ASK DENISE: Constant worrying causes panic attacks

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Editor’s note: Writer’s answers do not reflect those of the Mitchell News-Journal and are not meant to replace medical or mental health care.

Dear Denise: I think I am what my mother used to call a worrywart. I could be having a perfectly good day, and all of a sudden I will start to worry about something, and then before I know it, one thing has led to another, and I am in a full panic attack. 

Let me give you an example: I was sitting in my doctor’s office the other day waiting to be called back. Nothing was wrong; it was just a yearly visit. All of a sudden, I started thinking, “What if they find something, what if this is wrong or that is wrong?” I got dizzy because I was so afraid. I ended up walking out because I knew my pulse and blood pressure would be all messed up, and the doctor would flip out. Don’t tell me to see a counselor. I tried that once, and it didn’t work. He told me to try meditation, and I tried it, but it didn’t work, I couldn’t concentrate. Plus, I felt like he was impatient and judging. What should I do? I am tired of living this way.

Dear Reader: I am sure you are tired of living that way. That can be exhausting, always feeling as though you are on the verge of some major crisis. We can be our own worst enemy sometimes, especially when we fall into the “what if” pattern you described. Also, as you illustrated, this thinking can quickly escalate into anxiety or panic. Each thought instead feeds on the previous one and rapidly builds in intensity until we feel out of control. So, in reality, we are generating and perpetuating these negative and harmful thoughts. 

I am sorry you had an unsuccessful experience when you sought help from a therapist. Finding counseling help can be trial-and-error at times; you will not always feel a rapport with the first one you try. I would advise you to keep that possibility open for the future. As for meditation, I agree it can be a valuable tool. Some people, however, struggle with traditional meditation. I cannot do it. I have too “busy” of a brain. 

What I have found, however, is a very valuable and doable tool called mindfulness. Mindfulness is being present in the here and now, and not allowing yourself to become entangled in the “what ifs” and the “shoulds.” While traditional meditation encourages absence of thought, mindfulness uses more of a diversionary process. For example, when I teach mindfulness in group therapy, I will demonstrate by holding up a pencil and telling the group, “Do not think about this pencil.” I will then ask them what they are thinking about, and of course, it is the pencil — for many of us, trying not to think about something makes us think about it more. 

Using mindfulness, rather than not thinking of the pencil, we would think of something else, something benign, such as a pattern in a carpet or a mark on the wall. Mindfulness also engages all five senses. There are some wonderful articles online that explain in more detail how this works. But again, I encourage you to find a therapist near you that can guide you in this. You deserve to be able to live a peaceful life. 

Best wishes.

Denise Harrison is a Licensed Counselor in Spruce Pine. Send questions to questionsandlettersmn@gmail.com or call and leave a message at 828-467-0037. Submissions are anonymous.

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