Dealing with Panic attacks by homeopath Cassandra Marks.
“I started having horrible panic attacks where my throat felt as if it was closing and I had to keep clearing it nervously. I felt sick and trembly. bathed in a cold sweat. I had palpitations and was convinced I would have a heart attack and die. Words seemed to be coming from a great distance and I was afraid not just of fainting, but of slipping away altogether. I was so convinced I was disappearing I kept checking for my reflection in window panes and mirrors to check that I was still here. “
Tremendous panic is frightening and overwhelming – but no-one has ever died of a panic attack! It’s acute anxiety that creates the frightening symptoms of breathlessness, ‘butterflies in the stomach’, palpitations, choking or dizziness, not heart disease or some other disease.
All these symptoms are just signs of a hyped up nervous system, but as psychotherapist Martin Jelfs says, “In a panic attack people focus on the physical sensations rather than seeing them as a sign that something is wrong”. Attacks seem to come out of the blue – but according to The National Phobics Society they are usually a delayed reaction to major life changes like bereavement, divorce, or having a baby. They can also be the consequence of a long period of stress, when background anxiety and insecurity – really ‘fear spread thin’ – can suddenly erupt into overwhelming panic.
Anything can act as a trigger – from being in closed spaces or the dark, but it’s more often due to the fear of fear itself! The fear that a panic attack could erupt at any moment often stops sufferers venturing far from home – or staying anywhere without an easily accessible exit.
Jelfs sees the constricted breathing typical in a panic attack as a symbol of resistance to the ‘unconscious’ psychological material threatening to erupt into consciousness. ‘Anguish’ comes from the Latin for narrowing/choking, and he suggests that feelings of anguish explain the sensation of constriction in the throat. Of course, feeling that you can’t breathe properly is guaranteed to bring on panic.
Regardless of which is the chicken or egg, breathing techniques are vitally important in managing panic attacks, since feelings of panic are always aggravated by hyperventilation. Setting up a regular relaxation routine is essential for those who find themselves locked into a spate of panic attacks.
For Mooky, a 58 year old ex-nurse who is now a yoga teacher, it was yoga that helped her the most.
“For almost a decade my life was restricted in so many ways – I couldn’t go into lifts, or travel on the underground – I couldn’t even go into shops because I was afraid of a panic overwhelming me. When I was outside I was terrified, when I was inside I felt claustrophobic. Even out with my husband, holding his hand, the feelings didn’t subside. I used to try telling myself “Well, you haven’t died, and even if you collapse in the street it’s not the end of the world”, and I carried smelling salts in case I had to bring myself around. It took years to slowly climb out of this – eventually I found a book an yoga and breathing, and I learned how to cope with the panics by concentrating on my breathing. I used to start humming or singing to keep my awareness on my breath when a panic came on.”
Mooky found herself battling with panic attacks shortly after arriving in London from South Africa, when she was 34.
“My two children started at school, and my husband was totally absorbed in his career. I was suddenly free to do what I’d always wanted to do – psychiatric nursing. I started with voluntary work in a day-care centre, but just couldn’t cope because I was suddenly dealing with people who had tremendous problems, without any proper training. I felt overwhelmed and panicked.
I couldn’t tell anyone. I’d always been the sort of person everyone else came to with their problems, and I couldn’t even admit to myself that I was not coping. My GP suggested Valium, but I knew drugs wouldn’t help and decided to battle it out alone.
I’ve noticed that many women develop panic attacks when their children grow up and get involved in their own lives. Just as Mooky felt her family didn’t need her in the same way, many women find the transition from motherhood very difficult. In some ways panic attacks can have unexpected ‘secondary gains’ – for instance in limiting the choices available. Such gains can keep sufferers locked in a cycle of panic attacks for years. But as psychologist Elaine Sheehan emphasises, the answer is not to avoid stressful situations but to develop more effective strategies at coping with life. At the first sign of avoidance behaviour designed to limit difficult situations or activities in your life, you need to seek help.
For many people, the source of panic attacks can be found in experiences that happened years earlier. In my homeopathic practice, I’ve noticed they’re often related to loss of a parent, or an experience where you face your mortality, such as a car accident. In Mooky’s case, her beloved father had a massive heart attack when she was 18. “I was devastated. But I didn’t have time to grieve, because suddenly I had to grow up, and support the rest of my family” Such traumatic life experiences can leave traces of shock in the body, which can lead to panic attacks if you experience further shocks in later life.
When I asked her, Mooky recalled “Around that time my husband suddenly collapsed on the bathroom floor. It turned out to be only a blood sugar crisis, but the whole family was thrown into a panic because it reminded us of losing my father. A lot of feelings of grief resurfaced, and I was very upset for a couple of years.”
If feelings of shock aren’t expressed at the time, we can become stuck in a state of fear, reinforcing it through the fearful reactions we have to normal living. According to Peter Chappell, author of Emotional Healing with Homeopathy, homeopathic remedies help you step outside this closed loop as well as recover from the original trauma.
Homeopathic remedies for fears and phobias;
Aconite: Use for panic attacks that have started after a shock – being in or witnessing a nasty accident. The shock results in panic attacks at night, on going to sleep. Fear of dark, and great anxiety about being left alone. Claustrophobia. Can’t drive any more. During the panic convinced that death is imminent.
Stramonium; Panic attacks after some violent confrontation – a mugging or physical attack. The feeling is one of pure terror. Hate to be alone, especially at night. Usually too afraid to sleep without the light on. Terrifying nightmares as well.
Arsenicum album: Use for panic attacks with hypochondria. Every little twinge is assumed to be a symptom of the disease – regardless of how many times doctors give reassurance that nothing is wrong. Neurotic anxiety that loved ones have been involved in an accident when they’re only late home. Hates to be alone.
Argentum nitricum: Panic attacks with agitation. Feel very hurried and anxious, with fears manifesting almost as impulses. For instance in a high place, there’s a feeling of being drawn to the edge. Compulsive thoughts that something terrible will happen – for instance, if they stand on a crack in paving stones. The panics become much worse when anticipating a meeting.
Dosage. Take 3 doses of the 200 potency over 24 hours. The tablet should be allowed to dissolve in a clean mouth – don’t drink anything, or eat, for at least half and hour before or after taking each of the three doses. Don’t take any more than three doses without the guidance of a professional homeopath.
Disasters, large and small, in the family, at work, on the roads, can seriously affect our health. Long term problems can and do result from shock, and are often difficult to diagnose.?
To really get at the roots of panic attacks we need to look at what’s really troubling us in our life rather than just focusing on the symptoms”. Psychotherapists see anxiety attacks as signals that we’ve been repressing uncomfortable feelings.