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How Hypnotherapy Helped Me Manage Panic Attacks And Travel More Fearlessly

December 20th, 2008 · 15 Comments

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As noted in my open letter to Benjamin Weisman, I suffer from panic attacks. They started back when I was in grad school, but they weren’t too bad then. Usually they occurred while I was driving and I’d just roll down the window or turn on the AC to feel something moving around me and within a minute or so, back to normal.

Over time, they got worse and worse until a couple of years ago when I was taking public transportation in the East Bay and had a full-scale meltdown. I thought I was having a heart attack. I was convinced of it. I felt alone and trapped and terrified. Somehow I was able to make it to my freelance gig where I asked a woman I hardly knew to take me to the hospital. Once there, I was miraculously healed. Every symptom disappeared the second I told the admitting nurse that I thought I was having a panic attack.

After that, I would have at least one major episode annually, more often than not in November. Another doozy was when Travel Boyfriend and I went to Southeast Asia. It was our first night and we were in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. Until then I’d only really traveled to Western countries and to say that Cambodia is quite different than your Germanys and Spains is the world’s biggest understatement. Triggered by water retention around my ankles from the long flight and my discomfort at realizing I was as far from home as I’d ever been, this panic attack had me curled up naked on the bathroom floor with Travel Boyfriend feeding me Xanax and talking me down. After that I resolved to cure myself. I never wanted to feel that way again.

At first I tried talk therapy as well as some tapes I bought from that anxiety infomercial lady, Lucinda Bassett. The talk therapy helped with some other issues, but not the attacks. And I was too lazy to get very far with the tapes. Eventually I just decided to live with the periodic attacks and fear the month of November.

But a little over a year ago, I found out about a hypnotherapist in San Francisco named Angie Choi. Travel Boyfriend and I were just starting to plan our dream trip to Egypt and due to a nightmare I’d had in college, I was convinced something bad was going to happen to me there. In fact, I actually believed I was going to die in Egypt. That thought, coupled with the fact that my panic disorder had also manifested itself into a fear of flying quite inconvenient for a Travel Betty, convinced me to give hypnotherapy a try. Surprisingly after only a couple of sessions with Angie, I was able to take my first flight without Xanax. I couldn’t believe that the fear was gone. It wasn’t just sort of gone, it was completely gone. That’s a good recommendation & sadly, the only solution for some people is to take up an ongoing hypnosis education, which explores more ways to stabilise the human brain.

Encouraged by that short domestic flight, I started to look as forward to my trip to Egypt as I’d always imagined I would. Angie made me a CD that was specific to my fears about the trip and so armed with that and my comfort bag, I was ready to hit the airport with confidence. The flight over went great and I thought I was cured. But at that point, I’d had yet to fly on Egypt Air.

My first flight on Egypt’s national airline had me gripping the armrests from the moment I stepped onto the decrepit plane. As we were taxiing down the runway for takeoff, the overhead compartments were shaking so violently, I thought they were going to crash down on our heads. I was a wreck and disheartened that I wasn’t totally cured. I was also afraid that this flight scare had dislodged all hypnotic suggestion and that I was destined to a life fearful of flying once again.

Luckily, that turned out not to be the case. Now, I’m about 80/20 with flights, and I rarely have to resort to Xanax anymore. Certain things trigger my fears. Anything that makes my body feel not quite right, like a cold or some unexplained soreness. Also drinking caffeine and especially if I drink alcohol the night before. If I’m even slightly hung over, chances are I’m going to feel afraid on the plane. It’s a bummer that I’m not totally cured, but it’s also so much better than it was before. I can’t imagine having gone to Bali by myself without Angie’s help.

Panic attacks are definitely scary, but being able to recognize them for what they are is a huge leap towards being able to manage them. If any other Betties out there have had positive experiences curing or managing their panic attacks, please feel free to share them in the comments section. That way we can all help each other to be more fearless on the road.

Travel Betty Basics

Unfortunately, the fabulous Angie Choi recently closed her practice, but she recommends Marilyn Gordon for other Travel Betties in need of hypnotherapy in the Bay Area.

Travel Tips on raveable

Tags: Air Travel · Bali · Egypt · Health

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  • 15 responses so far ↓

    • 1 Sharon // Dec 22, 2008 at 4:56 pm

      I am impressed by your results! One of my techniques is earplugs and my own version of biofeedback. I use visualizations. And it has worked whether in midst of others or on my own.

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    • 2 Travel Betty // Dec 24, 2008 at 12:28 pm

      That’s great, Sharon! I’m glad it works for you. I can totally see how earplugs would work too. I’ve been thinking about trying noise canceling headphones as well to create a more calming environment. Thanks for sharing!

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    • 3 reina // Jan 1, 2009 at 10:50 am

      My panic attacks started about 6 or 7 years ago, totally out of the blue and I too was convinced that I was having a heart attack. This involved being sped off to the hospital in a rickety ambulance from a campground in southern Croatia. Episodes didn’t occur more than a couple of times a year, but always in a horribly overpowering way. Two years ago I heard about, and started using, EFT, since then I’ve had three (beginning )attacks, that I was able to ward off easily and quickly with EFT. Please see this website for additional information:
      EFT is also a perfect tool if suffering from fear of flying, and about one million other unlovely things! One of the best things I’ve ever discovered. Hope this helps R.

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    • 4 Travel Betty // Jan 1, 2009 at 11:09 am

      Wow, Regina, I can’t imagine how frightened you must have been in Croatia! I’m so glad you were able to find something to finally work for you. I will definitely check out EFT. I especially like that the website offers some free resources. Thanks for sharing!

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    • 5 Koh Samui Hotels // Feb 28, 2009 at 5:59 am

      This information is very nice.

      Thanks you for sharing Betty.

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    • 6 Laura Panic // Jun 11, 2009 at 3:03 am

      It is actually amazing as a Panic Attack suffer once you have found out the triggers for your episode what you are able to do to get them under control.
      I have heard about the hypnosis before and I am pleased to hear it has worked for you.

      Now that I know my triggers I tend to either prepare myself mentally for the situation alternatively avoid them which is not the best way to deal with things.

      Unfortunately I do not live in San Fran to track down Marilyn I am however going to search for a similar solution in Cape Town.

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    • 7 Marina K. Villatoro // Jul 31, 2009 at 4:40 pm

      Hey, great tips on the panics there…it can have a wonder worked for me. Hoping to get such interesting articles from you. :)

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    • 8 cheap hotel dublin // Aug 19, 2009 at 5:42 am

      I can imagine how frightened you could have been at that spot. Share some other experience of your’s so that others can learn from you.

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    • 9 xtcommerce templates // Aug 23, 2009 at 12:18 pm

      Hey, great tips on the panics, I will try this the next time. Thanks !

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    • 10 Panic Attack Reviews // Nov 23, 2009 at 8:25 am

      Anxiety is our normal reaction to stress. It is a way to for us to cope. It helps us deal with tense situations at work, study harder for school exams, and keep focused on performing for an important speech. It enables us to adjust and gauge our natural reactions to stimulus. But when anxiety becomes uncontrollable, excessive, irrational fear of everyday situations, it has become a disabling anxiety disorder.

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    • 11 Helen // Dec 30, 2009 at 10:58 pm

      First of all, I want to congratulate you for your bravery and determination to beat this and to continue your travels! I too suffered from panic attacks (over 17 years of living hell) and found a natural, non-medical cure.

      My defining moment was when the realization that my “symptoms” would magically disappear whenever I arrived at my safe zone — HOME! Uh huh, if it was a heart attack, it wouldn’t matter WHERE I was, right??

      I joined up with a research group at Texas University and we used exposure therapy. This was over 7 years ago, and I haven’t had one since! The key is facing your fears. What we tend to do (and your fear of November) is you associate a bad experience and then avoid it. This causes anticipatory anxiety. Your body’s rapid heartbeat, sweats, shakes is a natural reaction to a misjudgment on “fear”… even though a wild lion isn’t ready to pounce you, your body is reacting as if it’s happening. All NORMAL stuff and won’t kill us!

      Anyway, I’m writing a book about my recovery. I’ve flown to Vegas since my recovery and now we’re headed for Egypt. This was unheard of back then — Flying, leaving my home, etc.

      Also, be easy on yourself. When I say I’m “cured” that doesn’t mean I don’t get an adrenaline rush, or a wave of fear. Fear is a normal reaction to a perceived danger. The difference between THAT and a panic attack is that you are reacting to the SYMPTOMS of your body. You’re thinking you’re going to die, pass out, you want to scream, or run away.

      It’s okay if your heart races.

      Another area that has helped me also is my faith in God. He is always with me and bottom line, when it’s my time to go, I know it’s not by accident. I have that eternal peace that words can’t explain. I’m safe and God’s arm is not too short that He can’t help me WHERE EVER I am.

      I’m just thankful today for getting my life back, for God, and living my life to the fullest!

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    • 12 adventurer // Apr 26, 2010 at 10:31 pm

      it is nice write up for people like us.i am very scared of air travel .

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    • 13 Ladyfriend // Aug 3, 2010 at 4:56 pm

      This is a great post. I’ve had to deal with claustrophobia while traveling, and it hasn’t ever been an issue while flying, but I worry it will be (being in a cabin, not being able to get out and get air for a few hours, etc.).

      In addition to a Xanax (then Valium) prescription, I got counseling for my complete inability to get on an elevator — not out of fear of accident, but out of fear of getting stuck. This makes traveling difficult (both at hotels and at multi-level transit centers), but knowing what a phobia is helped. A therapist told me we actually fear getting a panic attack, but that panic attacks can never actually kill us — the body can only sustain them for so long before it loses momentum. He talked about how some people find it useful to look at a watch, knowing that after a limited span of time — a couple minutes, say — our bodies HAVE to back off.

      I don’t know that I’ve had a full-on panic attack, but I’ve come REALLY close. At that point, it was helpful to learn they are often viewed as genetic, and that both my mother and grandmother have grappled with them. Somehow, knowledge is power — it at least explained what I was going through, and made me more vigilante.

      I haven’t traveled as much as you have, but found that the talisman of Valium, along with understanding that this DOES happen and there IS a reason for it, and that people like yourself also go through it (solidarity!) is more helpful than I can say.

      I use “sympathetic nervous system” breathing exercises to help, but I may be trying hypnotherapy in the near future. Thank you!

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    • 14 Massawa // Sep 15, 2010 at 10:25 pm

      Great post! Its great to hear from people who knows what you’re going thru when you’re having a panic attack because it’s just so hard to explain it to someone who havent experienced it (God bless them!!)My panic attacks started about 6 yrs ago and I thought I was going out of my mind. It happened so suddenly, I had no clue what was happening to me. I was so afraid of dying, of the darkness and started pannicking when nighttime came around. I became claustrophobic and it didnt help that I worked on the 29th floor of my office bldg! I’d walk halfway up so I wouldnt have to take so long in the elevator. Anyway, the first 3 days of this was more than i could bear. I went to GNC (i’m not one to take prescriptions…or go to the doctor) and asked for something for panic attacks. they gave me 5-HTP. I took one immediately!!!! It was wonderful…I was waiting for the fear to come when night started falling but it never came. I slept well that night with no anxiety attacks. Although I’ve never been quite the same, I am grateful that the attacks come on only about twice a year, but when I feel them coming on, I take my 5-HTP. (I keep one in my pocketbook and another in the house, and I go nowhere without them)! They have worked great for me but I am determined to get rid of this completely. I just began hypnosis this week. I have 5 sessions to go so I will post back and let you know how that works out. I am kinda thinking of a past life regression also. They say sometimes an experience in a past life can cause certain ailments in this one and “seeing” it thru a past life regression can immediately cure you of it. At this point, I am open to ANYTHING!! For those of you who try the 5-HTP, hope it works for you as it does for me. I notice they sell it in almost all the grocery stores and pharmacies now and its pretty inexpensive. Also, “talk therapy” has had some positive effect as well. For everyone else, I hope you find something that works for you to rid yourself of this paralysis so you can all Live a wonderful Life without fear.

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    • 15 Tom Lansing // Jan 28, 2011 at 9:04 am

      Thought stopping is one tool of a type of therapy called cognitive behavioral therapy.

      In many situations we get caught up in a string of automatic thoughts that run like a CD playing the same old song over and over. Often the thoughts have little to do with reality.

      During a panic attack people may have thoughts like “I’m dying” “I can’t take this”.

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