Panic disorder affects between 3 and 6 million Americans, and is twice as common in women. We all experience panic at some time in our lives, but those suffering from panic disorder experience panic attacks on a daily basis, and this form of anxiety can severely reduce the quality of life, making even simple activities like grocery shopping unmanageable. In its most severe form this crippling form of anxiety can lead to agoraphobia, a very intense fear of going beyond the safety zone of one’s own home. In such severe cases, it is wise to seek medical help.
One of the characteristics of panic anxiety is the intense fear of the panic attack itself. Sufferers are deathly afraid of the next panic attack and the sense of losing control, and the social embarrassment that that will bring. Some times we feel afraid that the core anxiety is so powerful that it will literally suck us in permanently into a state of madness. Most panic anxiety sufferers recognize that fear of fear is the main problem that they have to deal with and the main source of their emotional suffering.
Panic anxiety is made up of primary reactions and beliefs that form the core of the emotion and a whole superstructure of secondary reactions, which are all the cognitive and emotional reactions of avoidance, resistance and proliferation. The cause of the primary reactions can be due to chemical imbalance or a severe emotional trauma that produces changes in the brain that result in a very primitive “fight or flight” type reflex reaction. Whatever the cause of the primary reaction, the mind is left with the job of trying to process this intense emotional energy, which leads to layer upon layer of secondary reactivity. The mind begins to proliferate beliefs about what is safe and what is a threat, resulting in avoidance behaviours, which can become very complex and convoluted.
The fear of losing control proliferates into endless worrying and catastrophic thinking, which intensifies and prolongs the original anxiety. This can lead to tertiary reactivity, which are all the feelings of depression and anger directed at oneself for not being able to cope and which lead to a loss of self-esteem and self-confidence.
Besides causing so much suffering, all these forms of secondary and tertiary reactivity have another harmful effect in that they prevent the core primary reactions from healing. The fear of the fear is like throwing salt onto an open wound, stopping it from healing, or throwing wood onto a bonfire, keeping the flames alight. The action of reactivity actually causes the primary fear to become rigid. In Buddhist Mindfulness Psychology, we say that the core anxiety loses its emotional plasticity. It becomes hard like ice, unable to change, unable to resolve itself, unable to heal. The main reason for this inhibitory effect is that worrying about our panic attacks has the effect of distracting our conscious awareness away from the core emotions and we become dissociated from them. what is the fear of change