You are what you think.
Mind over matter.
Think it, be it.
Yes, you’ve heard the phrases, but the idea is the same…our thoughts help shape who we are.
After the trauma and shame of the first few years of my panic attacks started to taper off, I found myself wanting to know more about them. Certainly this occurrence didn’t come without a biological explanation, right? This wasn’t some random crazy voodoo that was making me feel like I was dying all the time, was it? Knowledge is power, and I was determined to get to the bottom of my seemingly broken brain.
So I started to research and read every panic attack and anxiety/depression book that was out there. It was overwhelming, and I got all hung up and intimidated by the big fancy psychological terms and charts and graphs and exercises, finding myself discouraged yet again. Would I ever find out how to understand what was wrong with me?!!
It’s been 15 years since my first panic attack, and it’s been a journey to say the least. But in that time I have definitely gained a better grip on what exactly makes the brain pull these kind of pranks on us. I’ve found that logical explanations based on neuroscience and psychology can really bring a light to the darkness of anxiety.
Let’s start with our cognitive behavior.
When you her the word cognitive, what do you think of? Looks fancy, right? The word cognitive simply refers to our conscious intellectual activity, such as thinking, reasoning, or remembering. It’s basically using our conscious brain in reference to our daily lives. When we think a thought, recall a moment, try to solve a problem, we are being cognitive. Our conscious thoughts, however, are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the complexity of our mind.
Good old Sigmund Freud conjured up the earliest concept of the three levels of the human mind, which in their complexity are not capable of being scientifically proven, but widely accepted among psychologists as the standard example of how our thoughts are used and stored. This is often referred to as the “iceberg theory” (hence my clever reference above).
Our conscious thoughts, which guide us through our day to day, are just a fraction of what lies beneath the surface. In our subconscious, we store the emotions and associations tied to these thoughts beyond much of our control, based on recent experiences or behaviors. The unconscious level is the deepest and hardest to reach, where blocked-out trauma, carnal human needs, and old forgotten memories reside. For more analysis and explanation, here is a great article that breaks it down.
When you suffer from panic attacks, your number one goal is to make them stop. As I’ve learned and mentioned before, you can manage them, but you will never be able to completely stop them. This is where acceptance is key. You can, however, greatly improve the frequency and intensity of your panic attacks in many different ways. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is one of my favorite tools in my anxiety toolbox, and I hope it can help you, too.
When you suffer with mental disorders such as anxiety, depression, PTSD, eating disorders, and so on, there is some type of faulty informational feedback loop in your mind that is giving you false or negative thoughts that can impair your everyday quality of life. Basically, what CBT claims is that by working to change your thought patterns, you can change your behavior. There are varying CBT exercises that can help with this theory.
I’m going to try to break it down for you as best I can over the next couple of weeks. Next time, I will explore Cognitive Distortions. When I learned about these, it was a game-changer for me. There is a lot to cover, but all I can do is offer what has best helped me, in the hopes that it can help others as well.
Most importantly, if you are in a place of suffering right now, give yourself a break and realize that you are not alone in this. Whether they choose to share it or hide behind a mask of perfection, so many others around you are struggling with similar issues. Don’t be too quick to judge a person from the outside, as you would not wish that for yourself.
We all have weaknesses. We just have to learn to own them and see them for what they are. If we want change, we have to do the work. If we want to love, we have to love ourselves. If we want to help others, we have to share our stories.
“I am learning to trust the journey even when I do not understand it.”
We may not ever fully understand our journeys, but don’t lose hope. Lean in and trust what comes. You are stronger than you think.