Coping with Anxiety iv: The meaning and management of panic attacks.(Cont’d)

Following on from my last blog, I would ask you to consider the case of a woman who worries endlessly about the immediate and continuing safety of her young son, to the point where it is now spoiling lives. Yet at the rational level, she knows that he is safe and sound within the school where she ‘dropped him off’, just a half an hour ago. Anxiety of this nature and on this scale decidedly isn’t normal and should never be just ignored.

The threshold• for anxiety state might be thought of as that point where our anxieties cease to be contributory and normal and instead, begin to move into the ‘amber’ and ‘red’ zone of becoming chronically disabling. Here is a simple self-applied test for threshold in the form of three questions.
1) Are anxious feelings beginning to colour and dominate my conscious moments, to the point where they are presenting a problem, i.e. becoming threatening, disruptive and disabling?
2) Is such anxiety present for significant periods of my waking and conscious life? In other words, it is moving from being a fairly fleeting occurrence or series of occurrences, to becoming a state or condition?
3) Do my present anxieties and fears accord with the facts about my life? I mean, if you have received some bad news or can point to sound reason for such a change in mood state; then it is likely that you will experience heightened anxiety from time to time (and for the management of such you may well need some additional support from a trusted and reliable source). The real question here is; are your anxieties becoming exaggerated and disproportional to what is happening in and true about real life?

Let me take a moment here, if I may, to clarify what I perceive to be a potential major misunderstanding. It does not mean or follow that where your anxiety is soundly and objectivity based, i.e. you are ill and you fear the implications and possible consequences of that illness; that you may not need skilled help to deal with it. Indeed, such assistance may well prove invaluable. Moreover, it is my belief that to know one’s limitations and when and where to seek appropriate help and guidance, is a decided strength and should in no sense be perceived as a weakness. I have tried to provide in earlier blogs and (all continuing to be well) will continue in the future to consider and discuss viable ways of management and support.

Hopefully, by now we are and able to distinguish between, on the one hand, normal or objective anxiety; and on the other, what is sometimes referred to as neurotic anxiety, i.e. where the source of any danger is disproportionate to genuine threat being perceived. In the two types of anxiety referred to above and in earlier blogs dealing with anxiety, the former is external and objectively-based and therefore normal. The latter is internal, subjectively-based and neurotic. As we have already and will continue to see as we move forward in our descriptive and explanatory account of both panic attacks and phobic reactions, the sufferer is not necessarily – indeed, seldom is – consciously aware of the precise stressor or ‘trigger’.

Let me elucidate on the above paragraph. Where a serious illness has been diagnosed, fears of its effect upon daily life and activity, as well as upon multi-faceted perceptions etc. about the future, possesses a genuine basis in objective reality and in that sense is verifiable and normal. However, the woman who is worrying and fretting about the well being of her child (even though she has herself just dropped him off quite safely at the school gates) is internalizing her anxiety, since there is no objective or real cause/occasion for its existence. Rather are her fears based almost entirely on what has happened or is happening in her imagination, viz-à-viz the reports of tragic and deeply worrying (although thankfully still very rare) abductions, kidnappings and the like.

In one sense of course, such fears are entirely understandable. However, this woman has taken and is taking every necessary precaution in that she ‘delivers’ and collects her child to and from places. She has doubtless alerted him/her (hopefully without alarming the child) to the possible hazards that exist in the present-day world. In the ordinary way, one would expect this to significantly reduce any present element of worry and stress. However in this woman’s case, it is actually only adding to an upwardly mobile spiral, which is compounding her fears to the point where she now is urgently in need of skilled assistance. (To be cont’d next week),

This entry was posted in adaptation, coping, Coping Resources/Strategies, family illness, grieving, personal illness, perspective on illness: family. Bookmark the permalink.

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