Hi, my name is Matt Lander and I am the director of Panic Shutdown.
My story with panic started about 10 years ago. It was after a particularly heavy night out drinking too much alcohol, mixing vodka with a popular caffeine based drink. The next morning I woke up feeling a bit jaded which, back then, was pretty normal on a weekend for me. As the morning went on I noticed I was feeling a bit stranger than usual. I was feeling quite dizzy and something just didn’t feel right. So I started questioning my symptoms and catastrophising over why I was feeling this way. Of course the real reason I was feeling this way was because of all the caffeine I had the night before, along with all the alcohol and lack of sleep.
Once I became aware of not feeling right the symptoms and sensations began to grow. My breathing felt laboured. My arms and legs had pins and needles. I was looking pretty grey and off colour. I asked my girlfriend at the time to take me to the emergency room because I thought I might be experiencing a serious problem, even though I had no idea what it could be.
When we arrived at the ER I was immediately rushed into their resus area and hooked up to a heart monitor. The doctors and nurses were worried that I might be having a heart attack. This whole process really freaked me out and to be honest I was thinking the worst and thought ‘this might be it’. After lots of very thorough checks the nurse came back and asked me if I had been taking anything the night before. I explained about the alcohol and caffeine drinks and she produced a paper bag. She told me I needed to breathe into the bag and keep going until she told me to stop. After about 10 minutes I began to feel much better. It was at this point the nurse explained that I had experienced an acute anxiety attack, or what I now know is called a panic attack.
The reason I had been so grey and felt so awful is because I had been hyperventilating. I now know that the process of hyperventilation causes an oxygen/carbon dioxide imbalance in your body which quite frankly makes you feel awful. This is a common practice during anxiety and panic attacks and is responsible for a lot of the stranger sensations. Pins and needles, pounding heart, dizziness, dry mouth the list goes on.
I left the hospital that day feeling very worn out, relieved, but also very confused about what had actually happened.
The next panic attack happened about a week later. I was on the golf course and started to experience the same sensations and I immediately made my excuses and left. I got in my car and just wanted to get home. Unfortunately the panic attack was now full blown and I had to pull over. I remember feeling like I needed to flag someone down to get me some help but fortunately I did not attempt to. I decided the doctors must have missed something and I was actually in real danger so drove myself back to the ER.
I got to the ER and again I was rushed through and hooked up to a heart monitor. One of the nurses came to speak to me and tried to reassure me that I was OK. She said it was just anxiety and showed me the outputs from the machine to prove I was OK. After things calmed down and I was getting ready to leave one of the doctors came to speak me and said that I was experiencing panic attacks and that I couldn’t just keep turning up to the ER every time I felt like this. I left feeling even more exhausted and confused than the first time.
I remember getting back in my car and I just broke down. What the hell was happening to me! I was young (30) and had the whole of my life ahead of me.
What ensued was months of questioning and searching for answers. I visited my doctors numerous times and was even referred to a cardiologist to scan my heart. All of which showed nothing wrong. “Perfectly fit and healthy” was all I was told every time. Ultimately I was left with even more questions than answers. I was still experiencing regular panic attacks, and was convinced that the doctors must have missed something. It affected my job and my relationships and things began spiralling out of control.
Looking back now if I had spoken to someone who had explained what was really happening to me it would have saved me years of turmoil and suffering. I was never offered any type of anxiety help like CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy). All I was offered were anti-depressants, which I refused outright. This is the issue with the health services. They are just not equipped to cope with these types of problems. I don’t blame the doctors and nurses of course, ultimately it comes down to a lack of training and funding. But whatever the reason, turning to your doctor or medical professional for help with anxiety and panic attacks usually ends with disappointment. They simply do not have the answers to help with the problem.
After years of ups and downs I finally stumbled on the nugget of information I had been searching for. I found a video online of a doctor talking about panic attacks and the affect on the body. This was something I had always worried about. I knew I was having a panic attack, and was told over and over that they cannot harm you, but when your heart is pounding and you have bad arrhythmia its impossible not to think something else might be wrong. I was always worried that the effect of the panic attack on my heart would damage it in some way. The doctor explained that although it felt awful and caused all sorts of physical symptoms the ‘flooding’ of adrenaline in the body is not harmful. It is part of our ancient self defence mechanism and therefore cannot cause you any physical harm.
This was the piece of information I needed. I knew that to stop panic attacks I had to give in to it. I had to let it happen, make it do its worst and most importantly not be afraid any more. After all it is the fear that causes the panic in the first place. But I was never able to fully commit to this because of the underlying thought that the effects of the panic attack would harm me. I now realise that I had heard this same information many times over and from many different sources, but it had never stuck. Maybe it wasn’t explained to me in the correct way or maybe there wasn’t enough emphasis on the fact that it cannot harm you. Whatever the reason I wasn’t able to fully commit to the process until I had heard this.
Armed with this new information I decided to test it while on holiday. I was going through a particularly stressful time in my life and had gotten myself in to a constant state of anxiety. I had developed a fear of going out in public places and a fear of flying. With an upcoming flight I had the perfect opportunity to go for it. So that’s what I did. I remember feeling anxious on the flight and where I would normally have reached for an alcoholic drink I decided to be brave and let the sensations do what they were going to do.
When you do this you can actually feel the adrenaline being released into your body. You can notice the individual sensations that the adrenaline causes all the while reminding yourself that this is just adrenaline. The sensations are normal and are being caused by the adrenaline and no matter what happens I am not in any danger. The sensations started to grow and were very familiar. I knew this was the start of a panic attack but I kept saying “Its OK, I know that whatever happens I am safe”. This continued for about 5 minutes and then all of a sudden the tap had been turned off. I noticed that the sensations were decreasing instead of increasing. After a few more minutes the panic had completely subsided.
The only way I can explain how I felt was euphoric. I had done it! I had conquered my deepest fear. I had let the panic attack do whatever it wanted and nothing happened. It didn’t keep escalating.
Since that day I have not experienced another panic attack. I have realised that I was causing the panic attacks all along. It wasn’t something wrong with my body, it was the way I was reacting to sensations in my body that would trigger them. Over a period of time I had learned to be anxious all the time. The process that causes this is called operant conditioning and its the same part of our brains that learns how to drive a car etc. Eventually it becomes a habit. This is why panic attacks, anxiety disorders and associated phobias are not physical or mental illnesses at all, they are behavioural conditions. Which means over a period of time we have learned to be this way. The good news is if we learned to be this way we can also learn how to stop being this way.
The start of this process is to remove the panic attacks. They are debilitating and keep us stuck in a cycle of fear. Once the panic attacks have subsided we have room to focus on removing the underlying anxiety that causes the panic attacks. By following The Panic Shutdown Method you will be able to begin reducing your anxiety very quickly.
You can access the complete Panic Shutdown Method now. Here you will learn how to remove unwanted anxiety and become a non-anxious person again.