I was asked this question by a client recently. She suffers from panic attacks, usually at home and in situations which shouldn’t (in her mind) be a cause for any anxiety. This has reached the point where she sometimes avoids good things because of her fear of having an attack later. This pattern is one I see both in my Central Cambridge and my Trumpington Practice.
As well as giving a massage using oils which help with anxiety we also talked about some of the things she had been taught about dealing with her panic attacks. Mindfulness exercises had been suggested including concentrating on her breathing. However judgements made her give this up because she thought she was no good at them.
What went wrong? Well as someone who has taught mindfulness to others over many years before leaving the NHS I quickly discovered that my client had not been taught what to do if her mind did wander. The thing to do is to on noticing that one has started to daydream or think about something else, just notice it and return to concentrating on one’s breath (or other mindfulness exercise.) Mindfulness is not a competition! The exercise is about returning to full concentration on noticing that it has gone. There is nothing wrong about having one’s mind wander!
As to the question about why a panic attack often follows feeling good the clue is in the research on the body’s response to anxiety. Thy physiological response, including raised pulse rate, the chemical changes etc to anxiety is exactly the same as the body’s response to excitement. The only difference is the label that we put on the sensations.
At first this doesn’t make much sense unless we look at some examples where the two sensations where the dividing line between the two is very thin. A white knuckle ride at a theme park is one example. Is it fear or excitement? The same is true of a difficult ski run.
A friend of mine who used to be an Olympic gymnast at one point could not do a good performance with an audience of less than about five thousand. With this number his adrenaline levels got up to the level he needed!
Of course another factor is that fear of panic attacks makes them more likely so work on realising that panic attacks do not kill or whatever her fear behind them is will also be important.
Mindfulness is important for me as a practitioner too and when working I too have to notice if my mind does ever wander and bring it back to my client and their needs. This helps me to stay more focussed and to improve the quality of massage I can give.
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