Shining the Light of Healing on Anxiety Disorder
by Neal Sideman
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Free Introduction to Recovery

Free Guidance and Support

Finding a Therapist: A Step-by-Step Guide

Overcoming Agoraphobia

Short Essays on Key Aspects of Healing

Page 1

My Story

I am intimately familiar with panic disorder and agoraphobia.  For nearly three years, I  struggled to heal from a condition that baffled both me and my doctors.  It seemed that no matter what I did, my suffering only increased.  But when I finally got the right diagnosis panic disorder with agoraphobia it was a life-changing event.  It helped me to recognize my condition as a part of the human experience.  It helped me to connect to the understanding, insight, inspiration and healing offered by others.

For the next two years, I devoted myself to my healing process.  As I healed, I began to give my condition new names: opportunity, revelation and transformation.   In the spring of 1998, I received the incredible gift of complete healing and cure.

Through my experience of healing, my entire life has transformed.  Now, at its center are peace, joy, gratitude and a vision: to make my own contribution to the healing of anxiety disorders.  

This short piece is one step towards making that contribution.

First of all, what is a panic attack?

A panic attack is an unforgettable experience.  Its a sudden, overwhelming surge of intense fear and dread, with terrifying thoughts and sensations.  The thoughts can include fears of dying, going crazy or losing control; the sensations can include a racing heart, dizziness, sweating, shortness of breath, trembling, feeling faint, numbness and choking.  A panic attack usually lasts only a few minutes, but, needless to say, it seems much longer!

Panic attacks are very common.  One out of three adults has experienced at least one.  As unpleasant as it may be, an occasional panic attack can simply be part of the human experience and does not constitute an anxiety disorder.

Panic attacks are related to the "fight-or-flight" response that all of us have and that has been key to our survival as a species.  In prehistoric times, when a saber-toothed tiger or neighboring cannibal tribe wanted to have us for dinner, the fight-or-flight response kicked in.  Instantly, we would have  superhuman strength and speed, to either fight or flee.

Today, the stresses we face are very different from what they were in prehistoric times.  Sometimes, our fight-or-flight response gets triggered when there is no actual threat to our survival.  With no external, life-threatening danger to focus on, bodily sensations and scary thoughts can spiral into a panic attack.

Panic attacks are an amazing paradox.  For millions, they are the most terrifying, traumatic and painful experiences in their lives.  And yet, they are completely harmless. 

A good analogy for a panic attack is a fire alarm set off by mistake.  Its loud, scary and very unpleasant, but the alarm itself is never dangerous.  In fact, the fire alarm insures our protection and survival in the event of an actual fire.

The fight-or-flight response is designed to insure our protection and survival in the event of a real emergency, when a split-second reaction could mean the difference between life and death.  When the fight-or-flight response gets set off by mistake and a panic attack ensues, the result is a lot of noise and fear, but no actual danger.

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