When we give ourselves a terrible fear, or when we are the victim of a very intense threat, we all understand that the body experiences, “corporalizes” a series of sensations, not through less unpleasant knowledge: hyperventilation, palpitations, sweating. , tremors, etc.
In these cases, the fear is instantaneous, but not “irrational”. The mind connects all of these unpleasant sensations to something “real” that has happened and we know that with a little time the body will eventually regulate itself ie the sensations will pass.
Then psychologists will explain more technically that in the face of the threat of danger, the limbic system, responsible for managing emotions (and fear is one of the basic emotions in humans) will temporarily cut off communication with the cortex and will activate the route. cortisol, a hormone that regulates the stress response, which will generate the production of adrenaline and norepinephrine, the heart will suddenly increase its beating rate to have more blood and respiratory system it will also increase its rate of hyperventilation to increase the production of oxygen, both necessary for the “fly or fight” response, typical of a moment of threat or danger.
Outraged, so many other answers will also be drawn in this fight or flight process: The blood will concentrate in specific areas, leaving others less watered, resulting in a feeling of numbness, chills, sweat, etc … The pupils will dilate to have peripheral vision … in short, a wide variety of physiological responses essential to the act of “fight or flight” always present in a fear scenario.
The dynamics of anxiety
So far we all understand and no one says “anxiety” to the activation of unpleasant sensations that in another context if we call it “anxiety” we are overwhelmed and terrified. Why is the activation of our nervous system, necessary as we have seen in a time of danger / fear, apparently “pathological” in other contexts?
What happens when these sensations: palpitations, shortness of breath, chills, sweating, tremors, dizziness … appear when you least expect them? At home sitting on the sofa, in class, at work, crossing a bridge …
Sometimes the trigger for activation is the connection of the place, the person or the fact, with previous traumatic experiences in our life.. In other words, if I have been bullied or bullied and it has caused me anxiety, simply returning one day to where I lived or to a place that reminds me, can cause the limbic system to shoot up initiating cortisol as well. responding to dangerous situations, as if the traumatic event was actually happening again. This, while more difficult, is also in a way susceptible to being understood with some normality by our rational mind.
But there are so many occasions when the aforementioned sensations appear without an apparent trigger, Neither current nor distant in time. They just appear unexpectedly, and on those occasions without knowing why we feel our hearts beat, we miss air, sweat profusely or shake uncontrollably.
In these very, very common cases, the mind panics. Panic at feelings we can’t control and to which we have succeeded in attributing no definite origin or duration, and when the mind loses the ability to control and understand what lives in the body, it panics.
And of course, panic in this case is not the response to something going on outside of us, but paradoxically what generates panic and fear are the body’s own panic and fear reactions, like we described it at the beginning.
These are the same sensations, only now we don’t know the cause or why and we can’t control them, and when we see them let them happen and happen, (as we do in cases where something external to us generates the fear of the punctual form), they overwhelm us, terrifying for us, and we initiate an endless chain in which the own fear to the reactions of the fear, only increases the intensity of these sensations, catching up in a vicious cycle of fear, more sensations, more fear, more sensations … until we reach the seizure, the panic attack, which in its paroxysm, in the extreme of its intensity, will eventually exhaust the energy of the system and we will fall abandoned.
This paroxysm usually does not last longer than a few minutes, but it is frightening and sometimes ends in a hospital emergency.
Why is this happening?
Imagine that we are in a period of life of intense personal, professional or emotional stress., And we also imagine that our quality of sleep is degraded. This will cause our system to stay on alert / alarm much longer than usual and also not provide adequate rest. It is as if we are transporting the motor of our over-revolutionized brain and never have time to do workshops (rest).
Eventually the system will drain, the battery will drain, and that’s when the body (our own nervous system) activates the survival response which will trigger sensations very similar to what we experience in a moment of alertness / fear. .
In other words, it is as if our system had a safety relay, a threshold, from which it “warns” us by unpleasant physiological sensations that we have entered a risk zone, That the energies of our system are exhausted and that, therefore, we need a long and well-deserved rest. In this case, the feelings of anxiety or fear are not the product of a specific and easily identifiable fact, but of the breakdown of the system due to exhaustion.
If we understand this the response should be the same that when they give us terrible fear we should let the system fall into place and calm down again. This is why at Vitalitza we attach a lot of importance to this psycho-education., To this understanding that what is happening, which, still surprising, overwhelming and terrifying, is still “normal”, that is to say which has an origin and an explanation.
Once the cause is understood, we try to regulate the physiological state of anxiety as quickly and as pragmatically as possible, usually through work with biofeedback, in particular cardiac coherence and neurofeedback, while developing tools anxiety management such as therapeutic group mindfulness. This, of course, without forgetting the necessary psychotherapeutic accompaniment which deepens and tries to resolve the deep psychological causes which led to the collapse of the system and the appearance of anxiety symptoms.
Author: Javier Elcarte, psychologist expert in trauma, director of Vitalitza.