INSIGHT OF THE WEEK
“The more we can interrupt that signal and bring the parts of our brain back online that help us think rationally, the more we can minimize the impact or the duration of anxiety attacks.”
Managing Yourself During Anxiety Attacks
In this episode of Resilience Radio, we explore:
- The difference between coaching and therapy.
- How to recover from trauma and abuse.
- How to manage yourself during anxiety attacks.
- How Rachel finds clients and grows her business.
Rachel Grant is the Owner and Founder of Rachel Grant Coaching and is a sexual abuse recovery coach. She is also the author of Beyond Surviving: The Final Stage in Recovery from Sexual Abuse. Listen as she and host Kim Ades discuss how to recover from trauma and abuse and how to manage yourself during anxiety attacks.
Take a Listen!
How to Manage Yourself During Anxiety Attacks
Kim Ades: How can we manage ourselves when we’re in the middle of an anxiety attack?
Rachel Grant: The main thing to understand about anxiety attacks is that what’s happening is that your limbic system has been activated. This is the part of your brain that has the amygdala and the hippocampus and the thalamus. I like to think of the thalamus as the bouncer of your brain. So it’s standing at the gate.
Kim Ades: A bar bouncer?
Rachel Grant: Yeah, exactly.
Kim Ades: Okay.
Rachel Grant: It’s standing at the gate and deciding, do you get in? And if you do get in, are you going to be a problem here or are you not going to be a problem here? For a lot of survivors of abuse and trauma, the thalamus actually becomes very weary of everything, so everything could be a potential threat, which is why a lot of times, survivors of abuse experience high activation, are always in this on-switch place, always a little bit anxious, on alert, on the guard.
And so when that information gets sent to the amygdala, the amygdala says, “Oh, we’re in danger. This kind of looks like or sounds like or feels like or smells like something that happened in my past that was damaging or hard or painful, well then, I better get us into action and do something to protect us from that happening again.” And so the amygdala floods the system. It has thousands of pathways in order to send its signal out to the brain and to get somebody to do something; whether that’s fight, run away or dissociate so that you can survive the experience.
One of the things that we want to learn how to do is first of all, get the thalamus to chill out and be like, OK, not everything is a threat. And part of that is through exposure. The other thing is, when the amygdala is flooding the system, learning how to interrupt that process. There are somatic things that we can do, like connecting back with our breath and actually physically moving our body, like shaking, jumping up and down or rubbing your palms together. This is a way of getting the left brain and the right brain of your body to talk to each other, and that can also be deactivating.
In my program, we use a couple of strategies that are language-based. For example, you ask a question like, “What did I have for breakfast?” You answer that question, and it’s something that you don’t immediately know the answer to. “Where did I go for dinner last Friday? Who won the Super Bowl in 2010?” It can be any kind of question, but what happens as soon as you ask that question, it’s like you’re putting a dam in front of the amygdala’s signal, and you’re allowing parts of your brain –
Kim Ades: It’s kind of like a redirect.
Rachel Grant: It’s a redirect, but it’s the interruption piece because during that interruption, it allows your hippocampus, your prefrontal cortex, your Broca’s area which controls speech – all of these parts of the brain that go kind of offline – when we ask a question and respond to a question that is neutral, there’s no charge to it, there’s no energy to it, then the prefrontal cortex comes back, the hippocampus comes back and the Broca’s area comes back.
The main thing that’s happening when we’re having a panic attack is we’re losing all sense of where we are. We think that something that was dangerous and bad that happened back then is about to happen or is happening right now. And so the more we can interrupt that signal and bring the parts of our brain back online that help us think rationally, help us calm down, help us understand where we are in space and time, the more we can minimize the impact or the duration of anxiety attacks.