Panic attacks commonly bring people to counselling or psychotherapy. Usually, I am asked how to make them go away. Rather than simply treating the symptoms (e.g. through breathing techniques), I tend to look at the anxiety behind the panic attack as providing a warning or message that something is amiss and that whatever it is needs both your and my attention.
As human beings, I believe that we put together a set of personal rules, values and assumptions to live by on a daily basis and things generally rub along pretty well until we find ourselves in different, perhaps challenging circumstances. In my experience, panic attacks often occur when we are being pulled to act from two opposing positions; the only way we can make a necessary change is to break one of our rules. Here’s an example: say one of my rules for living is ‘I must not do or say anything that might upset those I perceive to be in authority’. I might have assumed this for so long that I’m not even aware that this is one of my rules (and at one time in my past it might have worked very well and kept me feeling emotionally safe). However, now I might need to challenge someone I perceive to be in authority – perhaps my boss, a teacher at my child’s school, a doctor – and the pressure to take action or speak out knocks up against my taken-for-granted rule. When this happens, I get anxious and the anxiety is expressed in the form of a panic attack.
If you were to come to counselling or psychotherapy for help with dealing with panic attacks, I might start by helping you to relax a little – it’s very hard to think when feeling anxious – however, my main focus would be on finding out what assumptions you might be making about how to be in the world and whether these assumptions are getting in the way of you making important decisions or necessary changes in your life. Together we can explore what is happening and wonder about different ways of being that might be a better fit to your current circumstances.
If you live or work within reach of Brighton and Hove and my approach to counselling and psychotherapy interests you, please contact me via email or telephone 07585 910742 for more information and to arrange an initial consultation.
Copyright: Caroline Clarke
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