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question-mark-rutherford-0Dear Mark,

I’ve been beginning to have some sort of social anxiety recently. I’ve always been a bit shy at parties and never have been a big talker. But recently it’s gotten worse. On my way to work last week I got some sort of an attack. My heart began to race and I got short of breath. I felt like I was going to pass out. I had to pull the car over to the side of the road. I called my boyfriend and he talked me through it. I felt better after about 15 minutes and was able to restart my car and drive to work. But the whole experience shook me up. I couldn’t figure out what it was or…

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Dear Mark,

I’ve been beginning to have some sort of social anxiety recently. I’ve always been a bit shy at parties and never have been a big talker. But recently it’s gotten worse. On my way to work last week I got some sort of an attack. My heart began to race and I got short of breath. I felt like I was going to pass out. I had to pull the car over to the side of the road. I called my boyfriend and he talked me through it. I felt better after about 15 minutes and was able to restart my car and drive to work. But the whole experience shook me up. I couldn’t figure out what it was or what brought it on. All I remember thinking was how many cars where on the interstate at that moment and how bad it would be if there was a car crash.

Since then, I’ve had 2 or 3 similar attacks. All have happened in my car. It’s gotten to the point that I’m beginning to break into a sweat when it comes to the time I have to leave the house. I’ve begun to back out of social obligations and have even called in sick to work a few times. I’m afraid I’m not going to be able to get out of this. I keep telling myself to get over it….it’s not real…but it seems to be getting worse and worse. I’m talking to people less and less and feel like I’m shutting down. Even my boyfriend is beginning to notice. What should I do? What’s going on?

Signed,

Andy

 

Dear Andy,

You did indeed have what is commonly referred to as an acute anxiety attack….or panic attack. These attacks are physical manifestations of our internal fears. When you began to think about the possibility of a car crash it kick started some fear within you. The shortness of breath and increased heart rate was your body’s attempt to navigate the surge of fear within you. Often, panic attacks are rooted in long held fears and belief systems left over from our early childhood.

Some psychotherapy might be a good idea for you. Some of your work will include your past and possible past trauma. Another very useful part of therapy will be cognitive behavioral work (CBT). This is a way for you to rework some of your behavioral responses to your fears. Things like, when you feel an attack coming on, counting backwards from 10 while focusing on an image of a stop sign coming closer to you is a common form of CBT technique. It may stop the attack from occurring or possibly diminish the severity of the attack. A good therapist will be able to walk you through the process. Panic attacks are very common. You may never be able to absolutely get rid of them, or the residual anxiety. However, with practice, you will be able to manage them into your life. This will allow you to begin to rejoin your life and enjoy your connections with people.

Sincerely,

Mark Rutherford LCSW

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