„Please understand, it’s all in your head!“
That was the answer of the parents of a young woman with panic attacks (in Italy). I write these lines for her. Yes, the parents are right. Everything happens only in the head.But does this hint help us and can we change our thoughts?
This answer does not help us at all, because we are not the thinkers of our emerging thoughts, and it only leads to the fact that we now have an additional bad conscience and feelings of guilt. In fact, it is not our fault if fear arises.
Anyone who has panic attacks should therefore understand exactly what is happening in their head at this moment and how the body reacts to it afterwards. So it becomesthat there can be no guilt. In addition, this clear knowledge about the physical process frees us from the fear of fear.
In a nutshell, the following happens*:
1 In the brain, there is a region called the amygdala. Whenever a similar situation arises that has already caused anxiety, the amygdala sounds the alarm. There is no need for an actual dangerous situation. An overcrowded room is enough, because you once felt uncomfortable in the fully seated theatre, or if you have to go to the dentist because you had pain during your last visit to the doctor. Your brain is like a computer. It has stored the emotions and thoughts and has developed an early warning system. All is well and not to criticise.
2 After the amygdala in the brain has become aware, it sends the corresponding signals to the body so that it can develop energy for flight or combat. The heartbeat is increased so that more blood can flow to the muscles. The usual symptoms, such as tachycardia, sweating, nausea, etc., begin. This is also all normal and extremely important in real danger situations.
3 Now it gets exciting, because while all this happens automatically without us being aware of it, after 2-3 seconds the rational part of our brain comes into action. A person without a tendency to panic attacks will now recognise that there is no danger at all and will exhale in a relaxed manner so that the body can switch the engine down again. Everything is good and life goes on.
We also rationally recognise the situation as harmless, but continue irrational thought processes in the brain. So, there is a separation between the body, which objectively is in a completely safe situation at this moment, and the brain, which operates “thought cinema” in a completely different time. Thoughts usually move in the future, and the most horrible scenes emerge that could all occur. Loss of control by powerlessness or even impending death are suddenly present. All this is fed by the memories of similar situations experienced in the past.
The fear now becomes panic.
In fact, it’s all in the head. It’s the thoughts. Well, we cannot simply change our thoughts, because what appears in the brain is not consciously decided by us. We have a conditioned brain, i.e. – once again very briefly summarised* – our brain presents us with the thoughts that we make possible for it on the basis of our genes or experiences.
If two people are in a room, the senses of the two will never perceive or interpret the objects in the room in the same way due to their different conditioning.
What do my eyes see? What does my sense of smell perceive? What do I perceive as pleasant or unpleasant? How does my brain interpret this? That is absolutely individual. We are therefore at the mercy of our thoughts. They simply appear and talk quietly to each other.
It is very important to understand that you can never tell your brain, I want these thoughts and I don’t want those. That doesn’t work just as little than replacing negative thoughts with positive thoughts.
So, it is not about wanting to have thoughts away – even if they seem negative to us because they frighten us – but it is about
how do I deal with my thoughts!!!!
For that which is good is – and this is completely overlooked in our materially oriented world – thoughts are only thoughts.
As soon as fear appears and it is recognised that objectively there is no danger, it is a matter of realising the unreal thought processes and letting them run into emptiness. It is important not to cling to unconsciously emerging thoughts and to use conscious thoughts to make a film of fear out of them that has nothing to do with what is actually present at the moment.
If we become aware of this self-created thought film, we can simply interrupt it with a little practice.
It’s so simple that if I lived in the past, I could be annoyed that no one has been able to explain it to me in the last 30 years.
That’s why I wrote the book. I have tracked down this phenomenon with the help of yoga and can therefore only recommend this path. Often fears arise because we are not in balance with our lives. That is why I always write that they are actually a gift, because they point out to us that something in our life is not right.
Yoga, with its all-encompassing effect on body and mind, also provides balance and harmony wherever we need it.
It should not be overlooked – and I always repeat this – that yoga is meditation. All yoga exercises (breathing, asanas, and philosophy) are therefore only the means to reach the state of meditation (complete presence) at the end.
Anyone who meditates and is completely present recognises that thoughts are only impulses that simply emerge. The one who meditates, learns not to adhere to freely appearing and thus completely uncontrolled appearing thoughts anymore. They then immediately lose their power over us and no longer seem as heavy and oppressive as the stones in the picture. Those who meditate will then no longer identify themselves with these thoughts. Those who meditate recognise that we are not our thoughts!
We are all conditioned beings. And so, the parents of the young woman are definitely right. Everything takes place in our head. But only very few know that this does not only refer to fear, but to all thoughts and emotions that a person has.
And everyone must decide for himself whether he wants to see through this at some point or continue to identify with a brain conditioned by evolution, genetics, and education.
*In the book I go into these points in more detail
Fear as the gate to absolute freedom
Anger, jealousy and grief are strong emotions. Fear, however, is perhaps the feeling that hits us the hardest and can totally knock us down. The fear of death makes us completely helpless and our reaction is usually to run away from it. We don’t want to feel it. We don’t want it. Not today and preferably never again, because it paralyses us and makes us so weak. It takes away our breath and all our strength. We cannot defend ourselves against it. Everything else around us becomes small and void and only fear is still there and dominates us completely.
In order not to be helplessly at the mercy of fear anymore, it is indispensable to understand how and what happens in our body and mind. We cannot lose fear and the fear of fear if we do not know that we have a region in our brain that for good reason is responsible for emotions and therefore also for fear. Knowing that this fear is „only“ irrational doesn’t help (which most people around us can’t understand) because we can’t fight with the rational part of our brain against the part that triggers the fear (amygdala) because it’s a conditioning. This means that if the fear has appeared several times in certain situations, it will become an automatic process controlled by the brain in the future. All this happens to protect us. It is something completely natural and nothing negative.
You can get rid of the anxiety attacks by recognising your conditioning and gradually releasing yourself from it. Anyone can do that if they want to. The most important thing is to realise that conditioning is not a bad thing. There is no good or bad emotion, just as there are no positive or negative thoughts. Thoughts and emotions are neutral. They appear in every human being as caused by his genes and upbringing. There is nothing wrong with that. The question is only, how we deal with it, because we are used to put an evaluation on a completely neutral process and to pigeonhole everything, really everything, into „good“ or „bad“.
Once your own conditioned process is recognised and accepted (meditation helps here), you can leave behind the level that tells you to exchange negative thoughts for positive thoughts or negative emotions for positive emotions. This leads to nothing at all, except to suppressing your own nature. And what is suppressed automatically becomes stronger and stronger until it explosively pushes up again. So what matters is not what appears, but how you deal with it.
It takes patience and the firm will to figure out and understand yourself. We have not cared about who we are and what is good for us for years or even decades and therefore cannot expect that now that we have panic attacks, we will understand everything within three weeks or best of all immediately. Without fear, we would not even have thought of stopping and looking where we stand in life. If you think you can get rid of the panic quickly so that you can continue the old life as quickly as possible then you are wrong. Because the fear just wants to point out to you that things will not go on like this.
I always try to point out that this inward journey is the exciting and beautiful thing, and not what you have always done or want to do.
When you have started the inner journey and slowly realised why you are where you are, you might want to go a step further. Once you have understood that thoughts and emotions are neutral, you can devote yourself completely to fear at some point. Instead of running away from it, you can let yourself fall completely into fear of death and see what lies behind the fear. If you go straight into fear, you can finally dissolve it.
We know that before the state of helpless panic, fear has slowly built up and increased. We succeed in this successfully with the help of our worried thoughts into the future, into a time that does not exist at all. It is unbelievable, what comes to mind, and what terrible things could happen to us. In addition, there is the memory of the amygdala, which then triggers the corresponding reactions in the body.
If the fear has finally become so great that the panic takes complete possession of us, then the emotion is so strong and powerful that the body and mental attention are 100 percent absorbed. In this moment of fear of death, we are so close to ourselves and aware of our existence as never before in life. Everything that was going on before the panic was unreal (it only happened in the brain). But now that the whole body is in turmoil and the urge to escape or fight is no longer suppressible, we have arrived in reality. And the question arises whether we have the courage to face this reality, the racing heart, the outbreak of sweat, the thoughts of flight and death. What if we simply let fear happen? If it is allowed to grasp the body and pass through it? Just watch what happens when we surrender and are ready to die here and now? If you believe in God, then surrender completely to your God at this moment. Instead of just believing, you can now show your trust in God and submit completely to His will.
If the resistance against fear is given up, the immense energy used for the resistance suddenly becomes free and everything can flow. We arrive in the here and now, in absolute reality and presence.
And then it can be that you realise that the thoughts regarding fear are just soap bubbles, like all thoughts that appear about 80,000 times a day in your brain.
If there is no more resistance, then there is also no thinker, no death and also no life. There is only the moment of complete presence. Behind the fear is only being and in this being itself there is only joy.
Suffering does not arise because there is fear, but because we do not want to have fear and do everything to avoid it.
Meditation for Pain
In the book „Free from Panic Attacks and Fear of Flying“ I described in detail how states of fear dissolve with the help of meditation. I should like to share with you another experience regarding meditation. Since the birth of my first daughter 28 years ago, migraine has visited me regularly.
I used to take aspirin tablets in the morning when the first headaches came up, drink a strong cup of coffee and then went out jogging. That usually helped. Afterwards I was able to „function“ again and to take on my work and responsibility. If this violent cure did not help, I lay flat for three days. Then I was completely exhausted from the pain and after about a week I was again reasonably well.
At some point, however, I couldn’t and didn’t want to function anymore. I also no longer had the strength and the desire to deal with my body, as it seemed to me now, so brutally and ruthlessly. This was also the time when I started yoga and also found access to Kundalini exercises, which sometimes helped very well and often eliminated the pain. The whole shoulder and neck area was trained and with certain breathing exercises (mulabandha) strongly supplied with blood. This had the same effect as caffeine and jogging.
After I had gained a deeper and deeper access to yoga and was now able to fully immerse myself in the inner journey, I experienced that with the help of meditation, the migraine pain subsided and often simply disappeared. I then applied this practice to all other headaches and also to my broken foot. It worked for any kind of pain.
How can that be? What exactly happens in the brain and nervous system I can’t explain to you. There are probably several research projects on this subject in the meantime, and science is trying to track down this phenomenon. It is not important to me why this is so, and that is why I have not dealt with this kind of literature. It is a fact that with the help of meditation the sensation of pain is in any case extremely alleviated. For all sceptics I’d like to give you a link to an article published in the Journal of Neuroscience (Brain Mechanisms Supporting the Modulation of Pain by Mindfulness Meditation) http://www.jneurosci.org/content/31/14/5540.
I want to tell you how this works for me, and maybe you can also use this method and develop a different way of dealing with pain in this way.
The worst thing for me at the beginning was that the pain ripped me out of my plans made for the day or the week. It forced me down, and everything I had planned had to be given up immediately. So in addition to the pain there was anger and despair. I could no longer do what I had planned to do. Therefore it was extremely important for me in the first step to accept that now there was pain and everything else no longer plays a role. I had to learn to accept the pain.
With this acceptance for the here and now, the pain, I could retreat to my room for meditation. If there is anger or another strong emotion besides the pain, you can hardly enter the state of meditation. The fiery thoughts will not let you come to rest, and therefore the breath cannot become regular and slow.
Only when there was no more resistance could I calmly concentrate on my breathing and relax my body and mind despite the pain.
By concentrating on breathing, I then come into a state that allows me to fully engage in meditation. Breathing is there. Hearing is there. Pain is there. I begin to concentrate on everything at the same time that my senses can perceive and also to follow my calm breathing.
So the pain becomes a part of everything I perceive. There is my abdominal breathing. I perceive all sounds very attentively and I feel the pain in the right half of my face.
The pain is no longer so dominant. I only perceive it as strongly as all other senses perceive noises, smells or breathing. This is a great relief if you don’t have or don’t want to take any medication. The pain becomes bearable.
If the pain is so strong that I cannot bear it, I go all the way into it. I give myself completely to the pain and imagine that I am the pain. I know that pain is not there to hurt or torture me. It is a part of me and wants my attention. If it is a stomachache or toothache, it wants to point out that something is wrong and we should go to the doctor. The pain doesn’t know that we suffer and don’t want to have it.
As strange as it sounds, but I try to develop compassion and love for this pain. I allow it to be there. To be with me. I let it become as strong as it wants, and then I am only pain. Then the following happens:
At some point the tears come and I become very emotional. I begin to miss my children and long very much for love and attention. As soon as I get this love because my husband or children are around, the pain subsides. Without any real reason I cry and cry. Sometimes an emotional pain overwhelms me, which I cannot explain to myself at all and I cry as if I had just lost the dearest person to death. An indescribable pain of life overcomes me and a strong compassion for all beings that suffer. It is a mystery to me, because I actually have nothing to complain about. It is crazy, however, that the pain becomes weaker and weaker with the tears until it disappears completely. As if it were flowing away with the tears and the emerging compassion.
Later I read that Eckhard Tolle called this pain the pain-body. As if it had a life of its own. For most people this will sound very absurd, but for me it feels exactly the same. Because since I get involved with the pain and meet it lovingly, it can dissolve faster and faster. If someone then takes care of me with understanding and love, massages me or prepares some tea for me, the pain quickly says goodbye.
It really feels like I am carrying the pain of many generations within me and I have to pay attention to it whenever it appears. And then I do what it wants, I listen to it so that it can withdraw afterwards.
But it also happens that the pain simply dissipates without tears and drama as soon as I fully engage with it. The throbbing in the temple and behind the right eye becomes incredibly strong because I concentrate on it completely. It becomes so strong that it goes beyond this usual pain-field and the whole head becomes a throbbing pain that seems unbearable. But I do not draw back. I am with the pain and I let it happen. It may be strong and become as powerful as it wants. Often it begins to wander around, from behind the eye to the nose, to the cheek or to the ear. It goes from top to bottom and is suddenly weak or completely gone.
If, despite the pain, I get into a deep state of meditation, I am the pain itself and I know that pain is nothing but love. Then everything dissolves in it. This experience is so beautiful that I am even grateful for the pain. It forced me to have this deep experience.
Wish you all a great time, Monika
Do we love our drama?
This is a very challenging question, and yet we must ask it. Because those who live with fear, depression or grief for years or even decades start to identify themselves with them at some point. I’m scared. I’m depressed. I suffer. This is quite normal, as conditioning takes place in our brain due to the repetitive process. It’s kind of burned into our brains, like a tattoo.
If we are not aware of this, then we walk around like a blind hen and don’t even realize that all our important decisions in life – with whom we live together, what work we do and whether we work at all, with whom we communicate, etc., are motivated and controlled by our fear, grief or depressive thoughts.
So the question is not what could make this life beautiful, but rather we look up anxiously every day and think what could happen if we put our foot outside the door.
This fearful behaviour is not life, but an escape from life. And if this has already become a habit, then we hold on to it and start to feel it as normal and right. Yeah, we’re even starting to love this drama. We can no longer imagine a life without this drama – fear, sorrow or depression.
Is there any real and serious desire to get rid of fear? Who are we when we’re not afraid, panicked, sad or depressed anymore? We may notice that we complain, but we don’t change anything. We may notice that we are in relationships that do not free us, but constrict us. Those who recognize this must also ask themselves the question whether they are prepared to change this!
Do I want to live with my habits and stay in the warmth of the victim’s role or do I want to taste freedom? And what do I do with this freedom? What do I do with all the rotten compromises that I have put into my life because of fear, and that make up my whole life?
If we can suddenly fly, what do we do? What do we do with the abundance of freedom, when the world is our oyster?
This enormous life, which suddenly reveals itself to you, can make you really dizzy. Joy can come.
I therefore recommend that you first withdraw calmly and ask yourself the questions, do I love my drama? Am I ready for change? Do I really want to be free of fear? Where am I in life? Am I fed up with being guided in my decisions by fear or live in a way I really want?
Perhaps you are so far away from yourself that you no longer know exactly what you want. All wishes and dreams may have been suppressed or dismissed as silly. As if we had another life to make up for it all.
To let go of the fear, we need nothing but the firm will. No doctor and no pill can really take away our fear. Only we can do that by ourselves. Here and now we should examine the seriousness of his desire to get rid of fear.
We always have a choice. Every day. Every hour. Every second. Here and now we decide whether we want to live a life of fear or freedom.
Observe whether you are now collecting arguments why this freedom cannot be possible for you. The one who lived many years or even decades with panic attacks (or other dramas), may have the will to get rid of them, but if one does not recognize that it already became a conditioning, it might hardly be possible to step out of this programmed brain.
Suitable for this step are the observation in meditation and the accompanying breathing and the movement invigorating the body. I hear I don’t want yoga and I don’t want meditation. That’s not for me. If anybody knows another way, which has exactly the same effect, so well. Go this way.
This is not about yoga or meditation. These are only possibilities that show us where we stand in life, what fear wants to tell us and how we function.
Meditation and yoga are just words. Basically, it’s just about being good to your body. To find one’s balance. Getting to know yourself. It does not matter what means are used and what they are called. Yoga is already there and has proven itself over thousands of years. It worked beautifully for me. Why not for you?
Listen inside and see if you love your drama and feel the resistance against letting go of fear, and if you really want to be free.
Have a nice week, Monika
This blog is for
… People who are struggling with panic attacks and fear of flying and want to talk about it. In particular, the blog should also be available to the readers of my book „Free From Panic Attacks And Fear Of Flying“ for further questions.
At the time being, the book is only available in German from Amazon, but we are working on its translation. We plan to publish the English version in the beginning of 2019. To give you an impression of the content of the book, I should like to publish the first chapter, which contains the aim of the book. Please keep in mind that this is the first version without professional editing!
This book is for people who want to better understand their irrational fears and seek a way out of the spiral of fear. With much love and understanding I write what I would have liked to have read myself, when after years of panic attacks and constant migraine attacks I felt so bad that I had little hope of ever being able to lead a normal life.
It took me almost 30 years to escape from this hell with the help of yoga and share my experiences. The motivation to put into writing everything came above all from my yoga students. As a yoga teacher, I was able to experience that yoga classes or seminars can make a difference, but since we are faced with fears here, it did not seem to me to be the only and best solution. Often I was faced with the phenomenon that quite a lot of courageous and determined people registered, but in the end the panic got the upper hand and they therefore stayed away from the events, with the good intentions to definitely want to participate next time.
That is why I want to reach as many people with irrational fears as possible and show them how to get out in a natural way ofthe spiral of fear: either step by step with growing consciousness or immediately with a courageous leap directly into fear. This book can be the decisive impetus to leave the confinement of the comfort zone for a new beginning.
I should like to point out that I am neither a psychologist nor a doctor. I’ve also never heard of anyone getting rid of the panic attacks after they went into professional medical care. But I don’t want to rule that out. Maybe and hopefully there are examples, and I just haven’t met anyone yet.
According to my own experiences and observations in my environment, doctors prescribe drugs such as antidepressants so that anxiety is suppressed and the affected person can continue to „function“ in everyday life. In addition, visits to psychologists often extend over long periods of time, but only provide very limited help.
During my work as a yoga teacher I met more and more people of all ages and professions with panic attacks. Everyone was on medication. Even the doctors. And if the doctor takes pills himself, what else should he advise patients?
Besides, I’m not writing anything new here. I’m basically just writing about yoga and the experiences I’ve had with my fears. Yoga changes and helps wherever we have physical or mental problems or deficits. For me, it was fear. What is new here is only the approach of applying yoga directly to eliminate fears.
I am unfortunately the only person I know who has overcome the panic attacks and fear of flying without a doctor, medication, and therapeutic sessions. That’s why I described my way for you in this practical guide. Maybe you can follow the path as well and be free of fear.
For better understanding and because many of us do not even know this, the following chapters will explain the symptoms anxiety triggers in the body and what happens in the brain.
By means of breathing exercises and meditation we will learn to observe how the ever-repeating mechanism of anxiety works in body and brain, and in this way we will achieve a distance from anxiety. We become the observers of fear in a way and seem to take control of our bodies again. Apparently, because we actually have control of nothing in life. But more about that later.
In my opinion, it doesn’t matter what caused the anxiety attacks at some point. Much more important than recognizing the cause, it seems to me that it is an ever-repeating process that is learned at some point that needs to be understood and unveiled. That is why we are not looking at the past. On the contrary. I want to win you all over to the here and now.
I myself have only recently understood where my own fears came from. At that time I had been quite free of fear for a long time, and the why has never played a role in overcoming fear. However, you are free to conduct research on the causes with a psychologist at any time.
If we are able to observe the repetitive mechanical process of fear, we can examine it and see what it wants to tell us. Because the good news is, fear is our friend, maybe even a gift. It wants to tell us something and we should learn to listen to it. It’s our personal alarm system. We can therefore be glad that we have these natural signals. The worst thing we can do is silence these alarm bells with pills, alcohol, or other drugs. So we ignore our own nature, continue to function as before, even though something is wrong, and where does that end up?
We learn to listen into our body and mind and get in contact with ourselves in a way. Fear will lead us and ensure that we find our inner balance and thus trust in ourselves and our lives again. So we can finally take responsibility for ourselves again and allow changes so that we are in flow with life. If there is trust again in our lives, we no longer need fear. It will walk away quietly and by itself. Should it still appear from time to time, we always remain the observer and have tools like breathing and meditation to dissolve it from the very beginning. We become happier and freer every time we can face fear without fear.
The book is not only for people with anxiety disorders, but also for those whose family members or other loved ones are struggling with them. It is often the case that we as the persons concerned are very afraid of dealing with fear. Instinctive and therefore quite normal is the reaction that we flee first of all from our own fear. A clarifying discussion, a visit to the doctor or a book on this topic are therefore often taboo. So don’t be surprised if the reactions are as fierce as if we were getting the plague instead of reading this book.
It is also possible that these irrational fears are so much suppressed that we believe we have no problems and blame everything on the others and/or the circumstances. For us, life with fear has become so normal that we have completely lost sight of reality. We have arranged our lives so that we can escape whenever and wherever we need to, without realizing that we are actually running away from life.
The biggest mistake you can make as a loving partner or family member is to accept this encapsulation. Because we, who tend to be afraid, create a comfort zone into which we crawl to hide ourselves. All the others we also prevent from leaving it and therefore narrow not only us but also all the people we love. They must also be controlled and protected.
Therefore, too much understanding and constantly giving in can lead to more and more room being given to fear and thus there is even less reason to leave the spiral of fear.
This book can help to better understand people with fears and possibly support them in their search on the way out of fear.
But it is also important to know that you cannot force anyone to deal with fear. It’s like drug or alcohol addiction. The persons concerned must want it themselves, otherwise he or she will do everything in their power to reject this problem. They must be so full of fear and have the honest desire and will to leave behind this limited prison life, led without real joy, serenity and lightness.
I am looking forward to your comments and I am convinced that anyone who really wants to can get out of this spiral of fear.
With kind regards, Monika