What are panic attacks and panic disorder?
According to the formal systems of psychiatric diagnosis: Panic attacks are extreme experiences of sudden and overwhelming anxiety and fear. Panic disorder is the regular experience of reoccurring panic attacks.
1.1 Psychiatric diagnosis
Psychiatric diagnosis is the process by which mental health difficulties are ‘diagnosed’ or identified or labelled. There are two main systems of psychiatric diagnosis:
- The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) which is produced by the American Psychiatric Association, and which is a comprehensive manual of mental disorders, now in its fifth edition.
- Chapter V of the International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems (ICD) which is produced by the World Health Organization, and is currently in its tenth edition.
But are panic attacks the same as feeling panicky?
1.2 Activity. Identifying interpretations
Allow approximately 10 minutes
Is feeling panicky (e.g. because you are late) the same as experiencing a panic attack? Feeling panicky may be a common human experience, but what makes individuals feel panic can vary widely.
1.3 Symptoms of panic
Psychiatric diagnosis involves a list of symptoms; if the patient has the required number of symptoms then they are said to have the diagnosis. You will now explore the diagnostic symptoms of panic attack according to DMS-5.
1.4 Activity. Symptoms of panic attacks
Allow approximately 10 minutes
From the following list, select the options which you think might be symptoms of panic attacks, according to DSM-5. You are not expected to have any pre-existing knowledge of these; rather, the aim of the exercise is instead to get you thinking about what you might already know (e.g. from media reports) about panic attacks.
- Feeling on the verge of tears
- Palpitations, pounding heart or accelerated heart rate
- Trembling or shaking
- Feeling panicked
- Sensations of shortness of breath or smothering
- Feeling of choking
- Chest pain or discomfort Nausea or abdominal distress
- Feeling an urge to talk really fast
- Feeling dizzy, unsteady, lightheaded or faint
- Feeling alone/lonely Derealisation (feelings of unreality) or depersonalisation (feelings of being detached from oneself)
- Fear of dying
- Existential anxiety
- Fear of losing control or going crazy
- Feeling really afraid
- Paraesthesia (numbness or tingling sensations)
- Chills or heat sensations
2. Defining panic disorder
Now that you understand how panic attacks are formally defined, what about ‘panic disorder’? Panic disorder is when a person experiences recurrent unexpected panic attacks. Crucially, at least some of the panic attacks are experienced as happening ‘out of the blue’ and panic attacks can even occur when someone is asleep.
In panic disorder, the repeated experience of panic attacks seriously disrupt a person’s life, affecting their work, personal relationships and social life – in fact most areas of daily living. Often they live in fear of having more attacks, worry constantly about what the attacks are and what might happen as a result of them, and change how they live to try and avoid future attacks – e.g. by not going into public places. Unfortunately, fear of a panic attack may become such a focus of a person’s life that the fear itself impacts nearly all aspects of their quality of life.
YOU’RE THE CURE
The very first thing to be aware of as one sets off on this journey is that it’s okay not to feel okay. That’s the launching point. All the months or years that anxiety has been with someone can really take it’s toll. It may have been a very long time since they really felt like themselves.
A person who experiences frequent panic attacks or general anxiety is constantly bombarded with a cocktail of stress hormones. This bombardment not only makes their nervous system highly sensitized to stress, but it also leaves them feeling eerily cut off from the world. Reality may have gone a bit weird, but that’s okay. When they understand the anxiety they feel is simply due to their body’s stress response, they can begin to feel more and more comfortable about it.
The second thing to be aware of is that they are not a weak or cowardly person for having an anxiety problem. Experts have worked with some of the bravest people one could ever hope to meet. Police officers, firefighters and military personnel who could perform incredibly brave feats in the line of duty and yet who were tormented by anxiety issues while off duty. An expert once worked with a Police Chief – a decorated officer who supervises over 300 police officers – who couldn’t sit in the barbers for a haircut. He dealt with highly pressurized situations every working day and felt very much in control, yet in the barber’s chair he felt out of control as he had a panic attack there once before. So one shouldn’t think of themself as being weak or less courageous than others just because they suffer from anxiety. Far from it.
The anxiety one feels is not that different from the anxiety experienced by all the other people who have successfully used this approach. Panic disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, social anxiety, OCD, Pure O: behind all the different manifestations is the same thing— anxiety.
Anxiety shouldn’t be subcategorized into individual labels neither should it be called a “disorder.” Labels are useful only for defining an experience a person is going through right at that time in life. They should not be understood as something that now makes up a person’s personality or as something they will have forever.
People tend to overidentify with clinical labels once they have been given one by their doctor or mental health professional. Yet an anxiety disorder is simply an experience that a person moves through, just like a period of grief or sadness. Would we give a person with a broken heart or someone suffering from grief a label for life? No, yet people who go through a period of anxiety sometimes end up believing that this diagnosis, this label, is now a part of who they are.
“HOW FAST WILL I BE ABLE TO END MY ANXIETY PROBLEM?”
The speed and manner in which each individual heals their anxiety is always different, so it’s impossible to say exactly how fast and in what way it will happen for you. In general, however, it unfolds in stages for most people. Before I explain what those stages look like, I want to share an important point: The speed of your recovery is determined by your willingness to experience your anxiety in the right way. Up until now you’ve been experiencing anxiety in the wrong way. I’m going to teach you how to experience it in the right way, and paradoxically by doing this, you can heal it quickly. It’s a bit like turning a release valve the wrong way and just closing it tighter. You need to turn it in a counterintuitive manner to cause a release.
Once you apply this new approach, you’ll move through some predictable stages:
Stage 1. First of all, if panic attacks are a problem for you, they become less frequent in a very short space of time. This happens because you learn how to remove the fear of the bodily sensations that have been triggering them. Your confidence in your body’s ability to handle the stress starts to return, enabling you to visit again the places you may have been avoiding.
Stage 2. Next, your level of general anxiety starts to go down from, say, an 8 out of 10 to a 4 or 5. This stage of reducing general anxiety is a slower process as you have to allow time for your nervous system to become less sensitized. This healing process is not linear; it’s not like the mending of a broken bone. You’ll likely move forward and then back and then leap forward again.
Stage 3. As your general anxiety decreases, anxious thoughts or worries appear less frequently. This happens because your fearful response to them has reduced. If they felt like a punch to the stomach before, now they might feel just like a mild annoyance and not something that really shocks you anymore. It’s also at this stage that uncomfortable feelings like derealization (feelings of unreality) start to diminish.
Stage 4. This is a transition phase where you move from always feeling anxious to noticing the absence of the anxiety. If anxiety has been present for many years, this stage in the process can feel strange, like a storm that’s been raging for so long that suddenly goes quiet. “Can it really be gone?” you ask yourself. “What if it comes back worse than ever?” Returning to the metaphor we used earlier, this stage can feel a bit like being freed from prison … where you’re still worrying that you might get thrown back in at any moment.
Stage 5. Next comes a setback! Yes, sorry, but they will come. Setbacks can be a major blow to your newfound confidence. You thought you were free of anxiety, and now it seems to be back and as bad as ever. You think to yourself: “I knew it would come back. I’ll never be rid of this! There is something seriously wrong with me after all.” Many people flounder here because they get so upset and frustrated. This is a normal response, but it’s essential at this point to understand that setbacks are part of the recovery. Don’t give up; you’re so very close to the finish. This is a crucial phase you must pass through, a bit like a final test to see if you’re really ready to let go of your anxiety. Remember, it’s truly darkest before the dawn.
Stage 6. Finally, after some more time practicing, you realize that it’s been a few weeks since you gave much thought at all to anxiety. This is a sign that you’re almost recovered from the “sensitization” of anxiety. Always bear in mind that setbacks can happen—sometimes even years later and without warning—but for the most part it’s just a matter of staying the course from here on out and enjoying your newfound freedom.
The above stages are typical of how recovery happens for most people. Imagine the process of recovery described above like the sun coming out from behind a dark cloud and shining its light on a thick fog. The fog represents anxiety and how it traps you in a confused and fearful state. As you apply The DARE Response, the sun appears, and its warmth begins to lift the fog. Sometimes the weather changes, and the fog rolls back in. The temperature drops, and the fear returns again. These are your setbacks. However, if you stay focused and practice The DARE Response, the sun reappears and lifts the fog once more. The journey of recovery is done at each individual’s own speed. Please don’t compare yourself to others. There will always be people moving faster or slower than you toward recovery. Allow yourself to heal in your own time.
Life is movement. It’s dynamic and pulsating like a swift moving river. To be in a contented and happy state is to be in a state of flow where your thoughts and feelings follow a natural current and there is no inner friction or need to check in on your anxiety every five minutes. When you feel in flow, your body feels light and your mind becomes spontaneous and joyful.
Anxiety and fear are the total opposite. They’re the contractions of life. When we get scared, we contract in fear. Our bodies become stiff and our minds become fearful and rigid. If we hold that contracted state, we eventually cut ourselves off from life. We lose flexibility. We lose our flow. We can think of this a bit like pulling a muscle. When a muscle is overused and tired, its cells run out of energy and fluid. This can lead to a sudden and forceful contraction, such as a cramp. This contraction is painful and scary as it comes without warning.
In the same way, we can be living our lives with a lot of stress and exhaustion, similar to holding a muscle in an unusual position for too long. If we fail to notice and take care of this situation, we can experience an intense and sudden moment of anxiety or even panic. I call this an “anxious contraction,” and it can feel quite painful. Learning how to respond correctly to this anxious contraction is crucial and determines how quickly we release it.
Anxious contractions happen to almost everyone at some point in their lives. We suddenly feel overwhelmed with anxiety as our body experiences all manner of intense sensations, such as a pounding heart or a tight chest or a dizzy sensation. Our anxiety level then is maybe an 8 or 9 out of 10. We recoil in fear and spiral into a downward loop of more fear and anxiety. Some might say they had a spontaneous panic attack while others might describe the feeling as being very “on edge.”
THE ANXIETY LOOP
It’s at this point in time where people get split into those that develop an anxiety disorder and those that don’t. The real deciding factor is whether a person gets caught in the “anxiety loop” or not. The anxiety loop is a mental trap, a vicious cycle of fearing fear. Instead of ignoring anxious thoughts or bodily sensations, the person becomes acutely aware and paranoid of them.
“What if I lose control and do something crazy?” “What if those sensations come back again while I’m in a meeting?”
“What if it’s a sign of a serious health problem?”
This trap is akin to quicksand. Our immediate response is to struggle hard to free ourselves, but it’s the wrong response. The more we struggle, the deeper we sink.
Anxiety is such a simple but costly trap to fall into. All your additional worry and stress make the problem worse, fueling more anxiety and creating a vicious cycle or loop. It’s like spilling gasoline onto a bonfire: the more you fear the bodily sensations, the more intense they feel. I’ve seen so many carefree people go from feeling fine one day to becoming fearful of everyday situations simply because they had one bad panic attack and then got stuck in this anxious loop of fearing fear. But there is great hope.
As strange as it sounds, the greatest obstacle to healing your anxiety is you. You’re the cure. Your body wants to heal your anxiety as much as you do. All you need to learn is a new and better response—the kind of response that gets your anxious mind out of the way so that your nervous system can unwind and desensitize. You can do that with The DARE Response. This new response will enable you to step out of the anxiety loop and join with life again.
Before we continue, I want to compliment you on your commitment, having read this far into the book. Now stay with me as it’s about to get interesting. In the following chapter I’m going to share The DARE Response with you. It’s designed to end your problem for good, but I really need your full commitment from here on in. Your level of commitment determines how fast and effective your recovery will be.
THE DARE RESPONSE( by Barry McDonagh ) Steps
- DEFUSE: Respond to your anxiety by saying “so what?” “who cares?” or whatever phrase you prefer for acknowledging you’re not in any real danger.
- ALLOW: Accept the anxiety and allow it to manifest in whatever way it wishes. Become the observer of your anxiety – notice it with curiosity, welcome it, and allow it to stay.
- RUN TOWARDS: Run towards your anxiety by telling yourself you are in fact excited by your anxious thoughts and feelings.
- ENGAGE: Your anxious mind might still be clinging onto whatever it can to keep you in an anxious, panicky state, even after completing the previous steps. To avoid this, you need to engage with something else that takes up your full attention.
As Barry explains, “The idea here is to stop your brain from wrongly interpreting the sensations of anxiety as a threat and instead to trick your anxious mind into an excited state, the same kind of arousal you might feel if you were riding a roller coaster.”
Crucially, when you focus on allowing anxiety and running towards it, you’re signaling to your brain that you’re safe.
Fearing your physical sensations and focusing on the ‘what ifs?’ and worst case scenarios does the opposite. This kind of negative thinking sends ‘danger signals’ to your brain, which intensify and prolong anxiety.
And it works – as you can see from the many 5 star Amazon reviews!
The DARE App
Barry offers an accompanying app with several free audio recordings to help you ride the waves of anxiety.
Here’s an example of the audio from Help! I’m having a panic attack:
“I know that right now you’re feeling so uncomfortable and scared as that sense of panic and dread hangs over you. But don’t worry – I’m going to talk you through this. You’re going to be absolutely fine. You’ve nothing to fear. You will push through this. We’re going to do this together – you and me, right now. You see, anxiety arrives in waves, and your wave of anxiety is going to peak and subside. Trust me on that. The wave of panic you’re feeling right now isn’t going to last forever. It’s not going to cause you to pass out. It’s not going to stop you from breathing. It’s not going to cause a heart attack. Your body is so well able to handle this. Think of all the panic attacks you’ve had in the past – you’ve survived 100% of them.”
THE DARE RESPONSE FOR PANIC ATTACKS
On a scale of 1 to 10 (where 10 is the highest), a person with general anxiety might score between a 5 and a 7, depending on the current life situation. When that person tops the scale around an 8 or a 9, they have what’s known as a panic attack. These are very intense anxiety experiences. You’ll absolutely know if you’ve ever had one. They’re quite unforgettable!
Panic attacks are a false triggering of the fight-or-flight response. At the core of panic attacks is a type of catastrophic thinking that says, “This might just kill me.” Panic attacks come on suddenly and usually include some of the following sensations or experiences:
- Pounding heart
- Sensations of shortness of breath or smothering
- Paresthesias (numbness or tingling sensations)
- Feeling of choking
- Chest pain
- Nausea / tummy cramps
- Feeling dizzy or unsteady
- An out-of-body or unreal feeling
- Shivers or hot flushes
Once we have our first panic attack, we immediately fear it happening again and begin avoiding situations that might trigger one. The fear of fear sets in, and the anxiety loop starts spinning.
Let me start by saying that if you suffer from panic attacks you need to understand that no matter how terrifying it feels, you are safe. No harm will come to you. You are not going to suffocate or die. Although it’s very unpleasant, it’s not dangerous.
There’s an ancient Chinese phrase known as zhilaohu that translates as “paper tiger.” It refers to something that seems threatening but is ineffectual and unable to withstand challenge. That is exactly what a panic attack is, a paper tiger— scary but actually harmless. (For a more detailed discussion on why these sensations are not dangerous during a panic attack, see the chapter “Give Up Fearing These Sensations.”)
Dr. Harry Barry, an Irish medical doctor and expert in the area of mental health, has this to say about panic attacks:
“The job of your stress system is to keep you safe and alive not to kill you. The symptoms of anxiety are uncomfortable but they are not dangerous. You have my word as a doctor – this adrenaline rush will not kill you.”
It’s important to remember that panic attacks are not your enemy; they’re the result of you trying to keep yourself safe. It’s your ancient biological protection mechanism pumping you full of stress hormones so that you can fight a perceived threat or flee from it. This mechanism worked great when we needed to escape saber-toothed tigers thousands of years ago, but it’s considerably less helpful when it’s triggered while stuck in traffic or riding on the subway.
Think of all the panic attacks you’ve been through when the anxiety peaked and really scared you. Just when you thought you couldn’t take it anymore, it settled back down again. Don’t forget, your track record so far for getting through panic attacks has been 100 percent. That’s pretty good.
Remember, anxiety arrives in waves. Every now and then, a really big wave will come (a.k.a. a panic attack), but if you don’t respond correctly in those first few moments, the fear can swamp you, leaving you shaken and terrified of the next one.
The secret to ending panic attacks is to strip the fear away from the sensations that you feel. When faced with a panic attack, you need to run toward the anxiety with greater force. You do that by getting excited by the nervous arousal as explained in the previous chapter, and then you demand anxiety to deliver more.
YOU NEED TO DEMAND MORE!
You demand a more intense panic attack and really ride the wave of adrenaline out. Demanding more is the crucial addition to step three of the DARE Response because it allows you to run toward your fear and shatter the illusion of threat faster.
The request for more is the most empowering paradoxical move you can make when facing a panic attack. It’s a request anxiety can’t deliver. Your fear quickly subsides because the fuel that powers it (the fear of fear) has been suddenly cut off .
As Dr. Barry said, the rush or flood of adrenaline will not kill you. In fact, I want you to start thinking of panic attacks as nothing more than “adrenaline floods.” The sensations that usually terrify you should be seen for what they really are: sensations of nervous arousal and nothing else. That’s all you’re experiencing: a pounding heart, sweating palms, dizziness, shortness of breath. That’s it.
The actual fear you feel during a panic attack never comes from the sensations; it comes from your response to those sensations. The reason demanding more works is that it quickly short-circuits this false fear by proving once and for all that there’s no real threat.
Demanding more sends a strong signal from the rational part of your brain (the prefrontal cortex) to the anxious part of your mind (otherwise known as the limbic system or the “emotional brain”) that there really is no danger or attack. It’s like a kill switch for fear. Your emotional brain gets the message and “click”— the panic alarm switches off and your nervous energy starts to discharge and unwind.
Your brain has now learned that if there really was a threat (e.g., if someone was in fact attacking you or you were being chased for your life), you would be too busy dealing with that threat—not demanding more of it!
Unfortunately today, most people are taught that the best way to handle a panic attack is to take some deep breaths and say reassuring things to themselves like:
“Don’t worry. It’s okay. Everything’s fine.” But that kind of logical self-soothing doesn’t work in the moment of panic; it’s the wrong approach. Logic and reason get totally drowned out by the alarm your body is sounding. You have to get your emotional brain’s attention by demanding more. That’s the kind of crazy, counterintuitive move that gets attention.
Once you do this, your panic attack will discharge with a warm sensation as your anxiety level drops down to maybe a 7 out of 10. Now you can continue with the final step of The DARE Response: engaging with an activity in order to keep your anxious mind out of the way as the wave of anxiety subsides.
Here’s an example of how this all ties together: Let’s say you’re somewhere out of your safe zone and your heart suddenly starts pounding. “What’s that?” you wonder to yourself. Then you begin to feel dizzy, or maybe your chest starts to feel a little tight. You remember that the last time this happened you had a terrible panic attack and ended up calling an ambulance because you were sure you were going to die. That thought sends a shockwave of terror through your body, and more adrenaline is released.
Anxious “what if” thoughts now flood your mind:
“What if I have another really bad panic attack?”
“What if it never stops?”
“What if I collapse among all these strangers?”
With each “what if” thought, your anxiety escalates higher and higher until you have a full-blown panic attack. Before, you might have fled the situation to a safe zone or called someone for help. You would have resisted it. This time, however, you’re armed with a new tool.
You begin to implement The DARE Response by responding:
“So what!” or “Whatever! This is just nervous arousal. I’ll ride it out.”
You close off the “what if” immediately with this quick response. Then you move into step two by accepting and allowing all the nervous arousal that you feel without resisting it or pushing it away. You welcome it in and begin to get as comfortable as you can with the anxious discomfort as you move along with the nervous arousal.
Now comes the new crucial step. If you feel the anxiety is not settling but rather peaking into a state of panic (8 or 9 out of 10), then you play your trump card, the one you’ve been holding in reserve for moments of panic. You chase it!
You tell yourself that you’re excited by this feeling and demand more of the anxious sensations. “I’m excited by this feeling! Give me more. Bring it on!”
Talk to your anxiety and demand that it increase the intensity of the bodily sensations that scare you. For example, your heart’s pounding fast, so you say:
“Okay, anxiety, that’s good, but can you make my heart pound even faster?!”
You feel you can’t catch your breath, so you say:
“Show me, anxiety, what it feels like if my throat and chest feel even tighter.”
“I can feel a real knot in my stomach, but I wonder what it would be like if it were much tighter. Can’t you make it tighter, anxiety? Is that the most you can offer?”
“I notice all kinds of fearful thoughts circling round my mind. Can you make them more intense, anxiety? Aren’t there any scarier ones? I’ve heard all these before.”
THE ONLY WAY OUT IS THROUGH.
Bring it on. Demand to have a full-blown panic attack! Become the hunter, not the hunted. Let your anxiety know you’re making a firm request, that you want to experience the very worst it can throw at you. Anxiety tries to convince you that you’re in danger, but that’s simply not true—so you call its bluff . This step is the paradoxical pinprick that pops the balloon of panic.
It’s okay to be angry with the anxiety at this point. Say to it:
“You know what? I don’t care anymore! Give me the strongest panic attack ever because I’ve totally had it with these false alarms ruining my life!”
“Bring it on right now. I’m no longer going to live in fear of this. OTHERWISE you better stop pestering me with this as I have a lot to do today.”
“My life and the people in it are more important to me than any of these sensations, so do your worst because I’ve had enough.”
Now you chase the anxiety, demanding that it show you more! That new mindset moves you from a state of panic into a state of power. Do you remember in the movie Forest Gump how Lieutenant Dan battles the storm on the mast of his ship. “Is that all ya got?” he screams as the waves wash over him. The storm could not throw enough at him. When it eventually passed, he was a transformed man.
Demanding more may seem contradictory, but in life we often see examples of how acting in a very counterintuitive way is what is needed to get a desired result.
For example, when an airplane experiences a stall, it’s frequently because there isn’t enough wind across the wing to produce an adequate lift to hold the plane up. A rookie pilot might immediately pull the nose of the plane up in a panic to pull out of the fall, but that would only make matters worse. An experienced pilot, on the other hand, pushes the nose of the plane down hard into the fall instead of away from it. Anyone looking at him would think he was crazy to be pushing into the fall like that, but it’s exactly what’s needed to pick up speed and lift under the wings.
The solution here is the same. You need to make a forceful move into the wave of panic in order to ride it out correctly. You push in, to come out the other side. Michelle Cavanaugh, who runs one of my coaching programs, likes to remind people of the kids’ toy the “Chinese finger trap.” Once you stick your fingers into it, good luck trying to get them out the traditional way! The harder you pull, the more stuck they become. To free yourself, you have to push into the trap in order for it to loosen—just like anxiety. You have to push in, to get out. You have to run toward it with force to be free.
I’m fully aware that some of you may be thinking:
“Whoa, no way! I’m not asking for more panic sensations. If I call its bluff , it might just call my bluff back!”
You fear that if you do in fact ask for more, the request will antagonize your system and create even more anxiety for you. But the wonderful truth is, you have already had the worst panic attack you’re going to have. In the past your panic attacks have always peaked at a certain point then subsided. Once it passed, you may have spent days worrying about the next one or coming up with ingenious ways of avoiding situations where they might reoccur. But even in the worst panic attack, where you feared you were about to die, you never tumbled into an abyss.
You can trust this. You can trust yourself. You can trust in your own body’s ability to handle the sensations. You can trust that you’re safe. Getting excited and demanding more will not make matters worse. What it will do is change your relationship with anxiety back to its proper role as protector—not tormentor.
When done correctly, you’ll feel the results instantaneously. That’s why I sometimes refer to this step as a kill switch; you’ll immediately feel a turning point as the adrenaline and cortisol stop flooding your system. You’re then over the top of the wave. Some feel this turning point like a flushing heat sensation. If you feel that, it’s a good sign. It’s your blood returning to normal circulation.
As the anxiety leaves, which it will, wish it well and again keep the invitation open for its return. Yes, even invite it to come back! You might say:
“Wait, come back. Have you nothing else to terrify me with?”
You need to welcome the anxiety to return in order to eliminate lingering thoughts of its unexpected return. I know very well how unpleasant panic attacks are, and I’m not trying to pretend they’re enjoyable experiences. They are not. But what I am trying to get you to see is that if you’re going to experience a panic attack, then do it in a skillful manner so that the anxiety escalates no further. Allow the flood of adrenaline to run its course without your anxious mind stimulating more and more stress.
Up until now, panic attacks have been tossing you around, pummeling you with wave after wave of adrenaline. When you use The DARE Response, you ride up and over the big wave and then continue on with your day.
SHAKE IT OUT
Because there’s a large amount of stress hormones in your system, don’t expect to feel calm anytime soon. It will take a good twenty to thirty minutes for you to start to feel normal again as your body needs time to flush out all the stress hormones that were activated.
This is a good time to allow yourself to shake it out. Many of us have the false idea that shaking means the anxiety is getting worse. Contrary to what most people think, shaking is actually a sign that your body is releasing the anxiety. It happens when the fight-or-flight response is winding down, not up! We need to understand that shaking is a positive thing. When we allow ourselves to express our nervous energy through shaking, we discharge it much faster.
Shaking is Mother Nature’s way of de-stressing. In the wild, when an animal such as a gazelle has just avoided an attack, it will shake intensely for several minutes and then return to eating grass as if nothing happened. This shaking allows it to release the buildup of stress hormones that occurred during the attack. Animals don’t need weeks of therapy; they just need to have a good shake to adjust back to life!
But we’re not wild animals, and our culture frowns upon anxious shaking. Shaking is seen as a sign of weakness, so we suppress it. Instead, we tense up and hold ourselves in a rigid state. Not only should you allow your body to shake, but if you want to discharge your anxious feelings even faster, then encourage the shaking. Exaggerate it.
If you’re sitting, tap your feet and bounce your knees more than you normally would. If you’re alone, stand up and shake your body out. Shake your hands and arms. Shake each leg, then bounce on your toes like a sprinter before a race. Shaking helps to discharge nervous energy and rest your body faster.