You are aware of some strange sensation in your
body usually brought about by tension. You become worried about it because
it arrives unexpectedly. Rather than seeking out the source of the
tension, you seek out the source of the fear. "Why am I feeling
But your past worries had known reasons! You also knew
"fear" from experience as something related to your environment.
someone threatens you, you may fear THAT person! If you see a highway
CAUTION sign you will worry about driving carefully. But for a newly felt
sensation like a racing heart, rapid breathing, muscle ache, giddiness,
blurred vision, headache, nausea, etc. - all possible symptoms of stress
overload - once you assign an unknown source label to it, you have created
a conflict within your conscious logic of how to react to the fear. This
NEW fear doesn't seem to have a reason, a source, a purpose! It arrived
seemingly out of the blue! Because of the unknown nature of this new fear,
you analyze it and the worrying becomes more pronounced. You may begin to
extend your new unknown fear feeling into your future well-being with
"what if" questions - hypothetical situations to determine how you might
feel in the future IF the same fear existed. The worrying seems endless as
you cannot identify the cause. You begin to fantasize about odd
possibilities like tumors, cancer, glands and aneurysms. At this point you
feel threatened for your life or your sanity!
This threat launches
another bodily function which takes over your worrying for you - the
Sympathetic Nervous System (SNS) which is responsible for your survival.
This is the "BIG GUN"! It stimulates heartbeat, raises blood pressure,
dilates the pupils, dilates the trachea and bronchi for breathing,
converts stored glycogen (starch) into glucose (sugar), inhibits digestion
and movement in the gastrointestinal (GI) tract and inhibits contraction
of the bladder and rectum. In short, makes you ready to RUN! Through this
flight/fight response it socks you with a rapid and intense fear so
powerful that your immediate response is to run and/or hide. But you
can't! You don't know why or where to run. This is the inherent
contradiction in panic.
The SNS is not controlled consciously by
you. It is influenced by your thoughts and beliefs but it is independent
of your control. It is a part of your instinctive brain. And this is
perplexing because in the past your fear feelings had identifiable
situations or sources. These were ones you could avoid or
Panic is really your SNS now in charge of your worrying.
You can't stop it. You have no conscious control over it once it kicks in.
At this point trying to exert control only makes it last longer.
Conversely, by trying to NOT stop it makes it stop. This, I believe, is
the way out.
It's important to note that this can happen to anyone
at any time. It is not related to how weak minded or sensitive the
individual is. I have emails from miltary personnel, fire fighters,
politicians, sportsmen who are all confused as to why they have these
panic feelings. They keep fighting the panic and their own SNS.
The SNS is your protection, your survival albeit overblown for today's modern
stresses. As you increase your worrying and focus all your thoughts and
energy (stress) on the unknown reason, the SNS has to take over. Extreme
stress initially produces a physical reaction which initiates extreme
worrying which prompts the SNS response once you feel threatened. That's
its job that developed over millions of years of evolution - WAY before
the industrial revolution, the fast pace of the new age, and cell phones.
A higher degree of worrying warrants the survival mechanism of the SNS.
It's nature. It's what your body is supposed to do in response to your
The SNS needs to be fed a continuous supply of worry/fear to
stay alert and active. The fear of panic essentially becomes the reason
for the SNS to react. A circular process for sure. By letting the panic go
on without preventing it you are showing your SNS and your instinctive
brain that it needn't worry, that it isn't necessary. That the panic it
produced for you to "save you" is overblown for the given situation. There
really is NO impending doom. When you face what you fear (the panic)
totally and willingly, the SNS process shuts off and the panic shuts
This is how simple it is! And why you must completely stand
down when panic occurs and take the opposite track. Not away from the
panic but towards it - allowing it to "kill" you. You have NO control over
it. All the analyzing and wishing away the fear feeling can't work. It, in
fact, will do the opposite. The panic is your body's mechanism for
survival. But if it is at the wrong place at the wrong time you have the
means of proving that it is not needed and, in effect, switching it
by DAVID DAISH - author
of the book FEAR (click)
As you all know, once you get into an increasing
anxiety state, it feeds on itself and escalates - the emotional cascade
itís called - where fear piles upon fear, and panic ensues. What bugs me
most about this development is that I KNOW what is going on, yet I so
often feel completely powerless to stop it. It seems to take on a life of
its own and you get carried away by it. No amount of reasoning with it
Then I read something that set me thinking. It was in
Aine Tubridyís book, When Panic Attacks. She is
talking about PTSD, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, and I realised that
what she had written about, held the key to understanding normal
fear and anxiety. She talks about the primitive fear response that
is the basis of all panic:
"Its aim is not only to prompt you to find
safety, but it will remain in place until it is certain that the danger is
over and that you will not be exposed to a similar experience before you
have fully recovered. Once you are out of danger, the focus shifts to a
risk of a future occurrence. Your internal bodyguard means to see that you
donít become complacent or relaxed for some time yet, to ensure that you
stay Ďon alertí should the danger return unexpectedly - the alarm will
only cease when your primitive brain is completely satisfied that you are
not in danger any longer and that adequate safety measures have been put
in place for the future"
What she is saying here is that you have to PROVE
to the primitive brain that the danger no longer exists. ONLY THEN,
will it stop the fear.
How do you prove it? This is what Jeff has
written here, what Dr. Weekes said before him. Panic is fear of the panic,
apprehension of it as Jeff has so often said. Your primitive brain
senses your continual apprehension of the feelings of panic, it remembers
the terror you initially felt when you experienced panic, it does NOT want
you to have to go through it, it wants to protect you from it, so it keeps
you on alert - for AS LONG AS YOU FEAR THE PANIC.
You keep telling
yourself that panic is to be feared and dreaded, that all the many
feelings, thoughts and experiences of fear and panic are to be avoided at
all costs. You go to extraordinary lengths to avoid them all. All this
behaviour reinforces the notion that panic and fear are dangerous, so your
primitive brain has to keep you on alert, to watch out for fearís
Yet the supreme irony of it all is obvious; it is the
feelings of fear themselves that are perceived as being the danger. The
protective response of your primitive brain IS the danger that you
are keeping it on alert for!
This we know. As I said, we can reason
with this forever. We can understand the vicious circle completely, yet
STILL we are battered by fear and panic.
This comes back to proving
to your primitive brain that there is NO danger. And to do this,
you HAVE to go through the fear, to EXPERIENCE it, to show yourself at the
feeling level that it really is NOT a danger to your survival. More than
this, and this is the basis of what Jeff says, you have to positively
encourage the fear to come, to demand that it gets as bad as it can- and
to mean it. Only then, will your primitive brain give
This level of your brain cannot distinguish between actual and
perceived threats. It knows that you have been frightened. It remembers
what has happened to you. It knows that you continue to be afraid and it
has to keep on being on alert because you keep telling it that you are in
danger. It responds exactly as if you have been through some external
trauma insofar as it keeps on replaying all the terrifying experiences you
have had of panic.
In my own case, my fear of panic is related to
my main phobias - health phobia and emetophobia, fear of vomiting. I grew
to fear panic intensely because when it came, it felt as if I would be
sick. It never has made me sick, but the fear of it happening has
remained. So too with fear of illness, I become terrified of what I might
be going to experience physically. It can be anything, often very trivial
such as feeling very tired, or even having a headache. The "scared" days I
mentioned at the beginning usually result from escalating fear that I am
becoming ill with something - something that will be very
The other important aspect of it all is sensitisation -
the hair-trigger response of your nervous system through repeated firing
of the fear reaction. With this, fear comes too quickly and too intensely.
This state is the heightened state of alert Dr. Tubridy refers to, the
intense apprehension of what might happen next. This state will lessen by
itself ONCE you begin to diffuse the fears you have, once you begin to
prove to your primitive brain that there ARE no dangers.
practical terms, what happened was for me to turn on my fears and confront
them, to goad them into manifesting all the catastrophic expectations that
they were telling me I was going to have to experience. I got up with a
headache that gradually got worse. I didnít feel like eating. I began to
breathe too fast and, as always happens, the adrenaline began to pump.
Late in the afternoon, the number of "What ifs" had grown beyond all
reason. I felt sick to my stomach.
So what did I do? I made myself
eat! I thought, "OK, you are telling me I shall be sick, well I am GOING
to eat this food, so do your worst!!"
The sickness went away. I had
successfully demonstrated to my primitive brain that there WAS NO
DANGER. And I did it by going right into the fear.
So, with ANY
fear, you can do the same, to actually invite the worst to happen. And it
I read so many accounts here of those who live in dread of
the particular way fear manifests itself in their lives, be it panic, or
anxiety or phobias or whatever. For those who have never faced their
fears, it can seem impossible even to imagine doing so. Others who have
done so, will often ask, "Well I have done it, I have faced the fear, but
why does it still keep coming back?" I have done just this myself. You try
to figure it out.
But in so doing, you are, once again, analysing
for the purposes of avoidance, you are once again treating it as a threat.
Your primitive brain has been on alert for so long, as Dr. Tubridy
says, it means to stop you from getting too relaxed or complacent too
quickly - just in case. If it picks up on the fact that you are regarding
your returns of fear with suspicion, then it thinks the danger has not yet
So it maintains the heightened state. But with
repeated, successful facing of fear, with the "utter acceptance" Claire
Weekes talks about, it gives up. To accelerate this giving up, actively
seeking out the fear, actually TRYING to make the feelings worse, all that
Jeff has explained here, works wonders.
I think all this explains
why it can all take so long, why we lose heart too quickly when the fear
doesnít immediately go away. Why, unfortunately, we can take the path of
relying on medication to switch the fear off.
The answer is so
simple. But it takes courage and persistence. We all have these qualities.
I believe there is noone who cannot do it.