Friday, January 25, 2013

The importance of taking things slow

I have written down a lot about riding out panic attacks, talking to your amygdala and staying put during attacks.  The one thing I need to bring it is the importance of doing it all correctly.  If you have been avoiding movie theaters for the past 10 years you might think that it is a good idea to jump right in.  And maybe with other aspects of life, this is a useful tactic.  But when you are retraining your amygdala, it is very important to go slowly.  If you do not think that you will be able to appropriately use the "skills" that I have laid out here, it actually might be better to tackle whatever you are facing at a later time.

Here is an example.

I was in the middle of my CBT treatment for panic disorder.  I was 4 months in and it was around the holidays so we were taking some time off.  And I was going through a stage where I could constantly feel my heart beating at all times.  And it would trigger a panic attack whenever it got pretty high, which of course would make it even higher and it would spiral out of control.  Well I was walking up the stairs in my house one day and I felt a pop in my chest and suddenly my heart rate was insanely high.  Like I couldn't even count the beats, it just felt like it was fluttering around.  And I freaked out and got my boyfriend to drive me to urgent care.  By the time we got there, I had actually calmed down a bit and my heart rate slowed to 120-130 or so but as a precaution they forced me to go to the ER where I got to spend my entire Saturday.

Anyway after that incident I was basically terrified of stairs.  Yes, stairs.  I know how ridiculous it sounds.  And I have to walk up a few flights of stairs to go to work every day.  Being determined to fight my panic disorder, I forced myself up the stairs every day only to have really severe panic attacks to the point where I had to get to work 20 minutes early just so I could go through all of that and calm down before I actually had to start working.

It turns out that this was the wrong approach.  By going up the stairs and having panic attacks, I was confirming to my amygdala that what I was doing was scary and dangerous.  What I learned is that I should only go up the stairs if I was truly mentally prepared to face a panic attack - let the adrenaline wash over me, talk to my amygdala, and throw myself into the CBT.  If I was rushed that day or just didn't feel like I would be able to use the skills appropriately, it was better to take the elevator.  And by doing this, it made my recovery SO much faster!

So the lesson here is that if you are just having a bad day or are exhausted or think you will get overwhelmed with triggering a panic attack - don't do it.  And I'm talking about situational panic attacks here, like where you know that if you go into that movie theater or you go into that store you WILL have an attack.  If you are not in the right mental state, do it when you are ready.  When you are determined and think to yourself - I want to get over this.  Let's f*%ing doing this.  THAT'S when you go for it.

1 comment:

  1. To take things slow and not force yourself when you're having a bad day is a really valuable piece of advice. Thanks!

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