Archives for Exposure

A Panic Attack On Live TV? ABC News Anchor Dan Harris Reflects

[Warning: this video might (obviously) be triggering for those of you with panic disorder. It definitely put me a bit on edge. It does end on a happy note, if that's of any consolation.]

Have you ever had a panic attack in front of a large audience?

I've had my (unfairly large) share of panic attacks -- but most of them were only in front of small audiences, like the gaggle of shoppers who were behind me in line at CVS when I doubled over in dizziness at checkout.

(The moments between that first scanned item and that final step of swiping my payment card is akin to being stuck on an elevator between floors. After the first "beep" of the UPC scanner, I am trapped. I no longer have an easy excuse to run out of the store, if needed. I have to have to have to keep it cool and stay non-panicky, dammit, until that receipt is in my hand, right? I mean, otherwise...I'd look like a complete ass running out of there.)

And, oh, the marketing meeting at my former job in a stuffy, sardine-can-of-a conference room! I'll never forget that panic attack.
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Letter To A Panicker Whose World Is Quickly Shrinking

"Just...just do it," she said, looking me straight in the eye.

She wasn't a Nike spokesperson: She was my therapist, circa 2004, warning me against the dangers of agoraphobia.

"Even if you feel panicky," she said, "Just go. Go out with that friend or this one. Go to the store. No matter how your body feels, just keep going. Don't cancel plans. It'll get worse in the long run if you do."

Wise words. Did I always heed them?

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Why Order Your Fears Into A Hierarchy?

Think back to first grade, if you can. Alphabet posters on the wall, Dr. Seuss books, and simple math.

You were probably pretty comfortable with counting to ten, twenty, thirty, and beyond. In first grade, you probably began doing some easy addition and subtraction problems, too.

Maybe you used flashcards. Maybe you remember your teacher using beans or pasta or coins to illustrate the concept of adding something more or taking something away.

And then, you feel like a genius when you master 7 + 2.

And then, you move right into long division. Right?

No. Come on. Of course not. You can't jump right to long division right after learning how to add. It just doesn't make sense.


And likewise, it doesn't make sense to dive right into treating your worst fears when you've got some minor and mid-level fears that you need to work on first.
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What Learning To Drum Taught Me About Anxiety (Part 2)

We have this drum kit in the basement now, and just for fun, I sat down. And I tried to play.

And I became woefully frustrated -- no surprise there, if you read yesterday's post about my coordination-related woes when it comes to drumming.

But this time, I kept playing around. I yelled at my right hand for moving when I wanted my left hand to move instead. Slowly, it began to comply.

That was two weeks ago.

And now, today, I can keep a beat -- a very simple beat, yes, but this is a notable change for me. With concentration and practice, my brain adapted to the idea of my right foot on a kick drum and my left hand tapping a snare.

No longer does the kick drum kick when I want to tap the snare; no longer does the snare make that, uh, "snare" sound when I want to kick the kick drum.

My limbs, it seems, have resolved their life-long impasse with my brain.


I know, I know. I'm getting there -- promise!

So, why do these drumming revelations matter to me? Well, for starters, I think it's pretty damn fun to now say that I can keep a simple beat on a basic drum kit. I can drag my laptop down to the basement, play any of my favorite songs, and pass the time by drumming along in a really rudimentary-yet-satisfying way.

And, of course, I'm pretty pleased with myself for trying something new and sticking with it for long enough to get past the "I HATE THIS!" hump.

But most importantly, this reminds me of something very important: the brain's capability to learn and change.
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Can You Draw A Panic Attack?

I've said it before: ideally, it's best to be there, Ram Dass-style, when you're experiencing a panic attack. That's how you'll learn to accept and overcome those uncomfortable sensations.

Of course, getting to that point can be difficult -- very difficult, in fact. While I'm a huge advocate of cognitive behavioral therapy, I have to admit this -- I've done CBT with five different therapists now, all with slightly different ways of approaching panic and anxiety.

I've definitely seen some improvements, but I still panic. And when I do, I still cannot muster up the gumption to just sit there and acknowledge that these feelings will eventually subside.

I have to distract myself to get through it. Making a phone call, playing a game on my phone, even making an alphabetic list of stuff you'd find at the grocery store -- they're all tried-and-true distraction methods for me.

On Reddit today, I noticed this piece of artwork posted to the
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My TEDx Talk: Anxiety — Hibernate, Adapt, or Migrate?

Awhile back, I wrote about how nervous I was to speak at my local TEDx event in Williamsport, PA.

I was pretty scared. Would I get lightheaded? Would I pass out? What if I couldn't remember anything I wanted to talk about?

I wanted to talk about panic attacks. I wanted to talk about how hard it was to work in a call center while dealing with panic disorder. I wanted to talk about those dreadful "inspirational" posters on workplace walls and I wanted to...
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Five Steps Toward A More Mindful Relationship With Caffeine

Hi. My name is Summer and I have panic disorder. Yup.

If you're a regular reader of my blog, you know this by now. Panic disorder with agoraphobia. (Although, admittedly, the second half of my official diagnosis is slowly fading away. Knock on wood for me, people. Please?!)

So, why in the world would a panic attack sufferer want to use caffeine -- a stimulant -- to aid in her overall recovery?

Here's why: I don't want to perceive caffeine as some sort of frightening threat. (If you missed my first caffeinated post from late last week, read it here.)

I want to create a truce with caffeine. I want to recognize that my body's reactions to this drug are completely normal. I want to train myself to be comfortable with caffeine again.

The key here is mindfulness.
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Cozying Up With Caffeine: Can Mindfulness Help?

Know this: between every sentence in this blog post, I am taking a sip from my cup of delicious half-decaf Americano from my local home-grown coffee roaster (read: NOT Starbucks, despite the photo. Their coffee tastes like cigarette butts to me.)
You might be wondering why I didn't go full decaf with my beverage today. After all, I'm a panicker. Caffeine kick-starts one of my main panic triggers: it increases my heart rate.

Boom boom boom.

So, why am I doing this? Why am I willingly drinking coffee again?

Some might argue that avoiding caffeine altogether is the best way to reduce general anxiety and prevent panic. And that very well may be true -- avoiding caffeine completely is necessary for many of us who suffer from anxiety disorders. I withdrew from caffeine completely when my panic attacks first began in college, and it helped to reduce my anxiety level.

But, then again, consider this: avoiding potential threats only amplifies them into larger, scarier threats.
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Anxiety Society: Jenny’s Fear of Spiders and Fear of Therapy

 Spiders. Do they bug you out?

Last week, we met Jenny Whalen. She's afraid of spiders -- really afraid of spiders, actually. In the first part of our interview, she told us the story about how she once jumped out of the driver's seat of her car while driving through a construction zone...all because she'd spotted a spider crawling around inside her vehicle.

S: Have you ever tried therapy or any exposure techniques to lessen your fear? If so, what worked and what didn't?

J: In high school, I took an elective course in Psychology.  There was a spider in the room one day, and my reaction to it caused the teacher to segue into a unit on phobias and to use me as a guinea pig.

We tried a gradual exposure technique and over several weeks, the idea was that I would look at a dead spider in a jar, work up to holding the jar, and eventually take the spider out of the jar, then hold the spider itself.

If I made it to that point, we’d do the same steps with a live spider.  I was never able to get past the dead spider being outside the jar.
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Anxiety Society: Meet Jenny and Her Arachnophobia

Meet Jenny Whalen. She's a Rutgers graduate who lives in New Jersey with her husband, Patrick, and their cat, Dr. Watson.  She works a day job in a corporate office but keeps busy the rest of the time creating and selling handmade products for pets.

She loves art, music, cooking, and writing.  Jenny enjoys reading and her numerous bookshelves are filled with art books, classic literature, and true crime works about serial killers.  She is outgoing, loves meeting new people, and is always up for an adventure.  Jenny hates close-minded people, disrespect, and Ugg boots.

Oh, and she hates -- hates -- spiders.

Summer: So, I understand you're afraid of spiders. Is the word "afraid" an understatement?

Jenny: In most situations, I would definitely say yes.  If I see a spider when I’m not expecting it, my reaction is complete uncontrollable panic.
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