Do you ever get phone paralysis? When you get a call or a text message, do you ever find yourself frozen, unable to respond? It can be difficult to explain phone paralysis to somebody who has never dealt with anxiety, but there is a very real, physiological reason behind it.
Within the brain is a group of neural clusters called the basal ganglia. These clusters surround the deep limbic system (where depression lives) and are the anxiety center of the brain. Persons with overactive basal ganglia may regularly experience one or more of the following: nervousness, being easily startled, anxiety, panic attacks, tremors, and nervous tics. Other and often more severe symptoms can include persistent headaches, obsessive-compulsive type disorders, and Tourette syndrome. Symptomology is caused by a semi-permanent heightened state of alertness which causes the sufferer to consistently anticipate conflict.
Have you ever driven a car with a sensitive gas pedal? Imagine your brain as a car with the engine constantly revved up; the slightest touch of the gas pedal sends it lurching forward. Lurching forward at the wrong time can cause an accident, which in turn can cause a fear of driving. Similarly, when our brain lurches us into a panic attack at the wrong time, we can become fearful of social situations and stressors.
Now obviously, there is no right time for a panic attack. However, there is a difference between having one in the privacy of your own home versus the middle of a shopping mall or board meeting. Perhaps one of the most aggravating aspects of anxiety is its incessant ability to generate more anxiety. What frequently happens is this:
Person senses a panic attack coming on
Person recalls the horribleness of previous panic attack(s)
Anxiety over past panic attacks fuels the current panic attack
It is a terrible cycle. Franklin D. Roosevelt said, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” That is exactly what anxiety disorders do; they teach us to fear fear. Whereas normal basal ganglia might generate mild excitement or nervousness about an upcoming event, overactive basal ganglia will convince you that if you attend, things will go apocalyptically wrong. Sound extreme? Not to somebody with anxiety. In essence, their ganglia are gangling up on them.
Panic attacks are dis-empowering. They rob people of their dignity. This is why anxiety disorders often manifest as agoraphobia and conflict avoidance. When we anticipate a situation may become stressful enough to provoke a panic attack, we avoid it. Further complicating matters is the revved up brain which needs very little to set off its alarm bells, thus making even a common task like answering the phone feel very threatening.
There is good news – you CAN cool the engines of your brain! What has worked for me is “PBB” – Puppy Belly Breathing. When we breathe normally, our chests rise and fall with each breath. Have you ever watched a puppy sleep? Its little belly swells up with each breath, and that puppy sleeps peacefully as can be. Forget the old adage ‘sleep like a baby’.
Sleep like a PUPPY!
When you crawl into bed, focus on filling your belly with a deep, cleansing breath. Hold it for a couple of seconds and then exhale slowly. Do this ten times. Then practice PBB throughout the day. Make it a habit! By doing so, you allow more oxygen to reach all the cells in your body and cool overactive basal ganglia, which will return your brain to a comfortable idling speed.
Let me know if it helps!
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