Simi Valley Family Magazine               Spring 2002

Encouraging Good Behavior

Cheri West, M.A.

Imagine this…
You enter the local grocery store just as you've done a thousand times.  You are in a hurry and only need to pick up a few things for dinner.  You skip the basket and head straight for the hamburger buns and tomatoes.  Then, dash to the 10 items or less checkout line for a quick pay and you're on your way.  There are several people in front of you.  You check your watch and wait your turn.  A few seconds later, there are several people behind you.  You're trapped!  No way out in either direction!  Your palms begin to sweat and you notice your hands are trembling.  Then, your heart begins to pound faster and faster.  There is a tight feeling in your muscles and breathing seems more difficult.  You have no idea what to do and wonder if everyone around can see you're having problems.  You know you need to get out of line and out of the store but still have people blocking you in either direction.  Your heart pounds even harder and you realize you're hyperventilating.  You are trapped and feeling out of control. 
HELP!
You have just experienced a full-blown Panic Attack.  As you can see, these symptoms are very intense and quite scary.  The aftermath leaves you feeling exhausted and dazed.  Some people believe that Panic Attacks are only in your mind but let me assure you the experience is physically, emotionally, and psychologically very real.  In fact, frequently Panic Attack victims end up in the Emergency Room stating they are experiencing a heart attack.  Although there can be several causes for Panic Attacks, the most common is a chemical imbalance in your brain which may have looked like excessive worry or mild anxiety prior to the onset of the first Panic Attack. 
Katherine Hepburn, a brilliant actress, once said, "Stage fright is more than just butterflies in your stomach!  It's a feeling of being out of control.  The cure to stage fright is to get all the butterflies in your stomach to fly in formation."  Unfortunately, taking control of your anxiety or Panic Attack may not be as easy as curing stage fright.  It requires the utilization of education, several intervention tools, and possibly medication. 
First and foremost, get an appointment with a physician after your first panic experience just to rule out medical causes.  Once you have been assured that everything is O.K., then it might be time to schedule an appointment with a psychotherapist.  A therapist can educate you on causes for the attack and help you recognize the early warning signs.  Also, there are many successful tools you can use to take control of the attack before it takes control of you. 
The important thing to remember is that you're not alone or crazy or a hypochondriac! Many people of all ages, races, and walks of life, with no preference of gender, experience severe anxiety, which can lead to a Panic Attack.  The symptoms are real and frightening so if you, or someone you know, might be having a problem with Panic Attacks, please consider seeking out a medical and psychological consult quickly and begin the process of controlling those butterflies.

Deborah Tucker, M.A.   •   (805) 583-3976, ext. 33   •   www.simi-therapy.com

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