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Ask A Therapist: I Get Serious Anxiety Before Therapy

I do therapy over the phone, and my stomach gets really hard and tight before I call my therapist. I get a ton of other physical symptoms, including muscle tension, diarrhea, tightness in my chest, shallow breathing, nausea, etc. I’ve talked it over with him, as I think it might be a transference thing, but it’s getting to the point of not being okay. I’ve had nervousness with other men, particularly doctors and people in an authoritative position, but I’ve never had it this bad. The kind of therapy I do is based on primal theory as well as other things, but it also makes it very hard for me to feel my feelings when I get so nervous around him. I don’t really want to switch therapists right now, but I would appreciate any suggestions!

A: Thank you for writing in with your question. What you’re describing sounds like a panic attack. Please talk to your therapist about possibly making some shifts in treatment, like meeting face to face instead of talking by phone, or getting a medication evaluation. While therapy is often uncomfortable, my concern is that your anxiety may be so overwhelming that it is getting in the way of your progress. Watch the video below for my complete response.

Take good care of yourself!
Julie Hanks, LCSW

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Ask A Therapist: Are Panic Attacks Part of Grieving?

Q: I recently lost my dad around Christmastime, so I know I am going through a grief process. One of the things that happened to me recently is when I heard of the Japan quake. Then looking at other news, it was about the supermoon. Then my mind was flooded with all these things in the world and I had a panic attack. I mean I was truly scared and normally I do not think of these things, it lasted maybe a day…all night and the next day . Is that from realizing my own mortality? In the death of my dad ? Or am I maybe just losing my mind … a little?

A: I am so sorry for your recent loss of your father. I don’t think you are losing your mind. The death of a parent is a huge life event and often brings a sense of your own mortality to the forefront and upsets your view of the world. It makes sense that after the loss of your father, the person who is often experienced as the “protector” in the family, you’d feel for a time that the world had become scarier and less safe.

Stressful situations, like the death of a parent, can sometimes precipitate anxiety. While panic attacks usually peak at about 10 minutes, it is possible to have clusters of them. Since you don’t mention specific symptoms I can’t be certain if it was a panic attack or another kind of anxiety disorder. I suggest that you seek out a mental health evaluation to determine whether or not you have developed an anxiety disorder and if so, to get treatment. Also, I highly suggest attending a grief support group. Hospitals,  hospices, and community clinics often host groups to help grieving family members find support by sharing their experiences with others who are going through similar losses.

Take good care of yourself!
Julie Hanks, LCSW

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