QUESTION: My emotional pain always starts with a nervous panic attack and unrealistic ideas that throw me into a vacuum of fear. I am trying to figure out how to effectively navigate this pain and be in it without these freakouts, which I can never seem to get a handle on. How does one just sit in the suffering and get through it? Or get passed it?

ANSWER: The emotional pain does not start with a nervous panic attack. The panic attack is a result of being inattentive to some aspect of ourselves. It is usually a couple of exits down from our intended one, which we missed due to our attempt to numb the pain. The job of the panic attack is to get our attention, to let us know that we have missed something or are not paying attention - that something is amiss. The incessant thinking is our attempt to mask the anxiety. These thoughts (“unrealistic ideas”) have concrete effects on our nervous systems and take huge emotional tolls. Our bodies can not distinguish between thought and reality. When we get into the full cycle of anxiety and incessant thinking, it is usually too late to do anything about it. We need to practice paying attention to triggers and early warning signs of how and when we neglect ourselves.

The actual panic attack responds well to exercise, slow abdominal breathing, rest as well as diet modifications (cutting down on sugar, caffeine, and processed foods is a good start). There are a myriad of ways that one can approach learning how to sit through the pain. A competent therapist to analyze the patterns and a mindfulness meditation practice can be quite useful.