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High anxiety
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High Anxiety

On 30th March this year the Age Magazine, Good Weekend, published a spread titled just that – High Anxiety. The point of the article seems to be aimed at highlighting anxiety as a more recently discovered ‘mental health’ issue.

However, in this blog I’m going to be very bold and stake my claim! My story, first published in 1983 was, to the best of my knowledge, the first personal account of anxiety on the shelves in Western society. Titled In Stillness Conquer Fear, mine is a personal account of this kind of suffering but one that also offers a powerful, lasting and successful solution leading to life fulfilment.

With its most recent updated edition being published in 2016, my story has been published in Ireland, the UK and Poland, in the Polish mother tongue. That’s some claim to make and I am proud to have assisted thousands of people throughout the world through the telling of my story and my experience over 36 years as a therapist specializing in anxiety disorders.

My story relays the power of anxiety and how 8 years of my early life were limited by recurring panic attacks that led to agoraphobia, the overwhelming fear of leaving the safety of home. Despite the efforts of a range of medical experts, relief escaped me until almost by accident, I came upon the genius work of Melbourne psychiatrist, Ainslie Meares. It is to Meares’ work that I can attribute recovery for myself and for many others whom I’ve been privileged to assist.

By way of elaboration, here’s an extract from my story:

“It was as I was driving in rather heavy traffic that I suddenly experienced an unpleasant sensation of unreality – as if I was there, but I wasn’t there.

I felt a surge of alarm at this new experience. I remember vaguely thinking that perhaps I had not been concentrating very well on my driving, and almost wanted to pinch myself to see if I were dreaming.

This feeling of unreality is quite a common symptom surrounding the onset of an anxiety/panic attack. Unintentionally I most likely became more tense in an attempt to overcome that unpleasant feeling. I then realised that I was feeling extremely unwell. I was dizzy and nauseated, my head was pounding, my vision was blurred and my heart was thumping in my throat – and I was still driving the car. I managed to park and sat there for a few minutes, terribly aware of the fact that I was ill and away from home and I had two very young children with me.

By then, I was also feeling weak and faint, hot and cold and gasping for breath – hyperventilating, so I learned much later. This resulted in the unfortunate experience of paresthesias – a scary experience indeed, which begins with tingling in the fingertips gradually leading to numbness in the hands and limbs, and which, in my ignorance at that time, I thought was the sudden onset of paralysis. With all those dramatic sensations happening and the predicament of my little kids alone in the car, I was convinced that I was dying or certainly being stricken with some dreadful disease.

With the influence of recent sudden deaths and illness in our family flooding my mind, somehow I stumbled, panic stricken, into a shop nearby. All I could say was that I needed help, and quickly, as my head swam with dark patches of fading consciousness. I must also have been the colour of a sheet, for I certainly caused some agitation amongst the shopkeepers. I had alarmed them as well as myself, as they confirmed a couple of weeks later when I returned to say ‘thank you’.

I didn’t actually lose consciousness as some do in such circumstances, but my mind was swamped with panic and I was terrified. Panic is a word we have come to use fairly loosely in our vocabulary, but the real meaning of the word can only be appreciated by someone who has been through a complete panic attack. At that time what I was experiencing was a mystery to me — but I remember feeling threatened by a sense of urgency, and all my responsibilities seemed to crowd into my thoughts, in particular the wellbeing of my two little children. It was a sensational and very frightening experience and I felt, in my confusion, that if I wasn’t dying, I was about to lose control of my reason and actions.

Since being in control is a very important aspect of security in human nature, a panic attack is quite devastating. No one likes to feel threatened in any way, least of all to have their composure threatened. But when one feels threatened by something unidentifiable, it is doubly difficult to accept. I pictured myself in all that confusion, being removed from the scene with absolutely no control over the situation, even to the extent of being unable to communicate. In hindsight, a classic experience of loss of self”.

Dr Meares work and indeed his vision for mental and physical health is centred upon mental rest – known today as Stillness Meditation Therapy. This is what I learned from him; this is what I needed to learn in order to truly relax, to assist my brain to unlearn and relearn and to gain ease, confidence and over time, the insight necessary to live well.

And so it is frustrating at the very least, to read articles such as that in the Good Weekend where it seems anxiety as a social problem is only now really being addressed. It is frustrating that so many people are still victims of stress, fear, anxiety and accumulated tension while relying on medications that keep them trapped in dependence and often make matters worse. I feel very strongly that people deserve far better and, when finding the right path, are more than capable of negating the adverse influence of anxiety to become more wholly themselves.

If you appreciate the content of this blog, please pass it on to others. If you read this and identify with my understanding of anxiety, please make contact. My colleagues and I would truly love to assist.

Pauline McKinnon (c)
Melbourne
, April 2019

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Let’s discuss anxiety again

The stories and struggles of people experiencing anxiety are becoming more and more prevalent. How interesting that this word ‘anxiety’ has become so much a part of our vernacular when not too many years ago, people believed anxiety was the domain of others – never themselves – and shied away from any anxiety related personal disclosure. I’ve written lots about anxiety in the past but I feel it’s time to raise the topic again.

It’s always important to remember that anxiety, is in reality fear, our natural defence mechanism. However anxiety unmanaged can cause huge distress, becoming symptomatic in two ways:

  • Stress-induced anxiety is the reaction that happens when challenging life problems give cause to worry. This is when sleepless nights, feelings of overwhelm, high tension levels, increased blood pressure, headaches and palpitations lead the individual to seek ways to calm down. Usually anxiety symptoms at that level do eventually calm down as the stress related problem is resolved and so people are restored to ‘normal’ and continue to get on with their lives.
  • But acute, chronic anxiety is another matter. This is when people experience all the above symptoms plus many more such as hyper-vigilance, panic attacks, avoidance, phobias, obsessions and compulsions, eating disorders, fear and terror, self-harm and depression – and potentially a diagnosis of mental illness. Like a flow on from stress-induced anxiety, this is the level of anxiety that occurs when challenging life issues set the ball rolling but leave deeper, concealed or denied existential issues still unresolved: the lack of personal fulfilment, unrelenting loss and grief, a faulty relationship, a negative self image and so on … intangible issues that may need careful investigation. This kind of anxiety is life limiting at the very least and at worst, a huge personal burden to carry.

In all this, it’s evident that relief from anxiety remains confusing to many and unquestionably an area in need of support within the community.

So what to do? When anxiety at either level is diagnosed or otherwise identified it may be thought that relief can be found in the same way the flu can be dealt with. But anxiety is far deeper than contagion! Anxiety is part of human existence, part of our life experience and hopefully, part of learning to grow. So it can be really helpful as a starting point, to begin to accept that some level of anxiety helps keep us safe.

Next – and most importantly – is to find a way to reduce the intensity of surrounding feelings and symptoms. Nervous tension is the primary force behind insistent symptoms and as it reduces, the unpleasant symptoms decrease. Tension is like an acceleration of activity within the nervous system – with no idea of how to apply the metaphorical brake! Tension is usually a habit developed in a bid to cope with the ups and downs of living. And of course, tense families produce tense progeny and on it goes until someone breaks the cycle. To successfully reduce nervous tension takes understanding, recognition and assistance from another who has the skills to impart effective change. Hypnotherapy, therapeutic meditation sessions or reputable relaxation classes are the premier ways to be assisted in reducing nervous tension.

And finally, best of all in the end, is the development of a positive attitude and the courage to begin to discover and truly know oneself – the dark side as well as the bright side – through self exploration or the guidance of a mentor or therapist.

I’m reminded now of a lovely story that I recently heard from one of my clients. Accompanied by a few tears Kay recalled how her much loved Grandma had passed away at 96 following a fall while dancing! And so we talked about the happy spirit of this lady and within some other anecdotes, Kay reflected on further memorable moments. “Sometimes I’d phone Grandma and find her a little bit overwhelmed by day to day events but her attitude was always amazing. She was ever an inspiration but perhaps her most often repeated words if I happened to call at a difficult time were the enthusiastic “I’m having a terrible day – but I’m having a wonderful life!”

That is an attitude we could all do well to cultivate, too. Life can be challenging but it’s ultimately rewarding.

Pauline McKinnon (c)
May 2018

 

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New beginnings

This month I’m happy to draw your attention to our new website.  Based on our flyer, our designer has used colours and images that we hope will welcome all visitors and provide clear and detailed information.  As our site sets out who we are, what we do and how we love to help lots of people find peace of mind, we invite you to share this information with others so that, in many cases, people may begin to truly live a new life. Read more