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You have questions. Lots of them. About surviving, escaping and identifying domestic violence, about finding justice, safety and peace afterward. In the first of hopefully many Ask Amanda columns, DomesticShelters.org editor Amanda Kippert takes your questions and consults with experts from the field who can offer advice and insight into these important issues. Have a question? Message us on Facebook, Twitter or email AskAmanda@DomesticShelters.org.
Q: When will the nightmares and anxiety attacks stop? It's been nearly four years and I'm feeling more crippled by them every day. – Karen M.
A: Wow, four years of panic attacks sounds emotionally and mentally exhausting. I asked Ruth Spalding, a clinical therapist who specializes in treating individuals with a history of trauma, such as domestic violence, if enduring panic attacks for this long was normal.
“Panic attacks make sense, and are pretty common after surviving domestic abuse,” Spalding says. And while four years of them is not necessarily unusual, she adds, it is severe in the sense that you should consider talking to a therapist so you can move on. “Panic attacks are so physically overwhelming and feel so awful that a lot of people struggle with treatment because treatment involves exposure to the thing that is causing the panic. You may need to go over the traumatic experiences. People are generally not excited to do that, but it’s an incredibly efficient and effective therapy.”
In the interim, when you have a panic attack, Spalding advises trying a progressive muscle relaxation technique to help calm yourself. First, put your back against the wall, if you’re able, or sit in a comfortable chair. Focus on one muscle at a time in your body, such as your left hand. Inhale and squeeze that muscle tight, in this case, making a fist. Hold for about eight seconds before releasing the tension and exhaling. Try to stay relaxed for 15 seconds and then move on to a new muscle group. You can also watch this YouTube video to help guide you through a progressive muscle relaxation.
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