My dog Bosco was due to see the veterinarian for her yearly checkup the other day. As we made our way in the car she was unsuspecting of what lied ahead, so for now she was enjoying her morning ride. After parking and heading toward the building she quickly became aware of where she was, the dog hospital. Bad memories of past visits like sticking thermometers where they shouldn’t go and the horrible vaccine shots was all it took for the shakes to start. The shakes were increasing as we stood at the reception desk to check in. By the time we entered the exam room she was in a full blown anxiety attack.
No matter how great my skills may be as a counselor, she was not buying into my doggie encouragement. I am sure some of the people I have counseled with have felt the very same way. Even hugs and petting was not slowing down her rapidly pounding heart beat. As the vet’s assistant saw her tongue was turning blue due to lowered oxygen, It was suggested to take her back home to calm her down. Where is the dog Valium when you need it?
Bosco’s heart rate began to slow down as we walked out of the vet’s office, loosening her body tension. By the time we were in the house it was as if nothing had happened.
Bosco’s anxiety reaction is similar to those who experience anxiety. Anxiety is caused by the Fight-or-Flight response, (FFR), which is wired into all brains, animal and human alike. FFR is a basic survival mechanism in animals and humans. But in you FFR also triggers your emotional responses.
FFR in you contribute to every high energy emotion you experience every day; good ones like happiness and bad ones like anxiety. Bosco was not experiencing a threat to her life at the moment like a Pitbull giving her the stink eye. Any perceived threat to life or harm turns on the fight-or-flight which lead to her anxiousness. This is no different when you feel fear. What is different is that this response turned on as an emotion.
I worked with an adolescent who suffered with panic attacks. He would be fine driving to Target, and even walking toward the entrance of the building where his parent was going to shop. Once inside though his heart rate began to increase and after 10 to 15 steps into the building his heart was pounding so hard he would turn around and run back to the car. My young friend’s experience was no different than Bosco’s at the vet needing to be returned home for a breather. And if Bosco had the ability, she might have run out of the vets and all the way home.
Both Bosco and my adolescent friend calmed down when they felt safe. The fight-or-flight response turns on when there is danger and off when an animal feels safe, humans too. The problem with your emotions is that they do not automatically turn off. You have to learn to turn them off. My friend used a coping mechanism called “get me the hell outta here, I need a safe place.”
After a few weeks focusing on how to properly breathe if another attack occurs, teaching him how to think differently about his anxiety, thereby helping him rewire his brain so that he could respond differently the next time he was at Target, not having those old feelings come back.
See my web page BREATHE to learn how to calm down from an anxiety attack.