At about six years old I almost drowned at the bottom of a swimming pool with my Mom just a few feet away, distracted by an animated conversation with a friend. When she realized what was happening, she jumped in the pool and grabbed me. Obviously, I survived, but from that time forward I have always had a fear of being under water. However, I went on to swim, take diving lessons and not be “that” affected by my earlier experience. At the age of twenty, I decided that I wanted to learn to scuba dive. On my first open water dive the class all swam out from the beach and grouped together to begin our first descent underwater. As we began to deflate our BCD’s, I noticed my partner went down a lot faster than me. I saw the rest of the class grouped together under the water and beginning to swim away. I had only descended about 10 feet and all of the sudden I felt like I couldn’t breathe! My heart rate began to race and I felt like I might die as I scrambled to the surface flailing, anxious to get a breath of fresh air. I was “rescued” by some really cute Laguna Beach lifeguards and pulled to shore. That was the beginning of my random panic attacks when diving.Why would a person continue to do something that causes such a sense of anxiety and despair? Because – once I was able to descend and realize I could still breathe, I LOVED underwater nature as experienced through scuba! That was over 25 years ago! Since that time I have dived near and far, obtained my advanced certification and logged several hundred dives. Most surprising yet is I continue to have panic attacks intermittently and I still do not know when I will have one.
How do I do it?
First, EMDR Therapy really helped me process the memory and integrate my emotional information (Limbic System) with my intellectual information (Prefrontal Cortex). EMDR helps “rewire our brain” so that we are not paralyzed by old trauma.Then…
I “accept” the possibility of having a panic attack.
I “know what to do” if it happens and,
I “choose” to not let fear stop me.
I share this with you because I understand professionally and PERSONALLY that the cure to anxiety is knowing that it could happen at any time, but I can handle it, particularly with advance preparation.
Try this when you feel anxious:
1. SLOW DOWN, Breathe!
2. If you have experienced anxiety before, remind yourself how you got through it last time.
3. Ask yourself if the situation is truly life or death (you’ll likely find it is almost never life threatening)
4. Ask yourself if there is anything that is in your control you can do to reduce your stress -this is where coming up with ideas ahead of time is really helpful – like asking for comfort from a loved one, counting, paying attention to details that you can see, hear and feel through your skin in the present moment.
Sometimes even physical movement can help, like walking, running, yoga or stretching. Try different things and see what works for you!
5. Remind yourself that the physiological sensations will pass and your body can only produce adrenalin for 10-20 minutes, it is temporary and it will pass. The key is to let your body and mind settle down by not thinking things that increase the anxiety.
Try these thoughts:
I’ll be okay, I have been through worse.
This is just a feeling, it will pass.
I am not crazy or dying, this is just anxiety.