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What are Panic Attacks and Anxiety Disorders?
What’s the cause?

Your brain sends the information from your eyes to a part of the brain known as the thalamus.  The thalamus doesn't know if the signals it's receiving are indicating danger or not, but since they might be, it forwards the information to another part of the brain known as the amygdala.  The amygdala is a little bit like a thermostat;

if the messages it’s receiving from the thalamus indicate a stress higher than its normal thermostatic setting, the amygdala will assume danger, as in the case of the possible snake in the grass, and the amygdala will set off the flight or fight response.

The second path in the fear response is longer and more thoughtful. While the first path is initiating the flight or fight response, just in case it really is a snake, the second path is considering all of the options. Is it a snake, or is it an old piece of hosepipe? This longer process involves other parts of the brain, and

if those parts of the brain decide that it is a hosepipe, and there is no danger, then it sends a message to the amygdala and the flight or fight response is shut down.

and designed to keep us safe from harm. There's another system in body that’s similarly designed to keep us from harm, and it’s called the flight or fight response, it's the body's response to fear, and it's this system that’s at the heart of your panic attack.

Let's take a look at a simplified explanation of this fear response.  There are two paths that happen in the fear response, and both occur simultaneously, it's the simpler of the two paths that can cause the onset of a panic attack.

Let's imagine you see what looks like a snake in the grass while out walking.

and emotion, especially the mechanisms of fear. His work, outlined in his book, “The Emotional Brain: The Mysterious Underpinnings of Emotional Life”, has been essential to understanding how panic attacks and other anxiety disorder s are caused, and more importantly ..................  how to cure them.

Let me explain more…………..

The Science Bit - Operant Conditioning

The human body is an amazing thing. Our bodies seem to be specially designed to save us from harm. For instance, if we cut a finger, the body recognises there’s a cut and it only takes a few days before the wound is healed. When we catch illnesses such as cold, the germs are detected in the body and antibodies surround the germs and destroy them.  Our bodies are working day and night to protect us, and the amazing thing is, that it's all completely automatic,

The sensations involved in the fear reaction and the sensations of panic attacks are exactly the same; fast heartbeat, increased breathing, sweating, trembling, dry mouth, tingling hands and feet, and so on. Not all these sensations may occur in one panic attack and different people notice different feelings. But basically the reaction is the same.

Dr. Joseph E. LeDoux is one of the pioneers of  the work and theory that underpins part of  the Neurocalm Method™. He is a neuroscientist who is also the director of the Centre for the Neuroscience of Fear and Anxiety, at University Centre in New York City.  He is acknowledged as a world-wide expert in pathological fear. His work is devoted to researching and understanding pathological fear and anxiety in humans. LeDoux's research interests are focused on the biological underpinnings of memory

  Dr.Joseph LeDoux

You Are Not Mentally Ill or Physically Ill !

Anxiety, panic attacks, and phobias are not illnesses. You are not mentally ill or physically ill. They are behavioural conditions which have resulted from an adjustment of the amygdala in the brain.

Anxiety is conditioned in exactly the same way. We become programmed to respond with anxiety and/or panic attacks even when it is inappropriate. When anxiety reaches a certain level, you experience panic attacks, phobias, obsessions and all the other physical and psychological expressions of anxiety. You have become programmed to be anxious all the time!

This is the reason why you react so adversely to even the slightest thing with anxiety, panic attacks and other symptoms, it's why your life is dominated by high anxiety and you no longer cope like you used to. It is one of the main causes of every panic attack, anxiety attack, thought, sensation, symptom or pain you experience.

Where did it all start?

People can develop panic attacks in response to not only unpleasant events in life, like losing your job,  a bereavement, divorce , overwork, relationship problems, illness and accidents, but also in response to pleasant things. Getting married, starting a new job, having a baby and taking a holiday are all potential stressors that can induce a panic attack. In addition, researchers have identified the loss of support as something which can provoke the onset of panic attacks. Difficulties that stretch back as far as childhood, such as emotional abandonment, strict and controlling parents, over parenting and physical or sexual abuse are just some of the problems that can also be responsible for panic attacks much later in life.

The therapeutic approach I use and the Neurocalm Method™ has been developed from many years of research by top worldwide mental health organisations, and the scientific methods and strategies used have been endorsed by
“Effective Interventions Summary Report”.

(Please be reassured that I am NOT saying that all people suffering from panic, OCD, phobias or anxiety attacks have been abandoned, controlled or abused ...... only a small minority.)

All of these stresses both good and bad can cause the thermostatic dial of the amygdala to be altered in such

a way that the amygdala fires up the flight or fight response much too early.  In fact the flight or fight response begins when there is nothing to be afraid of.  It's at this time a person can experience feeling overly anxious, have disturbing thoughts and even experience a panic attack, when they know in reality there is no danger. Understanding the flight or fight response and Operant Conditioning through the research of dedicated scientists and psychologists, along with my own extensive psychotherapy training;  and, over 12 years of working as a therapist with those suffering from panic attacks,

One of the ways in which the Neurocalm Method™  works is to permanently reverse this thermostat-like setting in the amygdala, back to normal.

and other anxiety disorders, has enabled me to develop a system for reprogramming the amygdala directly. Enabling the thermostat to be turned back down to its normal setting.

Its all caused by “Operant Conditioning”.

This all happens as a result of a process named Operant Conditioning.

Think of it this way; let's say your absolutely favourite food smell in the world is sizzling bacon.

The aroma of that sizzling bacon, whenever you think about, automatically makes your mouth water. Now let's say that every time I let you smell that sizzling bacon cooking, I say, “COME AND GET IT!” After a long while of doing this, I won't have to let you smell the bacon, and you won't even have to think about it cooking. Just my saying “COME AND GET IT!” will be enough for your mouth to begin watering, because you have come to associate those  words with smelling that sizzling bacon. That’s Operant Conditioning.

And Anxiety Information

The amygdala, like a light switch, is either switched “anxiety on” or “anxiety off” . But under normal circumstances it’s only triggered when real danger exists. In anxiety disorders, the “switch” gets artificially stuck in the “anxiety on” position, causing constant anxiety symptoms even when NO real danger exists.

So if you find you’re feeling anxious when there is nothing to be frightened of, you are not experiencing true anxiety.You can see how that works now. What you are experiencing is an inappropriate reaction of the amygdala, NOT true fear!

On this page I would like to give you an overview of what an anxiety or panic attack really is and also an insight into some of the main causes of panic and anxiety attacks. There are two aspects I’ll briefly explain. The first concerns what is known as “Operant Conditioning” and the second looks at the suppression of  emotions.

So How Did We Learn To Suppress Our Emotions?

For most of us it probably began in childhood, the theory is that children have needs which, if not met, cause unhappiness. This distress is manifested by a variety of symptoms which include anxiety and depression.   

Children have a very low threshold for dealing with any kind of pain, especially emotional pain.  You may have witnessed a time when a very young child has perhaps been given an ice cream cone, and whilst waving it about, the ice cream has dropped out of the cone and onto the floor. Often that child will be overcome by almost inconsolable grief, while the on-looking adults find it difficult to understand why the child is so upset at such a small thing.  This gives an idea of how a relatively insignificant unmet childhood need (the need to have the ice cream) causes an intense level of emotional pain.

Witnessing this common childhood upset allows us to understand therefore, that any unmet childhood need will cause a similar intensity of emotional pain.  It is difficult in this society, to survive a childhood without experiencing the emotional pain caused by unmet needs.  It is my belief that human beings were designed to live in more communal societies where the responsibilities of mothering a child was shared amongst the other mothers in the community.  In our society, many mothers are isolated during the day while their partners are out working, and employment needs have often meant that people have moved away from the support of their close family.  It’s difficult in these circumstances for a mother to be constantly present when their child needs them.  There are all the chores of washing dishes, washing clothes, ironing, cleaning, cooking and many many other tasks that necessarily break the contact between a mother and her child.  In addition, mothers can be tired or ill, and having no one else to take over from them, have to soldier on unable to give the level of care required by a child.  

This scenario, is often a “best case” scenario; consider the difficulties of children who were brought up in families where their mother was depressed or continually ill; or those mothers who have themselves had to suppress their feelings and find it very difficult to make an emotional contact with their children.  Some mothers and fathers find it difficult to say, “I love you,” or even to hug their children.

The Suppression of Emotions

And so even in the best intentioned of families in our society, children's needs are not met to the extent required by a normal child. As a consequence, the majority of us experience a loss of contact in the relationships with our parents, even in the most normal of families.  This loss of contact, just like the loss of the ice cream, causes intense emotional pain.

As you are reading this, I imagine that most of you are saying to yourselves, “I can't remember being unhappy, or in pain.”  It's true; it's unlikely that most people will remember this time in their lives.  Children experience this pain, to one degree or another, before the age of six when their brain is not biologically mature enough to have developed the power of logic or proper memory.  Most people remember very little before the age of six, and therefore don't remember their emotional pain.

The most difficult thing we have to deal with as adults or children is loss of our relationships.  Many of us have had an experience of losing someone we love either because the relationship is broken down or through the death of a partner or relative.  And we often remember those times as been the most painful in our lives.  Children are not emotionally mature enough to deal with even a slight loss of contact in relationship, and so if a mother is unable to maintain a consistent and close relationship with her child due to the many circumstances previously discussed, that child will learn to suppress the painful feelings.  And so, by the age of six when our brains develop enough to be able to remember, we have often become experts in suppressing feelings, and are therefore not aware that we ever had that pain.  We go on to become adults who are also experts in suppressing feelings, and as a result can suffer from depression and or panic attacks.

Perhaps you are beginning to understand how ongoing situations within the family which cause anxiety are often related to separation, for it is the fear of abandonment that worries small children most. A child’s security is threatened if there is reason to fear a parent’s death or leaving home.

Dave, aged eight, the elder son of parents who were constantly arguing, had a mother who would slam out of the house leaving two fearful children anxiously waiting for her return. He was burdened by the thought that one day she would leave for good. Not trusting his father to care for them, he became preoccupied with memorising the route to his aunt’s house in case he needed to find somewhere safe for his brother and himself to go to. His progress at school suffered, and later in life he developed anxiety attacks.

Parental rows cause children anxiety and emotional pain about being left or somebody being hurt, but it is the feeling of their own powerlessness to stop the anger which is probably most destructive in the long term. They can be upset by living in a hostile environment, even if the aggression is not directed at them, and they react with varying degrees of intensity depending on many factors, such as the support they receive from other family relatives or friends.

Those who cannot talk about their worries because there is nobody they trust are less able to deal with them satisfactorily. Reassurance, nagging or dismissal is never helpful. The parent of a child who has not revised for the exam might say: “I’m sure you will be all right” or: “Don’t be silly”, or: “You always make a worry about things”, or: “Well, you knew the exam was today. You should have worked”. These remarks do not help the child in this situation. “When will I ever learn?” thinks the child, “I shouldn’t have said anything; parents make things worse, not better”, “I’ll just bottle it up.”

There are those children who cannot voice their fears because they believe they must protect their parents. Margaret’s baby sister died from a cot death. Five year old Margaret needed to share her sorrow and many questions bothered her, but she remained silent and suppressed her feelings because the parents’ grief was so great that she was reluctant to make any demands on them. Too often when there has been a family tragedy the young child is left to make what sense she can of what has happened.

Anxiety and emotional pain can be related to the roles allotted to children; the daughter who is her father’s special princess to the exclusion of her mother; the boy who is mother’s confidante; the girl who has had her confidence undermined by her timid mother who could not tolerate her independence; and the boy who never did well enough at school to please his father, are anxious and angry in differing degrees. All may be both burdened and resentful, despite the power their position might bring. All will suppress their feelings.

A father, unloved as a child, can have difficulty in helping his own child feel valued, thus causing the child to be never quite sure of her parent’s reaction; whatever her father’s true feelings she does not know whether she is really loved. It's only when that child is older, and more logical, but she can work out that her father must love her because of all the things he does for her such as attending sports days, school plays and driving her all over town. Although she never felt his love, she was able later in life to reason that he loved her, but when she was younger she would have felt the shame and pain of feeling unloved. She would have suppressed those intense feelings.

It might also be that a parent such as this, may hide his lack of understanding and confidence by teasing, may cause the child to grow up lacking self-esteem. This can be the pattern for a child in the family who becomes a repository of guilt, shame or failure for other family members. Feelings much too difficult for an emotionally immature child to bear, and so suppression happens once again as a protection.

Boys, when they are anxious, become particularly adept at concealing fears because it is less acceptable for them to show vulnerability. Aggressive and boastful behaviour, or covering up in a belligerent way, are attempts to hide a very fearful child within. They may bully timid children who are a reminder of this unacceptable part of themselves.

Girls can react in this way too.

Children who feel they are not loved are also prone to fears. They may think that if Mummy and Daddy don’t care for you, or obviously prefer your brother, then you must be bad. This is such a painful realisation and results in suppressing these feelings.

Harsh or unsympathetic handling is justified by some parents who think that they are doing what is best. This is the way they were handled and they were not harmed by it, they believe (In reality, they were too young to remember the hurt they experienced). The children, accepting that parents are good, see themselves as bad; they are to blame, they are guilty. Again, such enormously painful emotional feelings that the child will suppress.

Most of the people who make appointments to see me (or who purchase the Neurocalm method™) would describe themselves as coming from normal families.  And of course, they’re right!  It is within normal families that all of those things that I’ve described above, happen on a daily basis.  No one is going to call social services, or the police out to these families, they are normal. Others know that their childhood was difficult, and I remember having to suppress their feelings and “just get on with it,”  right up through their teenage years.

In those tribal communities that we consider less “civilised” than our own, the women and children are all gathered together in one place thus providing many many mothers to attend to all the needs of all the children at any time.  Some mothers taking it in turns to attend to things like cooking, and other mothers in constant contact with the children. In these tribal communities, young babies are bound to their mothers with a sort of cloth sling, and they are continually carried like this up until the age of two, hardly ever being put down.  The children sleep in a family bed and experience a level of closeness during their first few years that Western children rarely attain.

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In Addition to Re-setting Your Amygdala, Which Will Eliminate Your Panic and Anxiety Problems, working therapeutically with me or using the Neurocalm Method™ Will Also Show You How to........

It is apparently causeless."

Let me just say a little more about this feeling as it's really important to understand what's happening to you. Unlike many other types of anxiety, free-floating anxiety occurs with no apparent cause. The turmoil of anxiety is present in varying degrees consistently, and can manifest itself as excessive, uncontrollable worry about everyday matters such as health issues, money, family, or work problems. Free-floating anxiety is also distinguished from fear by excessive thinking and dwelling about negative thoughts. Physical manifestations may include headaches, trembling, irritability, frustration and the inability to concentrate. The source of this type of anxiety is not discernible or identifiable to the person feeling it.

There is however a cause; research suggests that free-floating anxiety is caused by over activity or overstimulation of neurons in the brain due to altered levels of neurotransmitters like serotonin and norepinephrine. (Heredity was also cited as a one of the major contributors as well as long-term use of substances like alcohol and drugs.) There also seems a correlation between this type of anxiety and other disorders including depression and panic disorder.

What the researchers have failed to answer is the question, "Why have the levels of neurotransmitters altered in the brain chemistry?" My own personal experiences and the anecdotal experiences of working for many years with those who suffer from depression, panic disorder and free floating anxiety has led me to notice a pattern. Those people who have these problems suppress their expression of feelings or in some cases suppress the feelings themselves, both in a myriad of different ways; some quite subtly, and others quite dramatically.

It's the suppression of feelings or the suppression of the expression of feelings that causes the chemical imbalances in the brain biochemistry which leads to depression, panic disorder and free floating anxiety amongst other symptoms.

Under normal circumstances, we have come to recognise that when our bodies feel pain, discomfort or anxious feelings, this means that there is something wrong. Our response is to feel fear which drives us to find out what’s wrong and do whatever is necessary to put it right. For example, we may accept a plate offered to us by a waiter in a restaurant and have the sensation that it is too hot to hold. We instantly recognise the danger of being burnt and feel fear as a result of that recognition. The fear drives the next action which is to put the plate down on the table as quickly as possible. Problem solved!

Because of non-payment, we may receive a threat to be “cut off” from the electricity supply to our home and experience a fear, letting us know there is a danger of prosecution and a period without electrical power. We can choose to do something about the anxious feeling by contacting the power company and paying the account or arranging some other solution.

When we feel this free floating anxiety sensation of dread, we naturally become anxious because we believe that it means something is wrong. In the absence of some known specific object, situation, or event, we become more anxious because we don’t know what has caused the apparently warning feelings, and therefore cannot do what is necessary to resolve the problem. This results in a preoccupation with the symptoms. A continual worry and state of anxiety. This is why people who suffer from free floating anxiety emphasise the importance of the dreadful feelings and always want to talk about and deal with their symptoms.

Experiencing what is normally a cautionary sign such as pain, is not always a warning of something being wrong. In the case of childbirth for instance, the pain experienced is not warning that there is a problem. Although different, it is essential to understand that the symptoms of free floating anxiety are HARMLESS and above all; DO NOT MEAN ANYTHING.

The first way to deal with the problem of free floating anxiety is to firmly tell yourself that the dread feelings are not important. You can recognise them, and know that they are not warning you that something dreadful is going to happen. You can be aware of the dread feelings and tell yourself that they don’t mean anything. There is nothing bad that will happen. All they mean is that as a result of suppressing feelings or the suppression of the expression of feelings, there is an imbalance that causes the dread sensations in your body. Let yourself know that you can’t fix yourself by attending to the symptoms (A house cannot be built from the roof down!) You can reassure yourself that you will begin the work of expressing emotions.It is by learning to express emotions that the dread feelings, anxiety and panic attacks will be prevented from reoccurring.

Whether you purchase the Neurocalm Method™ or contact me and arrange personal therapy sessions, you will be able to learn much more about feelings and emotions, and a range of ways in which you can access and express your feelings safely.

Free Floating Anxiety

Clients often tell me how difficult it is to cope with the almost continual feelings of dread that something is going to happen. Sometimes those feelings of dread only occur at certain times of the day. It is very difficult to live normally with those dread feelings. I have experienced them myself. The definition of this sensation is given as "anxiety experienced that cannot be tied to any known specific object, situation, or event.

Because of the limitations of this website, I have only been able to briefly discuss to have the major contributory factors towards panic and anxiety attacks.  There is much more to learn, and I would invite you to contact me or purchase the Neurocalm Method™.


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