According to the National Institute of Mental Health, about 40 million American adults are affected by anxiety disorders. That is 40 million Americans who are full of fearfulness and uncertainty.Gayla Miller, Hopkins County, KY author, suffered with anxiety for 18 years, from age 15 into her early 30s. Gayla told SurfKY News that early on, worrying became a regular habit.
“Worrying was my normal,” said Gayla, “I would worry about something all the time. If there wasn’t anything to worry about, I would make something up.”
Gayla’s worries started morphing into panic attacks. Panic attacks can be characterized by sudden waves of pure terror, a pounding heart, feeling sweaty, weak, faint and dizzy. A person may become suddenly nauseous, feel actual pain in their chest or feel as if they are in a dream-like state. A panic attack creates a feeling of impending doom and a fear of losing control.
Usually, people suffering from anxiety and panic attacks will believe they are having heart attacks or losing their minds. It is a scary and confusing reality for millions of Americans.
“One little thing would go wrong, and I would feel my heart sink to my stomach and my legs go warm and weak. I would literally be in a state of bewilderment,” explained Gayla. “I was a big catastrophizer. Everything was a catastrophe. If things came easy I felt like there was something wrong. If it wasn’t hard, I’d try to make it hard. I was working against myself every day.”
People in this position usually start displaying “safety behaviors”. Safety behaviors are actions that a person will engage in to help him or her feel protected in the event that a panic attack occurs. This includes carrying safe items, limiting travel by sticking to safe places and even latching onto safe people. A “safe person” is usually a significant other that knows about the panic attacks and knows how to assist the person when an attack takes place.
“I got to the point where I had a safe place and a safe person,” admitted Gayla. “My safe person was my husband and my safe place was my home. My world just kept getting smaller and smaller.”
In Gayla’s early 30s she lost a family member and that is when her anxiety went through the roof.
“It was ridiculous after that,” Gayla remembers. “There were other things going on in my family at that time too. At that point, I was living in a constant state of alert.”
About 6 million American adults have panic disorder and it is twice as common in women as men. People who have repeated, full-blown panic attacks can become terribly disabled by their condition. They will start to avoid places and situations where panic attacks have occurred. The National Institute of Mental Health states on their website that about one-third become housebound. Eventually, this condition can lead a person to acquire full-blown agoraphobia, a fear of open spaces.Gayla continued to go about living life as best she could, but her anxiety was off the charts. She constantly felt bewildered, like she was moving slower than everybody else. Gayla hid her anxiety issues from her friends, family and the people around her.
“Nobody would have ever known,” she admitted. “I put on a real good mask. I didn’t want anybody to think I was crazy. I thought I was the only one.”
Gayla went on to tell SurfKY News that her friends knew she was a “worrywart” but that they didn’t know the full extent of her worry.
“Literally, one day I woke up and I was like, I can not do this anymore. I was killing myself slowly and I knew it,” said Gayla. “That was when I started, what I call, my road to self discovery.”
It was then that Gayla discovered cognitive behavior modification. Gayla’s friend, Robin, was also suffering from anxiety. Robin’s anxiety was so bad that she was having up to five anxiety attacks every day. Robin told Gayla about a program she had been utilizing that focused on cognitive behavior modification. The program had been giving Robin some relief so Gayla gave it a try.
Cognitive behavioral modification is a therapeutic technique developed by a psychologist named Donald Meichenbaum. The therapy focuses on identifying dysfunctional self-talk in order to change undesired behaviors. Meichenbaum’s technique focuses on the things we talk about and the way we talk about them. He considers the intent we put out in the world a direct affecter to our own personal behaviors.
Cognitive behavioral therapy takes place in three separate phases.
The first phase is all about self-observation. In phase one the focus revolves around observing your own behaviors and listening to your internal dialogue. If you are thinking negative thoughts they will consume you. This in and of itself could be the center of all of your anxiety and panic symptoms.
The second phase is all about changing your internal dialogue, your “self-talk”. Once you start picking up on your negative thought process, you can focus on that and start modifying it. Whenever you find yourself slipping into negative thought patterns, you alter that and replace those thoughts with new and positive self-talk. Stop telling yourself that you can’t do something. Start telling yourself that although it may be difficult, you can try. If you start there and recreate your thought patterns, you will be able to stop avoiding and start coping. You have to be willing to experience situations which provoke your anxiety so that you can actually learn to deal with those situations. It is an important step to recovery.
The third phase is centered on learning new skills. The way you respond to anxiety and panic, now that you are becoming aware of your own inner thoughts, gives you a better grasp on your anxiety. You can alter your own reactions in a productive way. When you let negative thoughts consume you it can be difficult to control the way you react to things and situations. Utilizing cognitive behavioral modification could dramatically change your life.
It took Gayla a little over a year to get the upper hand, thanks to CBM.
Once Gayla felt she had cured her anxiety she wanted to share what she had learned.
“I knew there were other people struggling with anxiety,” said Gayla. “I didn’t want to keep it in. I wanted to share it with other people.”
Gayla, now a self-proclaimed “life coach”, stumbled across a SurfKY News article written by Hopkins County lead news reporter, Luke Short. It was titled “Recovering Addict Inspires New ‘Vision’ for Salvation Army”. The article focused on their new “Pre-Hab” program. Gayla was inspired by the article. She immediately called Josh Peyton at the Salvation Army, and after some conversation, it was decided that Gayla might be able to serve the community by offering a couple weekly classes addressing anxiety and stress.In conjunction with the Salvation Army, Gayla Miller will be hosting seminars on Mondays and Tuesdays. The meetings are free and secular.
“Meditation Monday” will start at 5 p.m. in the Salvation Army Chapel Worship Center. Gayla will lead the group in a 15 to 30 minute meditation session. Following meditation there will be some time for group discussion.
“Tension Tuesday” will begin at 5 p.m. at the Salvation Army Center of Hope in one of their meeting rooms. Tuesday’s meetings will be 45 minutes to an hour long. They are designated group coaching sessions, in which Gayla will discuss cognitive behavioral therapy and offer techniques that help. The group will be able to share details about their previous week with each other in a comfortable supportive setting. Some of the topics Gayla plans to go over include; how to end panic attacks, positive self-talk, counteracting negative thoughts, how to lower your expectations and time management skills.
The group is open to men and women of any age. The material will be spread over the course of four to five weeks so a person looking to join the group can jump in at any time and attend as long as they wish.
Gayla points out that it takes courage to address your anxiety, and fear of that is normal. When a person decides to seek help with their anxiety, that in and of itself, makes their anxiety worse.
“People scare themselves off because the anxiety gets worse, and they are like, I’m not doing it. People freak themselves out before they even get their foot in the door.”
Gayla encourages those suffering to “Feel it and come anyways.”