Over Come Panic/Anxiety and Agoraphobia Part IV

How to shift Jane from her conditioned response of anxiety to freedom was my challenge.

From Clara Weaks' book, Healing Your Bad Nerves (out of print), I remembered that there were three phases to panic and an anxiety attack. First there's an alarm. This is also true of the general adaptation syndrome (GAS). The alarm is what takes us away from our homeostatic level. It is a stressor. The next phase is the reaction which is usually physical-activation of the fight/flight. At this point, muscles tighten, breathing quickens and becomes upper chest, extremities become cooler, heart rate quickens, blood pressure raises. preparing the individual to either fight or run.

The fact is that the fight/flight is not only activated when there is a real physical threat to the individual, but any time family, social or financial status is perceived to be threatened. Ironically fighting or running from these stressors is not an appropriate way of handling them. I mean, would you run away from your supervisor who criticized your work? Or punch him in the nose? Of course not, these are inappropriate responses, but nevertheless the body is activated to either fight or run. Not knowing this, the individual is left with the body in gear and totally at loss as to why. In Jane's case, it was easy for her and her doctor to come to a conclusion-you must have an anxiety attack and because this often happens when you are in a wide open space like a super market, you also have agoraphobia. "Aside from some medication to take off the edge, we don't know how to cure it or even why it happens, he said.

In my third session with Jane I gave her a complete explanation of the GAS along with Clara Weaks' third stage. Because the reasoning second stage is not understood (as previously discussed) an overreaction, fueled by fear, kicks in that can be a hundred times greater than the second step.

Now Jane has the frame work of understanding on a conscious level what has happened to her. The next challenge is to change the frame of reference from, "I have anxiety attacks," to "I notice tension in my chest." I needed a way of her understanding that she was jumping to conclusions and that conclusions for her are dangerous.

Looking about my home, I had found an old object. When I picked it up to move it out of the way, I discovered part if it missing--I had jumped to a conclusion-that it was complete. I needed something to build a shift from internal focus to external focus. Her internal focus was on her breathing and muscle tension which contributed to her jumping to conclusions which invoked the third stage.

When she wasn't looking, I positioned the object on her kitchen table. I then pointed to it and asked her what she saw. She identified the object from her point of view. I asked her if she made an observation or a conclusion and she thought it was an observation. I then asked her if she felt right in her observation and she did-remember anxiety sufferers like to be right and up until now, she's been "right" about muscle tension and breathing tightness being a panic attack.

I then changed the perspective of the object as her mouth dropped open in surprise. Using this device provided all the hypnosis I needed. Although the entire event took no more than ten seconds, in that ten seconds Jane, as well as countless others with whom I've used this device with, was hypnotized. It was ten seconds of "Wakened Hypnosis" that provided the shift from conclusion to observation-the key to getting beyond the third phase of Clara Weaks' model.

We then took ten minutes to look at the difference between observation and conclusion. If we named the object it was actually a conclusion-a dangerous one if we tried to use the object functionally. From observation it was an object approximately 4" in length with one end being 2 ½" in diameter with the other end approximately 3" in diameter. The end with the smaller diameter had a section approximately ½" in length that flared outward with one section slightly elongated. On one side of the object was a protrusion which connected to both ends. It took another three minutes to complete the observation without using any descriptives such as handle and spout (both conclusions).

I noted that we're rewarded in school by our ability to take A and B and come to conclusions which in this case are dangerous and from observation, we'd be hard pressed to figure out it what the object was.

This example has a lot more impact from a visual perspective as is on the dvd of the program at www.Panicbusters.com.

Her homework was to observe objects and write them down-an external focusing technique-practice observation with the understanding that one day she's simply be able to observe muscle tension and be free of jumping to conclusions.

In part V of the article, we'll continue with outward focus and begin looking at the real stressors which contributed to the anxiety reaction.