Dissecting Panic | Counseling | Therapy

Dissecting Panic

Alex , CAS, MSW, ACSW, LCSW — Founder & executive director

Dissecting Panic: Getting at the root of your anxiety Panic is a real and debilitating manifestation of underlying anxiety. Designed in our prehistoric ancestors to protect the race from extinction by inducing the proper response –fight or flight- in instances of near death, panic today is lost among modern amenities and the comforts of the twenty-first century. It has become a bothersome byproduct of the ice age for most. The fear that once saved hunter-gatherers from certain peril is now applied to tasks as mundane as driving a car or going outside. It seems that with no real cause, fear latches onto everyday concerns, where without a proper outlet it can fester into a brooding anxiety. If left unaddressed, this deep underlying anxiety bubbles to the surface, sometimes in an explosive and seemingly unprovoked attack of panic.

Those who have suffered through a panic attack know just how terrifying the experience can be. To them, it is more than just a false alarm. The heart races, pounds, or beats erratically. Waves of heat are followed by cold sweat breaking out all over the skin. The sense that one might faint is followed by the more frightening sensation that one might, or is in the process of dying. Vision can be obscured, hearing may come and go, and terror seems to override everything. It is only long after the symptoms have subsided that reason begins to take hold again, and the victim can be convinced that they are not going to die. Yet now, a new fear begins to take root deep in their psyche- just when will the attack strike again? This new and understandable concern feeds the anxiety volcano, adding to the pressure and likelihood that another attack will indeed erupt in the future.

So how can the anxiety/panic cycle be avoided? There is only one way, extinguishing the volcano. That requires digging deep underground where the lava flows and dousing out that fire (dissecting panic). Once an eruption begins, it is too late. It is only in the lull between attacks that real progress can be accomplished. During this time, a plan must be set, data must be recorded, and the expedition must get underway.

Setting a plan to combat anxiety and alleviate panic implies merely making the conscious decision to work towards that aim. Acknowledging what is really happening (by dissecting panic) and being committed to resolving it is the beginning. This suggests an awareness of the condition, of the anxiety, and of its triggers. That awareness will allow the victim to begin to sort out what is feeding their anxiety and what is triggering their panic.Get ready to be dissecting panic - lets get some tools to do so.

Recording data is simply taking notes, mental or written, on what emotions, events, and sensations surround each episode of panic or moments of extreme anxiety. Could it be that a particular memory exacerbates the anxiety? Maybe a person; a relative or coworker? Perhaps high levels of noise, new experiences, impending deadlines, or changes in routine are noted at times of acute restlessness? Anything or combination of things can be acting as a trigger to set off the panic button, and these triggers may be critical clues to uncovering the deep seated issues at the core of the anxiety volcano. Being aware and taking notes can help bring these little demons to light.

Digging down into to one’s psyche to pick at the core causes of anxiety is not always an instant success. Anxiety has its history in fear, and fear is not always what it seems. It can take months or even years for it to manifest its true identity, especially if the disguises are long engrained in an individual over time. For example, a child who suffered from verbal abuse may grow up into an adult with a perfection complex that drives everything they do. They may tell themselves they only want to succeed, but the resulting anxiety gives the truth away. It is not a drive for success at the heart of their perfection, but a fear of not being good enough. In order to resolve their anxiety, this must be uncovered. Once it is exposed, then it can be addressed with effective techniques. The courage required to be honest with oneself about anxiety and panic is a like a big bucket of water on the volcano. It may not be enough on its own initially to put out the fire, but it can make just enough room among the flames to allow the process of healing to really settle in.


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