me into someone so frightened of having another terrifying panic attack that I avoided travel for the next 30 years. What I experienced was a trauma. My traumatic event was a panic attack over essentially nothing. There was nothing real to frighten me, but the experience of the attack traumatized me.

Someone with clinical PTSD truly experienced something horrific. The person saw, heard, felt, smelled something that triggered their “fight or flight” system to become constantly alert to any new dangers. I had people on my caseload who were struggling with the symptoms of PTSD, the result of everything from wars to accidents to assault and abuse.

The “trauma” of having a panic attack is obviously vastly different from the “trauma” of a land mine or a vicious beating or a horrific accident, but the effects can be similar.  The hyper vigilance of a person diagnosed with PTSD is, from a brain mechanics point of view, much like the state of anxiety one feels fearing the effects of yet another panic attack. In both cases, severe anxiety can force the person into avoidance as a means of survival. Both disorders can create “agoraphobia.”

As horribly frightened as I was by panic attacks many times over the years, my suffering cannot compare to the suffering of someone who hears and sees the terrifying cause of their mental illness in dreams and flashbacks. That sort of agony is beyond my comprehension.

One similarity of PD and PTSD is that in many cases the actual “threat” is not present – the fear is of a reappearance or a recurrence. In both cases, treatment requires a re-programming of the amygdala-controlled alarm system. My program in Un-Agoraphobic can lead anyone to overcoming chronic panic attacks through specific activities and processes. Intensive psychotherapy may be required to help a PTSD victim cope with and learn to live with the specific memories.

Here’s a link to an excellent (and readable) scholarly article on the role of the amygdala in anxiety. The Biology of Mood and Anxiety Disorders is a good place to do research on your disorder.

http://www.biolmoodanxietydisord.com/content/2/1/20

 

Guest Blog – Kate Carries On

(Kate is a guest blogger from Canada who writes from time to time of her work on overcoming agoraphobia and its effect on her as wife, parent and businesswoman)

Season’s Change

This winter as many of you know, especially those of you living in the eastern half of North America, was colder and snowier than anything we have experienced in years.

Winter has always been a difficult time for me.  The time change, temperature change, shorter days and lack of sun make me fall into SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) very easily.  But worse for me is the lack of mobility.

This winter has been one of the worst I can remember and when I look at my agenda compared to last year’s agenda I am down about 75% “going out” ability.  I rely heavily on my bicycle to either ride or balance my walking, to get me out of the prison of my house.  I drive very little in the winter.  I will take it out of the driveway a couple of times during the week and drive a few blocks but that’s about it.  I do it only for the purpose of getting in the car and driving – not to get anywhere.

I live in a bike friendly city but this past February the snow and cold kept coming and never thawed and I was only able to manage going out for dinner once.  At least it was once and better than not at all! But the snow mounds act as a claustrophobic barrier and the ice encrusted roads are not overly bike tire friendly.  So, I have felt particularly trapped this winter as many of us have. I am full of shame and guilt that I can’t just get in my car and drive down to Florida for a break or hop on a plane for that matter.

One of the trickiest parts of the transitions of seasons for me has been the “start-go-stop” cycle.  Now that it’s spring, I will be enthusiastic about the thaw and the budding crocuses.  I will drive more, be with friends more, attend functions more and do regular day to day things more.  It’s an awakening I look forward to each year.  However, I will be good for a few months until the oppressive heat and humidity of July and August hammers down and drives me back indoors to the air conditioned comfort of my living room until September when I resume my going out activities until January when I shut down completely and just want to hibernate until spring.

This “start-go-stop” cycle drives me batty because I can go and go, achieving real headway in my recovery process during the fair-weather months and then the change in season kidnaps me and keeps me hostage until the weather changes.  It feels like learning how to walk all over again every few months.

I have wondered what it would be like to live in a more temperate climate like Hal mentioned in his book Un-Agoraphobic.  There are very few options for moving within Canada where you don’t have to experience winter. Next year in January, I will sign up for an online university course or two to keep me motivated throughout the winter and as an assurance that I will be far too busy to be spending the winter in Florida.

The Fake Sanity Clause*

I have more than once pretended to be happy about something or another in order to please or at least placate someone else, but it turns out I could also fool myself by faking it.

Brain scientists have shown that focusing on and repeating any thought, action or behavior stimulates the brain into creating new neural pathways in order to facilitate that process. It makes sense to me; it’s sort of like you start lifting weights and after awhile it gets easier because your muscles get bigger and more efficient.

If you suffer from panic disorder you have evidence close at hand proving the brain will pay attention to whatever you want to focus on at that particular time. You have subconsciously and consciously informed your central nervous system that you are in some sort of danger, so the system gears up to be ready whenever the “danger” occurs. That’s why you’re nervous. You are tense and tight and hyper-vigilant because your amygdala thinks something bad is going to happen without warning.

Your high level of anxiety of course makes it much more likely you’ll be startled or stimulated which will trigger a flood of adrenaline that creates the extreme feeling of terror we call a “panic attack.” The bad thing happening is happening because you programmed yourself to be on the look out for fear. It’s not something you were necessarily doing on purpose, but because the feeling of being in danger (from a panic attack) creates new thought pathways, pretty soon you’re stuck with being a nervous wreck.

Luckily, your brain will do pretty much anything you want it to, even feeling calm and at ease. You can totally reverse your current situation though the response may be slow in coming. There’s lots to undo and redo, but you can do it. I set up a daily work program in my book, Un-Agoraphobic to accomplish that very thing – to set the brain in motion with positive thoughts and and activities. Creating new neural pathways that relate to safety and comfort and happiness is what will help you recover from panic disorder and agoraphobia.  To start it off, all you have to do is smile, as you’ll learn in the following article.

https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-dolphin-divide/201403/can-smiling-make-us-happy?collection=1072688

*A nod to the Marx Brothers