Saturday, January 22, 2011

The Many Facets of Fear.

When I was in my early twenties, I began to have panic attacks - my heart would feel like it was going to pound right out of my chest, my entire body would shake, and, utterly transfixed by fear and an overwhelming claustrophobia, my singleminded focus was: get outside now!

I would walk out of the grocery store, leaving a full cart: pull over to the side of the road and get out of the car: be found out on the back porch/in the yard/walking my dog, no matter what the weather, or time of day.

I will be forever grateful to an emergency room intern, who, after listening to my heart, showed me how to calm myself through the use of shallow, slow breathing, and affirmations that this was just an anxiety attack, I wasn't going to keel over, I was fine. I learned to talk myself down.

I learned that anxiety attacks follow a pattern - once we've had one, we then worry that we'll have another,  and we become afraid of feeling afraid.

This intern explained to me that with the initial feeling of anxiety in a panic attack, comes a physical response - a little spurt of adrenalin, which causes our heart rate and breathing to speed up, our senses to sharpen, our hands to shake, perhaps we get a feeling of nausea. We then think, "Oh NO! I'm having an anxiety attack!" and then we get a big dump of adrenalin into our system, and the full flight-or-fight response kicks in, rational thought falls by the wayside, and we are in full panic mode.

I learned to head off physical panic attacks, but it wasn't until Al-Anon that I gained any control over my mental panic attacks - the gerbil wheel of obsessive worry and awfulising. I learned to deal with these quite effectively, most times.

Until menopause, and insomnia. When I wake up in the middle of the night and can't get back to sleep, not only is it difficult not to worry and obsess, but my sleep debt begins to negatively affect my daytime mental state, and I become far more likely to do that same worrying and obsessing during my waking hours.

I've had a bad few days with this, and no matter how hard I try, I cannot seem to get out of the hand-dug pit. I've read program literature, prayed, reasoned things out with someone else, prayed, practised thought-stopping, all of my usual ways of dealing with worry, and the moment I've relaxed my guard, I will find myself right back into it, full-bore.  I'm feeling physically and emotionally exhausted.

No wisdom today, apart from the knowledge that if I keep working my program, this too shall pass. I'm reminding myself to be grateful for the blessings in my life, and not to give this difficult period too much weight. When I wake up in the wee small hours, I read; this occupies my mind enough that I can't imagine various scenarios, all negative, with which to torment myself. When I become sleepy again, I say the Serenity Prayer, or pray to be granted sleep. I'm listening to a lot of program speaker tapes during the day, and going to as many meetings as I can.

I also find it's important for me to admit to my mental state to those who are safe, in program and out - only then do I escape the isolation of hidden worry and stress. Fighting the truth of where I'm at doesn't work - acceptance does. I'm not alone; I have a partner who loves me, friends who love me, dogs who love me, a Higher Power who loves me - these are my life gifts, and I treasure them all.


  1. I never had a problem with anxiety until I hit menopause and now I wake up in the middle or the night thinking I am having a heart attack. It was so bad a few years ago I had my heart tested. I couldn't believe this was normal. Not for me I have always been able to push myself through whatever fear I had and get on with it. Now when I wake in panic I pray and if it is in the wee morning hours I give the day to God. I know this too shall pass.

  2. it's tortuous thing, hormonal imbalance,'s very physically caused. I went through a horrific time for years...all of what you've described and terrible,terrible depression, when I'd never been prone to it before, except for once post partum with my 3rd child. I went to a doctor that specializes only in hormonal imbalance,...board certified,etc.. After years of a lot of terrible feeling and fatigue as well as the above and more, I took bioidentical hormones and was GREAT within a week. I am still on them today and am not afraid of being on them,..I've done a LOT of research etc.. I sleep wonderfully, no anxiety or palpitations ,no hot flashes or depression or many of the other horrible things hormonal imbalance causes. I take estradiol and progesterone...highly recommend it ! Hang in there...I know how rough it is.

  3. I also suffer from panic attacks they have receded with meditation.
    Concentrating on breath is a big part of my letting go in my practice.
    body, breath, and mind come together as one helping me to trust in the moment that I will be alright.
    These panics deepen my program.
    I try to remember this is an opportunity for growth...

    Panics return now and again depending on what is happening in my life. Menopause has been a challenge it is up up and then down. I went to bioidentical hormones also but the receptor sites have caused them to no longer work. But I dont give up I can learn how to handle situations that used to baffle me. Good thing you are reaching out for others experience strength and hope.

  4. I have never had a panic attack. I am blessed with being really calm, even in crisis. But I do know that I feel fear at times. But fortunately I am learning to work through that and face the fears that I have.

  5. I have had panic attacks (heart palpitations) for many years, but now that I have cut back on caffeine they are much shorter in duration. They used to last an hour or two, now it's just a couple of minutes. I can often stop them by taking a deep breath and telling myself to relax or by changing whatever I'm doing and doing something else.

    I may be starting menopause too, and I just read that there are some foods that can help replace some of the missing hormones naturally. I'm not sure if it will work, but I am going to try.

    Also physical activity, meetings and reading the literature and believe it or not,reading funny comics helps, too.

  6. I have these too! I can't even drive because of my anxioty! I have learned not to panic when I get a panic attack. Actually now I just find it annoying and fustrating. I can sometimes control it but other times no. The slightest bit of worry can send me into one. I can't take Phsyphidrine (sp?) because it sets me off.