Feeling the Fear: Getting in touch with the physical symptoms of anxiety.

Key advice from the wisdom on managing anxiety is to try and notice and ‘sit mindfully with’ the physical symptoms.  This is especially true in the cruel and extreme form of anxiety that is panic attacks.

Ask ‘uncle google’ what the physical symptoms of anxiety or panic attacks are and you’ll see such delights as:

  • Nausea / Vomiting
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Heart palpitations
  • Weakness
  • Burning sensations
  • Chest Pain
  • Headaches
  • Diarrhea
  • Choking sensations
  • Uncontrollable shaking

What a riot of fun huh?

Just about every anxiety book I’ve ever read makes this one thing clear: really getting ‘in touch with the specifics of the physical symptoms helps you cope with the mental ones – some strange how. It also just may lower the intensity/pain of a given episode.
However true this might be – the personal experience had alluded me, until recently.

I like to think of myself as reasonably articulate.  That just might be the Grammarly weekly updates going to my head.  However, when my pain psychologist asked me to describe the physical symptoms of my panic attacks …  I was all like, “um … er … um” and pointing vaguely in the region of my chest.

Boy have I graduated this class.

In the last few months when panic takes me, as she does in as little as a second or two, one physical symptom is mind blowing.  Let me try and describe it.  It is in my chest.  If I had a marker I could draw a line defining where it is and where it is not.  The feeling is not exactly hot or cold, it has elements of both.  It isn’t painful, it isn’t quite a tingle.  I realize, as I try, I still can’t describe it perfectly.  The point is I can now FEEL it. Perfectly.

Once I had an MRI on my bowels (I know my ‘once I…’ stories are so much fun) and they injected me some sort of ‘contrast die’.  They warned me to remain calm as I might feel like I have wet myself.  Thank heavens they did, because bam there is this surreal feeling of warmth that floods your body, almost as if you have wet yourself from your ears to your toes.

My feeling in my chest during a panic attack is just as defined, and clear, with a start and a finish. It so stark that I can’t believe I couldn’t feel it before. I am certain it was there, but I was so caught up in my mind I literally was not capable of feeling this intense feeling.

Being able to focus on this feeling does get me out of my head, where the anxiety is happening and does ease and shorten the episode. What a thing to learn!

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