PHASES OF ANXIETY AND PANIC
Panic escalation usually exhibits four distinct phases.
You make unrealistic self-statements that keep you in a
constant state of alarm. Your body tenses in the fight-or-flight
reaction: your heart beats faster, you feel short of breath, you
have butterflies in your stomach, and so on. This chronic state
of arousal makes you “sensitized” to any hint of possible
danger. Sensitization means that your nerves are set on a hair trigger.
The least reversal, unpleasant surprise, or minor conflict can set
off a siege of panic.
You begin to fear fear itself. As your body becomes
more sensitized, you begin to anticipate panic attacks. You try
to avoidthem at all costs. Now you have a new fear. You not only
fear theviolence or the boss’s criticism, you also dread the
symptoms thatfear causes in your body.
You reject your own feelings as your fear of fear escalates.
You hate experiencing the symptoms of your fear: the pounding heart,
the dizziness, the shortness of breath, the trembling legs, the
lump in your throat, the hot or cold flashes, and the confusion
you feel in your mind. You resist and fight against anything unusual
happening in your body. You become hypervigilant for symptoms of
an approaching panic. You come to fear any emotion or experience
that triggers physical sensations that remind you of panic. Even
feeling excited, exercising, or contracting innocuous illnesses
such as the flu seems dangerous because the symptoms remind you
of the feeling of panic.
4. You avoid, ultimately, any situation, person, or thing
that evokes feelings of arousal or anxiety. What started
as nervousness when walking empty streets becomes avoidance of going
anywhere alone. What started as anxious thoughts when talking to
the boss becomes avoidance of work altogether. What started as painful
shyness at parties becomes avoidance of every social contact.