Advice from a Client with Panic Disorder
Thank you to Craig and Viktoriya for helping me through the absolute most difficult point in my life. I had developed panic disorder in an amazingly short period of time, and was instantly debilitated with no idea where to turn for help. After much research, I found the Anxiety Treatment Clinic of South Florida, and 3 weeks later I am back to living my life. I may not be 100%, but I sure am on my way there. I credit my determination, hard work, dedication, and sessions with Craig and Viktoriya to my quick recovery. There are a few key lessons I learned during treatment, and wanted to share them with anyone who may be experiencing anxiety and/or panic, and are desperately seeking help.
1. Exposures; facing your fears! Exposures are putting yourself in the situation you fear, and continuing the do so until the anxiety you experience during that situation subsides. I was afraid to make my 30 mile commute to work each morning. So, I made that drive every single day. What was I afraid of? I felt dizzy while driving, and also thought my throat was closing, so it was difficult to breath. There was no logical reason for my throat closing up; the tightening of my chest and lightheaded feelings were just physical symptoms of my anxiety. By facing my fear each day, and working through the uncomfortable anxious feelings, I was able to prove to myself that what I was afraid of happening actually didn’t come true. My throat didn’t close up. And maybe I was dizzy, but it didn’t cause me to drive off the road or crash into anyone. Once I realized I was safe, my anxiety went away.
2. You need to honestly believe you are ok…because you are. This is the cognitive part of ‘cognitive behavioral therapy’. (Cognitive-behavioral therapy is based on the idea that our thoughts cause our feelings and behaviors, not external things, like people, situations, and events.) When I first started treatment I was not convinced that telling myself my throat was not closing would actually make me believe it. But, after working through the behavioral park (exposures), I really did understand that what I was previously thinking was not very likely. I was then able to tell myself that I was fine, my throat was not closing; the probability of that happening was actually 0%. This is when I began stopping my panic attacks in their tracks, and calming myself down on my own. When you start to feel the physical symptoms of a panic attack, ask yourself questions like, “Have I felt these symptoms before?” “When I have, did anything bad happen to me?” “Why did nothing bad happen to me?” “Has my throat ever closed up/heart beat so fast I had a heart attack/passed out from feeling dizzy before?” “If not, then why are you afraid?” Your answers will show you that you have nothing to worry about. Just let the physical symptoms run their course, and continue on with your day.
3. Live your life. This sort of goes along with facing your fears. When I say face your fears I am talking specifically about putting yourself in those horribly uncomfortable situations, and not running away when you start to feel the anxiety. Here I am talking about just living your life in general. When I was experiencing anxiety at the highest, I began to think that I couldn’t function in any social situations, or drive to the mall to go shopping, go to the grocery store, see a movie, etc. Since I had constant anxiety, I was afraid to do anything. I began to force myself to live my life exactly as I had in the past, and participated in activities I know I would usually be doing if I wasn’t feeling bad. I met my friends at the beach, went to dinners and happy hours on Friday nights, and started going back out to lunch with my co-workers. In the beginning I did feel the anxiety symptoms, but each day got better.
4. Improve your lifestyle. This may be something that comes a bit after #’s 1-3. For me it did at least. Going through a tough time in life usually means you come out stronger in the end. As part of my behavioral therapy I joined a gym and began to workout. The initial reason was to increase my heart rate, hinder my breathing, and create lightheadedness. I was experiencing my anxiety symptoms without the actual panic attack. It showed me that the physical symptoms were normal reactions to every day activities; and they could be controlled. Once my anxiety was under control I wanted to continue forcing myself to feel those symptoms on a daily basis, to remind myself that they were normal. Along with the gym comes healthier eating, and better sleep. I also had spent a lot time self educating myself on panic disorder and cognitive behavioral therapy. Now, I enjoy reading at the beach and before bed. I have stuck to the therapy books for now, but have also purchased a few on personal finance and business. Now I am learning something new everyday. I also now have an interest in improving myself in other ways. For example, I am not the biggest fan of public speaking. I plan to work with Craig and Viktoriya on this aspect of my social anxiety, and even join a toastmasters group when I’m ready. My point is that life is not over when you have extreme anxiety or panic disorder. You will get through it, and maybe you will even look back and be happy you went through that tough time since it made you a better person today. I know that’s impossible to believe right now, but practice what I mentioned above, and one day I’ll be able to say, ‘I told you so.’