Simple trick to beat the agony of crippling anxiety: Two million of us experience panic attacks. But you CAN stop them, says a new book — by learning how to rewire your brain
- Alternative psychotherapist Klaus Bernhardt revealed how to stop panic attacks
- He suggests the Ten Sentence Method of mental training for positive thinking
- He advises identifying triggers which can be auditory, visual or kinaesthetic
- Klaus believes developing a new way of thinking can reduce panic attacks
- Two million people within the UK suffer from recurring panic attacks
Your heart starts racing, you pant for breath, dizziness kicks in and you feel like you’re losing control. You shiver, then are seized by a hot flush, while your hands dampen with sweat.
You are having a panic attack. And you are far from alone.
Most of us will experience at least one episode like that in our lives. But many — two million in the UK — suffer recurring panic attacks. More than anything else, they would love to live a normal life, free from the fear of fear.
That’s where I come in. An alternative psychotherapist and member of the Academy for Neuroscientific Education Management (AFNB), I run a clinic specialising in anxiety where 70 per cent of our patients need fewer than six sessions to be completely cured of their panic attacks.
Alternative psychotherapist Klaus Bernhardt revealed how questioning your thought process and rewiring your brain can prevent panic attacks
Our secret? A groundbreaking new treatment rooted in cutting-edge neuroscience. Over the past 20 years, huge advances have been made in understanding how our brains work. Thanks to imaging technology, we can watch our grey cells think. We can test which thoughts and mental exercises produce which reactions.
As a result, we now have a very good understanding of what happens in the brain and how that leads to a panic attack — and we also know what can be done to stop anxiety in its tracks.
KNOW THE SIGNS
Among the physical warning signs are stomach and digestion problems, sudden issues with vision, rashes and other skin disorders, involuntary muscle twitching (tics), as well as going to the loo more often. Even slipped discs and shingles have been shown to be psychosomatic and can count as warning signs, too.
Mental warning signs include sudden forgetfulness and difficulty concentrating, lack of motivation, exhaustion and feeling sad for no apparent reason. A panic attack is itself one of the strongest warnings about mental health.
Mostly they start when you ignore your gut instinct — the voice of your unconscious — for far too long.
With more than 70 per cent of my patients, I have been able to identify the cause of their anxiety disorder as one of these three issues: relationship, job or personal circumstances.
Medication can be another cause of panic attacks. Alongside anti-psychotics, the thyroid hormone thyroxine, which is used in cases of an underactive thyroid, is also a potential trigger.
So is food that causes bloating — intolerance of gluten (a protein found in almost all cereal products) can also lead to panic attacks.
Klaus suggests the Ten Sentence Method to train the brain into thinking positively. He believes anyone who thinks negatively for a long period can expect to face anxiety (file image)
But negative thinking is at the root of many anxiety issues. Every single one of your thoughts creates synapses — connections between neurons, or nerve cells — in your head.
The stronger the emotions that underlie these thoughts, whether positive or negative, the more efficient these neuronal networks are.
So, anyone who thinks negatively for long enough is laying down an information superhighway in their brain that travels directly towards anxiety.
The good news is you can teach your brain to bypass the anxiety superhighway and prevent panic attacks from happening.
LEARNING THE ART OF POSITIVE THINKING
The mental training system I prefer is called the Ten Sentence Method. It’s based on asking yourself a simple question: ‘What would your life be like if your life was amazing?’
Write down ten sentences that describe your idea of a perfect life. This is about far more than positive thinking. We want to achieve ‘genuine reprogramming’ in your brain, which means paying close attention to the rules that govern how your brain works.
Klaus claims its easier to achieve goals in reality when we believe we are capable of what we want to achieve (file image)
Your sentences must not contain any negatives. ‘I would like to live without fear’, for example, is a negative rather than a positive statement. Your brain simply is not capable of thinking in negation.
If I say: ‘Please do not think about a bear riding a bicycle’, can you avoid thinking about a bear? Of course not. Similarly, every time you say to yourself that you do not want any more panic attacks, you are merely ensuring your brain is more susceptible to panic, because you have reinforced the panic-related connections in your brain.
Instead of saying: ‘I do not want to be anxious any more,’ from now on say: ‘I am brave and self-confident.’
Avoid hidden negatives such as ‘carefree’ or ‘debt-free’. It is not just that they contain the negative words ‘care’ and ‘debt’, but here the word ‘free’ is a synonym for ‘without’ — another way of saying ‘no’.
Stick to the present tense. We now know our brain forms large numbers of synapses when we experience something in real life. What is much more exciting, though, is that we form almost as many of these neuronal connections when we intensely visualise something.
As soon as we start thinking that we are already capable of doing everything that we want to achieve, it starts getting easier to achieve those goals in reality. It’s a mental trick exploited in sport for years.
Klaus believes repeating ‘self-achievable’ statements are crucial for achieving a positive mindset (file image)
And be specific: the more tangibly you describe your dream life, the faster your brain can create the necessary connections.
Concentrate on areas of your life where avoidance behaviours are already par for the course. For example, if you have not been able to drive a car for a long time, a good phrase might be: ‘I love driving.’
Lastly, ensure your sentences are ‘self-achievable’. That means that your goals should not be dependent on other people. You alone decide what you will do next.
Here are examples of how a few of your sentences might look:
● I love my job, have fun with my colleagues and every day feel happy that my work is valued.
● I enjoy exercising twice a week and feel great in my body.
● I embrace socialising — it’s easy to greet everyone with a smile. I love the positive energy I get in return.
● I have turned my hobby (use your real hobby here) into my job and love making good money through something I enjoy.
Klaus believes it’s important to identity anxiety triggers — be they auditory, visual or kinaesthetic (file image)
The next thing to do is rewire your brain as quickly as possible. To do this we use a trick derived from neuroscience. Every day spend 20 minutes on one of your sentences — ideally before bed, as your brain prefers to process information just before falling sleep.
As you repeat your chosen sentence, concentrate on one of your five senses in turn. You will see, hear, feel, smell and taste one after the other, keeping each sensation as separate as you possibly can.
The more details that occur to you as you run the situations through your head, the faster your brain is rewired.
IDENTIFY YOUR ANXIETY TRIGGERS
We all have different anxiety triggers — be they auditory, visual or kinaesthetic (how something makes you feel).
1 Starting with the auditory, write down the two sentences that run through your head most frequently immediately before a panic attack. It might be: ‘Don’t panic, not now, it’ll be a disaster.’
Next, write down two more sentences you clearly remember where someone told you something that made you happy.
Now read the first two of your ‘anxiety sentences’ in your head. See if you can perceive in which ear you can more clearly ‘hear’ the sentences — your left or right?
Klaus claims you can cancel the dizziness symptom associated with anxiety by imagining dizziness in an alternative direction (file image)
Repeat this test with both positive sentences. Remarkably, around 91 per cent of my patients establish two things. First, that the thoughts were more clearly heard on one side than the other, and second, that the side changed depending on whether the focus was on a positive or a negative thought.
You can use this to fight panic. Take an anxiety-inducing sentence and pay attention to which side you can ‘hear’ it more clearly. Then, mentally, slide it from the negative ear to the positive.
In other words, focus on trying to hear it in the positive ear. Can you tell how one and the same negative sentence, once shifted to the positive side, either cannot be heard at all, or sounds somehow off or unbelievable?
2 Moving onto your visual triggers, write down two situations in which you had a particularly strong feeling of anxiety or panic. Have the images clear in your mind.
Now, search through your memory for two positive sequences that you can clearly picture visually. Many people think of the birth of their first child, an exam passed with flying colours, a fantastic holiday or a dream fulfilled.
Klaus suggests imagining you have mechanical ribs of steel that you can use to expand at the press of a button to relieve tight chest symptoms (file image)
Next, picture the negative image followed by the positive image — you will visualise them in different sides of the brain. When you try to ‘move’ the negative image to the positive side, it might get stuck — you may be able to force it to the positive side. But again, doing so, or attempting to do so, instantly makes you calmer.
3 Now, to identify your kinaesthetic triggers, write down all the unpleasant feelings you perceive as soon as you are aware of anxiety welling up. Perhaps dizziness, a tingling in your arms and legs, tightness in your chest or a lump in your throat. In order to cancel these physical symptoms, you need to use a counter method in each case.
Here are some examples for the most common symptoms:
● Cancel left/right dizziness with imagined dizziness back and forth. Cancel back/forth dizziness with imagined dizziness left to right. Cancel an anticlockwise spinning sensation with imagined clockwise dizziness. And you can cancel a clockwise spinning sensation with imagined anticlockwise dizziness.
● If you feel that the ground beneath your feet is giving way, picture the following: everywhere in the ground are hydraulic lifts. As soon as one of your feet touches the ground, they lift it up.
Klaus recommends imagining you are standing beneath an ice-cold shower if you feel your body temperature rising during panic attacks (file image)
● Stop the ‘ants’ moving up your arm by imagining ants moving down your arm (or vice-versa).
● If you feel heat rising in your body, imagine you are standing beneath an ice-cold shower and the water is flowing over your body and taking the heat with it.
● If your throat feels tight, like you’re wearing a weighty collar, imagine there is a cool, smooth steel pipe in your throat that is slowly expanding and counteracting the collar: the collar starts to split, then fall off.
● Tightness in your chest is often described as a belt around your chest. Imagine you have mechanical ribs of steel that you can use to expand at the press of a button to burst the belt.
● Likewise, if your panic-inducing visualisation is sped up, imagine it in slow motion. If the voice in your head is deep and threatening, imagine it as squeaky and inoffensive, and so on.
Escaping panic attacks begins with questioning your thought processes and then, invigorated by the first successes of a new way of thinking, tackling the life changes that need to be made, bit by bit. It’s as simple as that.
How do you halt a panic attack in seconds?
Fear follows certain patterns. There is a reason why we speak about thoughts ‘running around our head’, because almost everyone recognises how their own thoughts go round and round, clockwise or anticlockwise, like a wheel or spinning top.
As soon as you have identified your individual mental ‘direction’, you will see it is a reoccurring pattern. It always turns the same way.The next time a thought starts spinning in your head, pay attention to how your mental merry-go-round is turning, then simply pretend it is revolving in the other direction.
You will notice the carousel grinding to a halt within just a few seconds — and should become noticeably calmer.
Adapted by Felicia Bromfield from The Anxiety Cure: Live A Life Free From Panic In Just A Few Weeks by Klaus Bernhardt, published by Vermilion at £9.99.© Klaus Bernhardt. To order a copy for £7.49 (25 per cent discount) visit mailshop.co.uk/books or call 0844 571 0640. P&P is free on orders over £15. Offer valid until May 28.
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