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  1. #1

    Minimizing Panic By Recognizing First and Second Fear

    Minimizing Panic By Recognizing First and Second Fear
    Panicked Chick Blog
    Aug 10, 2009

    Curing panic attacks is much easier when you understand what is happening to you and when you can recognize particular thoughts and how they escalate and reinforce panic symptoms.

    According to Dr. Claire Weekes, there are two types of fear. First and second fear. But to anxiety sufferers, it can be quite difficult to distinguish the two different types because often we, anxiety and panic sufferers, experience both types of fear simultaneously. The swiftness of our anxiety/panic attacks is a factor as well.

    First Fear
    • response to danger (the flight or fight response)
    • everyone experiences this kind of fear when faced with a threatening situation
    • once the danger is gone, the fear subsides
    • but for anxiety sufferers, our fear does not subside the way it should; we seem to hold on to it longer than necessary and continue to feel afraid when there is no danger in sight
    • by holding on to this fear, we add more fuel to the fire
    • as Dr. Weekes puts it, we "add fear to the first fear"
    • whatever brought on the first response to fear (whether a thought or situation), we begin to be afraid of fear itself because we have a hard time calming down after an attack

    "All the symptoms of stress--the pounding heart, the churning stomach, trembling body, and so on--can be called first fear because they too seem to come unbidden, like the flash of first panic that comes in response to danger."

    Second Fear
    • follows thoughts that stem from statements such as "Oh, my God," "What if this," "What if that"
    • we add second fear through terrifying thoughts (embarrassing oneself, going crazy or insane, wondering if we'll pass out in front of people or even die right there on the spot)

    Dr. Weekes gives a great example of both first and second fear that many of us can relate to. Imagine you are in church, a movie theater, a meeting or whatever and you begin to feel trapped. This is enough to set you off. The feeling of being trapped and the accompanying symptoms of anxiety are first fear. The anxiety builds and you want to escape but before you get up to excuse yourself your mind takes over and you say to yourself, "Oh, my God, I'm going to embarrass myself in front of all these people," or "what if everyone looks at me like I'm crazy." Once you start the "what if" questions, you have added second fear to the mix.

    I learned in therapy a long time ago, that anxiety has to peak. It cannot keep rising indefinitely. Once it peaks, it will have to start to come down. This is reassuring once you believe it.

    So, the way to cope with panic, according to Dr. Weekes, is to "[practice] seeing panic through, even seeing agitation through, with as much acceptance as you can muster."

    The only way of eliminating panic is by seeing panic through; not running away. Relax your body as soon as you feel tension, thereby stopping second fear from taking over and overwhelming you into running away from fear. The tension will build but it cannot keep building forever. It will come down, if we can just wait it out. I'm trying to do this and I know how hard it can be, but I feel like seeing panic through is the best way of eliminating it.

    Source: Weekes, C. (1972). Peace From Nervous Suffering. New York. Hawthorn Books, Inc.

  2. #2

    Re: Minimizing Panic By Recognizing First and Second Fear

    Years ago,I carried Claire Weekes' book, Hope And Help For Your Nerves, around like a bible,because I found it so helpful. I was able to recognize the first fear and was able to not let it escalate to second fear. And I have managed panic pretty well since then. I have always had panic attacks,but they're way less frequent than they used to be.

    Lately though, when I am in therapy,I have been experiencing panic in a different way. There's no first or second fear, it just goes straight to feeling like I'm going to pass out. There's no building up to it or anything,no surge of panic going on,so I don't have time to even stop and think, I just start freaking out because I am going to pass out.

    And now I am starting to worry about what would happen if I do pass out. I have a few different scenarios that keep running through my mind. I guess maybe I should ask my therapist what would happen if I did, then maybe I won't worry about it so much.

    But of course,I haven't passed out yet. My therapist just acts like it's no big deal and gets me talking,and it does help. But what if it happens when I'm not in a session,then what would I do. What if I was at work and it happened?

    What does happen when you pass out? Can you pass out from panic?

  3. Re: Minimizing Panic By Recognizing First and Second Fear

    What I wonder about is how do the upper and lower brain work together and can the higher brain functions of the frontal cortex reprogram the lower brain? How does that work?

    I mean, some people are better at managing emotions than others just by their nature. Other people don't seem to be less able to regulate the automatic functions of the brain stem. My guess is that panic and anxiety first occur in the lower brain (fight or flight) but then there is some disregulation by the higher brain ... or the lower brain reactions are so fast and strong (perhaps due to trauma) that they overwhelm the thinking part of the frontal lobes. By the time the thinking part kicks in the adrenaline is already in the blood, heart rate has kicked up and breathing has become quicker.

    Is there any research that links how the two regions interact to anxiety and panic disorder?



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