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Anxiety and panic attacks.

One of the more common referrals to us here at Counselling Connections from General Practitioners is for anxiety disorders and panic attacks. The symptoms are often very physical with a racing heart and shortness of breath and this is why we are likely to go to the GP for a check up as a first port of call. And it is important to first rule out a physical cause for these symptoms. Sometimes other factors such as drug use or alcohol intake can exacerbate the condition. These have to be dealt with as part of the treatment. Anxiety can be associated with depression and your doctor will check to see if you are feeling depressed as part of considering the next step. Sometimes anti anxiety medication is prescribed and a referral for counselling is made.

At the beginning of the counselling process your trained and experienced counsellor or psychotherapist will first ask you about your own personal details and the major landmarks of your life. These may include losses and childhood events that stand out for you as being significant. If nothing strikes you as being important at this early stage that does not prevent progress as looking for underlying causes is actually the second part of a two pronged approach. The first part of the treatment is a cognitive behavioural therapy or CBT approach. This has proved most effective in dealing with symptoms of anxiety and panic attacks.

The initial work of the CBT is to learn to tune in to your own patterns of thought. In this way we can collaborate in challenging some of these thoughts and checking to see of they are appropriate to the situation in which they occur. Often it turns out that our thinking is actually making our anxiety much worse as we tend to make everything seem worse than it really is. We see a catastrophe where one doesn’t exist. We may think that people are looking at us and judging us whereas they may not be. Challenging these thoughts and understanding the part they play in our anxiety or feelings of panic represent the beginning of changing the way we think.

It is a very empowering process to take charge of our own thought patterns and get on top of our fears. Sometimes we will set ourselves goals as part of strengthening our belief in our ability to cope with our environment. These may involve deliberately placing ourselves in a situation which would have caused us anxiety in the past. It is important to approach these tasks slowly and to be respectful of the fear of overwhelming ourselves. That said, to achieve some successes in anxiety provoking situations helps to give a sense of confidence in the process and strengthen our self belief.

There will be times where we may be faced with thoughts such as ‘I will never do this’ or ‘I am no good’. Oftentimes thoughts like these can be traced back to things that a significant person may have said to us repeatedly at times during our childhood. And moving into dealing with these represents the second part of the two-part therapy. Here we begin to get in touch with the root causes of our anxieties and the core beliefs which we have developed about ourselves. It is important to state here that core beliefs are learned and as such they can be unlearned and replaced with newer, more appropriate ones.

We are often asked how long this process takes and the truth is that it is difficult to say with any accuracy. Initially it would be expected that a therapy like this would last somewhere in the region of three months. As you move into the second phase of the therapy as we have described it becomes more of a journey and we would not attempt to put a time limit on that. You can take time take to explore areas of your life and to consider major events and relationships again and maybe re-order them in your mind and choose to respond differently to things in the future. In this way the practice of knowing yourself and your hopes and fears can become an integrated way of being for you. You wouldn’t expect anxiety or panic to become a feature of life again once this practice becomes established.
Counselling Connections, Dundalk.

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