Power Over Panic
Bronwyn Fox, a leading authority on Panic and Anxiety Disorders in Australia, and author of the book and video series Power Over Panic.
The people in blue are audience members.
David: Good Evening. I'm David Roberts. I'm the moderator for tonight's conference and I want to welcome everyone to HealthyPlace.com. Our topic tonight is "POWER OVER PANIC". Our guest is Bronwyn Fox, the founder of Panic Anxiety Education Management Services.
Bronwyn is based in Australia. She is very well-known in that country for her work with panic and anxiety sufferers. For a long time, Bronwyn suffered from panic disorder and agoraphobia herself. She eventually made a significant recovery and from her experiences, she developed the "Power Over Panic" series of books, videos, and seminars. She also co-founded a consumer group and lobbied the state and federal governments in Australia to fund research and treatment programs for the approximately 2 million Australians who suffer from anxiety and panic disorders.
Good Evening Bronwyn and welcome to HealthyPlace.com. We appreciate you being here tonight. So our audience members get to know a bit more about you, can you tell us about your struggle with panic disorder and agoraphobia? How it started, how old you were at the time, and what it was like for you?
Bronwyn Fox: Thank you for inviting me. I was 30 years old when I had a life-threatening illness and panic attacks started at the same time. Once they got the illness under control, I was left with panic disorder and agoraphobia. I couldn't leave my bedroom for almost 2 years. Then I learned to control my thinking through meditation and I recovered. That was 15 years ago.
David: What was it that got you into the recovery mode?
Bronwyn Fox: Learning to be aware of my thinking and learning to control this thinking.
David: Did you ever take any types of anti-anxiety medications or enter into long-term therapy to cope with your panic disorder and agoraphobia?
Bronwyn Fox: Initially, I did take tranquilizers and I did see a psychiatrist for 12 months. Then my doctor left psychiatry and I didn't see anyone for 3 years.
As part of my recovery, I had to then go through withdrawl from the tranquilizers. It became very difficult so I went back to see the same psychiatrist. He helped me with the withdrawls and I eventually recovered. I've been medication-free for 15 years. Sometimes, I still have panic attacks when I'm tired or stressed, but they last only about 30 seconds.
David: And just so everyone knows Bronwyn, have you made a "complete" symptomless recovery, or do you still experience some symptoms today?
Bronwyn Fox: I have no anxiety, but occasionally once every 9 to 12 months I may have a panic attack when I'm tired or stressed. But now I don't care if I have one or not.
David: Here are some audience questions before we get into how you made the recovery and sustained it all this time.
DottieCom1: Did you have depression along with panic and phobias?
Bronwyn Fox: Yes I did. Many people will develop major depression in reaction to their anxiety disorder. Part of the reason is because we feel powerless and our lives become so restricted as a result of the disorder. Recovery means learning to take back our own power from the disorder.
vero: How do you change your thinking?
Bronwyn Fox: We do things a bit different than normal cognitive behavioral therapy. We use meditation to help us relax and then use a mindfulness technique. This technique teaches us to become aware of the intimate relationship between our thoughts and the body's response, which are our anxiety symptoms. Once we are aware and can see the relationship very clearly, we can then begin to lose the fear and begin to realize we have a choice in our thinking.
Redrav: Did the panic ever turn into a fear of fear? If so, how did you overcome that?
Bronwyn Fox: The fear of fear is what it is for all of us. I overcame it by learning to change the way of thinking that was causing the fear of the fear.
friend: How did you get strong enough to leave the house?
Bronwyn Fox: By learning to relax through meditation and learning to take back the power from my thoughts. Not having the power, or control, over my thoughts is what were causing it all.
Suz on LI: Will I ever be able to have a normal life again?
Bronwyn Fox: If you are prepared to really work at it, do the hard yards work with your thinking, and challenge your fear, you can have a normal life again. I have and so have thousands of us.
MaryJ: Do you feel anti-anxiety medications are the way to go or can a person take the natural approach?
Bronwyn Fox: There is a time and place for medications, especially if depression exists. But you can learn the techniques while on medications, and then slowly under medical supervision, withdraw from them. Then, you can control your panic and anxiety to the point that you become free.
David: I want to address your recovery from panic disorder and your Power Over Panic method of dealing with panic attacks and anxiety. Before we get into that though, earlier you mentioned that you were stuck inside your house because you were depressed. Did you do something internally to change, to say "I need help" or did it come from an outside source?
Bronwyn Fox: No, it happened within me through meditation. When I had panic disorder, agoraphobia was barely understood, so I used to think I was the only one in the world who had it. And so, it came down to the fact that it was up to me and I needed to do something for me.
David: You briefly touched on the meditation aspect of your healing. Can you please go into more detail about your "Power Over Panic" method of recovery and what it entails?
Bronwyn Fox: It means learning to meditate. The meditation we use is not a spiritual technique. Its a basic meditation technique that we use in five different ways:
as a relaxation technique
to become aware or mindful
to learn how to manage our thinking
to learn how to stop fighting the panic and anxiety
and to learn, for some people, not to be frightened of any derealization or depersonalization symptoms
David: Is this something you practice day in and day out even today, or are you past that point now?
Bronwyn Fox: Every day I meditate and I also have now an automatic awareness of my thoughts so I can choose moment-to-moment what I want to think about.
David: How long did it take you, using this method, to achieve substantial results?
Bronwyn Fox: It took, from the beginning to the end, 18 months. Six of those months involved withdrawing from tranquilizers. At the 12 month mark, I went back to work and, then, at 18 months I was free.
David: Here are some audience questions Bronwyn:
Italiana: Where do you find the strength after having this for years-and-years, like me?
Bronwyn Fox: It comes back to our own self. The fact that you are in the anxiety chatroom now, means you are still looking for answers. That tells me your motivation to recover is still there and behind your motivation will be the strength.
vio_71: My counselor had said that meditation doesn't always help everyone. That everyone is different.
Bronwyn Fox: Meditation is a natural technique, and in some areas it's considered the opposite response to the fight and flight response because it is controlled by the same part of the brain. People have trouble meditating or relaxing because they are frightened of either letting go of control, or of the sensations of their body relaxing. Some people have not relaxed for many years, and when their body does begin to relax, they think their worst fears are coming true!
tracy_32: How did you get over the initial fear of facing what you were afraid of?
Bronwyn Fox: By seeing that my fear was being created by the way I was thinking. Those of us with panic disorder, we are not so much frightened of a situation and/or places, but are frightened of having a panic attack. Once we lose the fear of the attack and control our thinking, there is no anxiety and life becomes easier and easier.
blusky: Did you use daily visualization to overcome this? And how long did it take?
Bronwyn Fox: No, I did not use it.
David: Here are a few audience comments on what's been said tonight and then we'll get to some more questions:
ebonie_woman: I am also agoraphobic and I hate it.
dhill: My son is 8, and has been diagnosed with anxiety disorder. He was diagnosed borderline adhd 2 years ago.
Sharon1: How about biofeedback in learning to control our mind and body.
Bronwyn Fox: It can be of assistance, but it's not used much in Australia and the most effective technique is cognitive behavioral therapy.
Kali27: Do you think that distraction (distraction technique) helps temporarily (like counting things in the room) when you feel a panic attack beginning?
Bronwyn Fox: It may, and I say this with caution. You'll not get permanent recovery using a distraction technique because you are not confronting the thoughts and the fear.
David: If you are enjoying this conference, I want to let everyone know we have a fairly large panic and anxiety community. There are many sites there, and we almost always have people in the anxiety chatrooms, so I encourage you to come by and participate. Here's the link to the HealthyPlace.com Anxiety-Panic Community.
tlugow: Did you have problems with shame or embarrassment?
Bronwyn Fox: Yes, I did. The shame and the embarrassment coexisted with my disorder. I felt weak and helpless and powerless. But then, as I recovered, I realized that the power within me had always been there; and I also understood that we are not weak people, nor are we helpless. I realized that once shown the way, we can tap into our own strength and use it for recovery, instead of trying to get through day-after-day.
David: Bronwyn, would you say there are cases where recovery from panic disorder is impossible?
Bronwyn Fox: If panic disorder is the primary diagnosis, we can recover. But there may be past and/or current life issues that we may not recognize, or deny, and these can keep us stuck.
David: Earlier, Bronwyn mentioned that she felt "alone" with her panic and agoraphobia. That she thought no one else suffered like she did. Many people who experience panic and anxiety feel the same way.
MISSTERIOUS1: How do you find that power within yourself?
Bronwyn Fox: It's being masked by the panic and anxiety. I know this sounds simple but, again, the fact that you are in the anxiety chatroom, looking for answers, tells me that your motivation to recover is there. Otherwise you wouldn't be here. How much do you feel and how strong do you have the feeling of "I WANT TO RECOVER!?" That's your power.
JEAN3: Is there any way to calm down a racing heart during a panic attack?
Bronwyn Fox: As long as you know that it is your anxiety panic, we teach people to simply let the heart race and not fight it. Don't buy into the thinking about it, as this just keeps the heart racing.
Bonnie112: I have a problem returning to places where I have had a panic attack. Any ideas on how to overcome this? I had a medical test and had a panic attack there. I need another test at the same place and don't want to return.
Bronwyn Fox: Again, this is just based on thought. The thought is "if I have another panic attack in the same situation..."
It's OK to be anxious when you are having medical tests. That's normal for many people. You need to separate the thought, "what if I have a panic attack," away from the actual situation.
Rusty: What are some of the things a support person can do to help a loved one recover from agoraphobia?
Bronwyn Fox: The most important thing is to take care of themselves first, because support people's lives can also be destroyed through anxiety disorders.
It would be of benefit for support people to challenge the person with anxiety disorder. Ask them what they are thinking about and if they could begin to see the relationship between their thoughts and their symptoms. This is something that the person needs to learn to do, but just saying "think positive" is totally useless. It's learning to see the connection between thoughts and symptoms.
David: This is for the audience, if you have found a technique or something else that helped you in dealing with, or recovery from panic disorder, please briefly write it down. Include how effective it was for you and send it to me, and I'll post it as we go along here.
Jen6: Is it dangerous to take anti-anxiety medications and to meditate? I have heard that meditation can affect medications.
Bronwyn Fox: I have never heard of that. I have taught over 30,000 people to meditate, and I've never seen research that suggests that this happens.
POWSTOCK: What else can you do, other than meditation?
Bronwyn Fox: The most important thing is to learn to control your thinking.
Rocky1: Hi Bronwyn, I had a severe panic disorder 10 years ago, for 3 years. I then recovered totally asymptomatic for 7 years. Then the disorder came back full blown, but recovered twice as fast this time! Your thoughts?
Bronwyn Fox: We can go into remission, or we can work at it to the point of making it disappear. But if we have not lost our fear of it, we can roll over back to Panic Disorder. I know this from experience.
Sometimes, when I do have a panic attack, it can feel so violent that it would be easy to be scared of it again, but I refuse to be frightened and it disappears. Not being frightened has helped me not to roll back over Panic Diosrder. And this is why I always say, recovery is the loss of fear. That's the only way you don't develop Panic Disorder again.
David: So what you are saying is, Bronwyn, that the power of the mind is a great instrument in the healing process. And it's important to train it to work for you.
Bronwyn Fox: Definitely!!! The energy we use in getting caught up in our fears, our panic and anxiety, is the same energy that we can use to control our mind. It's exactly the same energy. We can give our anxiety disorder the power, or we can take it back.
David: Here are a few things that have helped members of our audience deal with their panic and anxiety. Maybe they'll help you too:
Nerak: I try to remember a time when I started to have a panic attack and remind myself that I made it through. Seems to help me some.
Redrav: When I am out and feel one coming on, I get very quiet and think to myself this is only a feeling and it will pass. It will pass quicker if I let go of the thought that these feelings are dangerous.
Bonnie112: In my own therapy, I have learned that facing my fears helps some. And sometimes, if I can Not think about the situation I am entering and just DO it, I am ok.
charlie: I use thought records and really look at the facts not the feeling. Then explore why the feelings are present.
Italiana: It is so difficult for me to have good thoughts for more than one day at a time. The setbacks are killer! They diminish my spirit.
David: How do you learn to control your thinking, your fears?
Bronwyn Fox: You need to be taught how to become aware of your thinking and how it is creating your fears.
Redrav: I have heard hypnotism can be helpful. Is this true?
Bronwyn Fox: We have only seen the people where it hasn't worked in the long-term. It may work for some people, but what we have seen is that the disorder can start again after 12 months or so, and it can be worse the second time around. The reason I think this happens is because the person has never been taught to work with their thinking themselves.
Moni: Do you have any religious beliefs??
Bronwyn Fox: Not at that point. I was an atheist during my recovery, but not now.
David: Did praying or not praying have any impact in your recovery?
Bronwyn Fox: After I recovered, I became interested in Buddhism because it teaches so much about the relationship between our thoughts and our responses. I lived with a Tibetan Lama and studied with him for 3 years.
David: Do you think nutrition plays any role in the development of, or recovery from, panic disorder?
Bronwyn Fox: Definitely, in so far as many of us don't eat properly. Part of recovery does mean learning to eat in more healthier ways.
Martha: What about graded exposure therapy versus flooding?
Bronwyn Fox: Many people find flooding too severe. And graded exposure, so long as a cognitive is used, can be more effective for some people.
David: Bronwyn, thank you for joining us from Australia tonight. I'm glad you came. We get many emails from visitors to your site asking for a chance to talk with you. So I hope you'll come by again.
I also want to thank everyone in the audience for participating.
Bronwyn Fox: Thank you very much. I appreciate the opportunity.
David: As I said, we have a large panic-anxiety community and we invite you to come by anytime. You can click on this link, sign up for the mail list at the top of the page so you can keep up with events like this. There's a lot of information about panic and anxiety disorders here at HealthyPlace.com.
Disclaimer: We are not recommending or endorsing any of the suggestions of our guest. In fact, we strongly encourage you to talk over any therapies, remedies or suggestions with your doctor BEFORE you implement them or make any changes in your treatment.
Gluck, S. (2007, February 24). Power Over Panic, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2019, June 17 from https://www.healthyplace.com/anxiety-panic/transcripts/power-over-panic