Panic Disorder, Strategy of Control, Psychotherapy


It was 2012. I had reached my threshold of human strength of Wanting – Not Getting – Fighting with Destiny – Controlling – Failing. Nothing worked! Life was going down the drain at a steep slant. The anxiety and depression were nerve-wracking and finally it happened – a Massive panic attack! – that soon prove to be not a one time affair but a manifestation of full fledged long term Panic Disorder. Ever since, for next two years, every single time my general anxiety peaked, I went through virulent panic attacks. Besides mental health, it took a massive toll on my physical health and social skills too. Finally, I had to take a call. I went in for a serious, as-long-as-it-takes commitment to psychotherapy.

What is a Panic Attack and Why?

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Read below the NIMH (National Institute of Mental Health, India) description of Panic Disorder. Also note the words in bold (They aren’t in Bold originally but added by me.)

“People with panic disorder have recurrent unexpected panic attacks, which are sudden periods of intense fear that may include palpitations, pounding heart, or accelerated heart rate; sweating; trembling or shaking; sensations of shortness of breath, smothering, or choking; and feeling of impending doom.

Panic disorder symptoms include:
Sudden and repeated attacks of intense fear
• Feelings of being out of control during a panic attack
Intense worries about when the next attack will happen
• Fear or avoidance of places where panic attacks have occurred in the past” (courtesy )

Notice each word I deliberately highlighted in bold. Panic, as I understand from my own experience and further explained to me by my professional psychotherapist during extensive CBT sessions for panic is hidden in those ‘bold’ words. Yes Panic Disorder is all that NIMH describes but the cognition behind Panic is nothing more than a nerve-snapping moment when the Mind completely gives into the perceived notion of ‘out of control’ after long exposures to severe ‘intense worries’ also accentuated by memories of various ‘in the past’.

If read between the lines, we can then reduce a rabid Panic (and I use the word ‘reduce’ Not to trivialise – for it Know Panic is No child’s play. But by ‘reduce’ I mean to linguistically take the power away from it.) to simply the ‘My Control (over the specific situation and/or my entire life, either or both) Gone Out of All Control and Now I Am Done For’ perception and consequential acute physical symptoms. Panic Disorder is thus rooted in our inherent survival instinct of Control. Hence, just as I was later taught, if the entire question of ‘Controlling’ is tackled from a fresh functional angle then panic can be dealt with and disarmed with absolute success.

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Panic Attacks and Strategy of Control

Each of us, inherently has a very strong Control button in our brain geared towards the primeval survival instinct. Our brain knows nothing better than “Effective Control is equal to Chance of Survival“. But our Mind CAN be trained with practise, patience and correct tools of Psychotherapy to believe otherwise.

Control is NOT NECESSARILY EQUIVOCAL to Survival. It rather is Exactly Opposite to a smooth survival, even according to hardcore clinical psychology. Control is nothing but an act of Resisting and Excluding. People and/or possibilities. It is the Mind narrowing itself down to fallaciously decide that Only This (and Not That) is best for our survival. Each Mind, (as discussed previously in my article ) makes up its own ‘perception’ of Self and the Other (the environment) based on a deep-seated feeling on insecurity and inadequacy right from infancy. And just as much that perception is flawed, so it the defence mechanism Stragety of Control.

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Integrated Behavioural Therapy, including tenets of Schema-focussed Therapy and Dialectical Behaviour Therapy, trains the Mind to release this overt Control for Survival strategy. It trains the Mind to

A) Broaden it’s horizon of positive possibilities without pre-judging people or life situations

B) (At times) Bring in an angle of Accepting and Flowing (grounded in Trusting some Higher phenomenon in Control)

One need not necessarily be a believer in some Higher Metaphysical Control panel for this to work, I suppose. Though yes, that definitely aids this process immensely, as it did for me. But even if you’re a hardcore atheist or agnostic towards any non-perceptible higher control this process teaches the Mind even to simply Broaden it’s understanding of exclusion and inclusion geared towards Survival that is the root of Panic (like I too was taught), with –

– I WANT this because I know it’s Best for me (How do you know for sure?)

– I HAVE TO have it work out this way to be able to be happy, healthy, surviving. (How do you know this is the Only way? What if there were other ways too?)

– I MUST secure this to be emotionally/practically fulfilled. (But, you realise this very ‘MUST’ is destroying every chance of your being thus fulfilled as you cling, control, and fight tooth and nail to secure what you believe will fulfil you?)

– I HAVE NO HOPE! My situation is completely beyond my control now. Panic! (Re-read abovementioned  faulty perceptions. Plus – Broaden the positive possibilities. If not This, then..What if..That?)

– LAST TIME this very thing Killed me with panic. Oh, Panic! (Last time it DIDN’T kill you. You’re still alive, If you’re reading this. You SURVIVED. Albeit it was very traumatic. But This time ISN’T LAST TIME. Each day you grow. You’re ‘x numbers of panic’ stronger today than last time.)

Whether a believer of a Higher Hand in control of one’s life or a completely existential mind believing in random Cause and Effect, either ways, the Mind needs to understand that Control NEVER WORKS towards any successful functionality. Both psychologically and/or philosophically speaking, (and it was taught to me in my encounter with Psychotherapy and has become one of my favourite beliefs) What You Resist, You Reinforce. What You Fight, You End Up Strengthening.

So by attempting to desperately Control and then when it fails by further panicking you’re actually ensuring That Very Thing you’re fighting to avoid. This basic shift in Cognition can prove to be greatest therapeutic antidote to Panic Disorder.

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The Mind believes in too many lies. The Mind comes with blinkers on. The Mind is wired to Control, even to the point of self-destrucion. Whether on our own or (preferably) along with a trained psychotherapist, if we can only reprogram our Mind to drop these limited, faulty perceptions of Self and the absolute needs for survival, Panic Disorder can be disarmed successfully and on a long term basis. I still now get panic attacks, but the frequency astoundingly lesser and intensity much more manageable with years of Mind training. If I can, you too can.

Take Care, dear Mind.

© & Author : Nivedita Dey, 2016
Image© : Source websites



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