Systematic Desensitization for Panic Attacks

One of the best techniques to use for panic attacks is systematic desensitization. The goal is to help you reduce anxiety by using self-control and other strategies and skills.

Anxiety makes a person feel nervous and fearful and sometimes makes one experience panic attacks. These sudden attacks come unexpectedly and most times, they are caused from superficial fears that people conjure up in their minds. Most times the fears subconsciously while you are unaware of your thinking until a trigger makes you experience a panic attack which you can't ignore. Sadly, most people do not realize where their fear comes from, and most times, it derives from history and interactions with social environments and other people. It can be from deep-seated memories which we may have to make ourselves fully aware of before we can deal with the thoughts and overcome panic attacks.

Wolpe (1982) developed systematic desensitization techniques to break down fearful (neurotic) anxiety that causes panic attacks via the subconscious mind. In the subconscious mind, we only read fragmented parts of our whole life stories. In order to develop the memories we have to draw upon the fragments and piece the puzzle together so that we can make sense of its meaning.

You are going to learn more about what exactly it is that makes you panic now, in order to become more aware of it so that you can deal effectively with it.

One of the most common strategies Wolpe uses includes the physiological state inhibitory method. Using this method, you will now be asked to induce anxiety through muscle relaxation.

Induce Anxiety Through Muscle Relaxation
You will need some tools to help you discover the stimulus that makes you experience panic. The more times you evoke the anxiety and deal with it, the more you will adapt and not allow that trigger to cause you stress. Do not allow the fear to control you. Let your emotions develop, even if you feel discomfort. You are safe and nothing can harm you.

Now Practice Systematic Desensitization

First, think back to an event that caused you to fear. For example, perhaps you experienced a time in your past when you failed at giving a speech. Or perhaps you thought you failed.

Recall that event. Use some relaxing techniques such as deep breathing to dispel the anxiety and feel yourself overcoming it. Practice and repeat the processes often to help you overcome your fears. Imagine each event that caused your fear. Examine each event closely. Try to avoid blocking the memories as they develop; instead allow your thoughts to process. Once you complete the step, Step up and challenge the memories. Counter the negative thoughts in order to overcome them. Tell your subconscious mind why these negative ideas are not true so there is no need to suffer a panic attack over them.

Each time you practice systematic desensitization you will be closer to overcoming your fears and panic attacks, since the fears will become more powerless with every practice.

Techniques such as systematic desensitization help you to overcome panic attacks because they replace the fear you learned from the events you call back to mind. The feeling of guided relaxation and being in control of countering the negative thoughts should help you master your panic attacks. If you cannot clearly visualize the thing that makes you panic or your fear is overwhelming, stop and repeat some of the earlier sessions.

However, if you are able to control your negative thoughts and counter them, you are ready to follow through with this guided relaxation.

First, Get in your chair and sit at your desk. Think of some simple thing you would like to reward yourself with. Set up the reward so you can have it as soon as you have completed this next worksheet.

Now you will start training to relax. You can use either coping responses or deep-muscle relaxation techniques. Take in a few deep breathes by slowly inhaling, holding it for a few seconds and then exhaling slowly. Continue until your body feels more relaxed.

Mechanisms of Systematic Desensitization

Now you will work through the mechanisms of systematic desensitization. Take some extra time to finish this.

Step 1: Your goal is to find out what makes you panic

Start by attempting to identify the events that lead to your fear through the systematic desensitization processes. Create a log of the events and your responses that lead to your panic attacks. On a scale from one to 10, rate your panic level.

Step 2: Create a ladder of the stimulus circumstances

Create a list of up to circumstances that cause you to panic. Use some index cards (3 x 5 inches) to rank the sequence of panic attacks. Note both the least and more intense situations.

Step 3: Learn coping responses or counter-conditioning responses

Your goal is to learn how to cope with the panic attacks or else inhibit them. Deep-muscle relaxation is one of the most popular techniques in therapy. So let's choose this method to help you overcome panic attacks. We can also use emotive imagery techniques if the deep-muscle relaxation techniques fail. Emotive imagery involves the process of you focusing on some enjoyable scenes during your desensitization processes.

Imagine yourself in a beautiful and peaceful garden. Picture the sounds of birds chirping and the breeze of fresh air on your face. You can also meditate by focusing on counting and breathing. Allow the images to transport you into the event that led to your fear. Let the peace consume you as you walk into the moment in your life where fear engulfed your body.

Next, you are going to try some assertion responses. You can choose relaxing music, or thoughts that help you cope. If you choose coping thoughts whisper some coping statements or say them in your head. For example, you can state to yourself - "I will overcome my panic attacks."

Continue to rank your level of panic attacks throughout the processes. Practice your techniques daily until you become master of your own thinking, behaviors and emotions.

Step 4: Each day examine your ability to produce images

This is one of the critical points in your therapeutic process. Throughout the process of imagining your events, focus on the complete details, including the sounds, smells, feelings, sight sensations, etc. Instead of imagining yourself in the images, watch someone else go through the visualization processes of recalling back the events that led to your panic attacks. Again, allow those senses to surface. Do not allow yourself to suppress the thoughts. If you start to feel panic allow the feeling to develop then step - up to examine what caused those feelings.

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