Why Panic Attacks Happen (And How to Find Calm)

Brief Description

In this insightful episode of Stillness in the Storms, Steven Webb shares his own experiences with anxiety and panic attacks. He explores the reasons why these feelings can surface later in life and offers practical advice inspired by Buddhist and Eastern philosophies. Discover how to transform anxiety into a tool for growth and find inner peace.

Ways to Support the Show

Visit https://stevenwebb.uk to learn more about Steven’s work, find resources, and support the Stillness in the Storms podcast.

Episode Highlights

  • Anxiety as a sign of growth and empathy: Steven discusses why anxiety can intensify as we grow older and develop deeper compassion.
  • The body’s ancient survival mechanisms: Learn how our modern lives can trigger the same fight-or-flight responses our ancestors evolved to survive.
  • Befriending your anxiety: Steven offers Buddhist-inspired techniques to observe your anxiety without judgment and transform it into a source of insight and compassion.
  • The importance of seeking professional help: While mindful practices can help manage anxiety, Steven emphasizes that professional help is essential for severe or persistent cases.

Steven Webb [00:00:00]:

Hello. I'm Stephen Webb and this is Stillness in the Storms and last night, I got an email and she said about the way she now has panic attacks and anxiety and the way it suddenly started manifesting in her life, getting near middle age. I hope she doesn't mind me saying that. She's still quite a bit younger than me and I just wanted to do a podcast today about it because it reminded me of my story and what happened to me just a few months ago and my ignorance about 10 years ago about what panic attacks were. So that's what today's episode is about. And I'm gonna give you some hints and tips on how what to do when you do have a panic attack and how Buddhist and Eastern philosophy and that kind of teaching would tell us how we use mindfulness and meditation and all that. But just before that, I'm not a trained professional and that's important. Anxiety, panic attacks and serious stress should not be taken lightly and take this podcast as literally a little bit of value to add to it, but go and get professional help.

Steven Webb [00:01:17]:

Please don't take this as professional advice. It's just the way Buddhist and Eastern traditions and those kind of things. And what I've learned to do with mine and how I deal with mine, it may not work with you. But just before that, I want to thank these awesome people for making the podcast possible. Adi and Verne, Ches Mark Kayula Adele Aisu Brian and Lisette Thank you, guys. You are all awesome and and so so many others that donate over time and support monthly. And I've even got a few people joining on my stillness on the stillness in the stormsteam web Facebook page now as supporters. So just thank you to everybody.

Steven Webb [00:02:07]:

It really does make a difference. But having I'm gonna go right back into it because we've got a lot to cover in this podcast, and my attention span is about maximum about 30 seconds. So trying to do a 20 minute podcast is it's not easy. So I was really touched by this email. So this is why I'm doing this podcast today. But wait, what? I'm someone that has been sorting myself out for how many years? I've been meditating, I've been doing mindfulness, I read books, I practice all these things and yet I had a similar thing happen to me for the first time in my life just I don't know, what, 5, 6 months ago. So I was at Victoria Gardens. I was with a friend and I had to head back into town and pick up a poppy.

Steven Webb [00:02:59]:

That's all I had to do. So with my enthusiasm, I drove back into town in my electric wheelchair and I come across a guy that was selling poppies at the bottom of one of the streets and I went over to him and I said, do you take a phone payment or a card payment? And he said, no, I don't. And I realized at that moment, I did not have any change. So that's a perfectly normal transaction thing to do. And for some reason I was so embarrassed about it. So I thanked him and I went around the corner and I was on the way to a supermarket where I knew I could get a poppy. And I just felt overwhelmed. I felt terrified.

Steven Webb [00:03:45]:

I felt like the whole of Truro could see me. I felt like everybody I drove past was looking at me. My breathing started to go heavy. My heart started beating. I was hot and yet it was quite cold. And I had I just stopped on the pavement and I pretended I was on the phone. I messaged my friend and said, I don't know not sure what's happening. I can't go and buy a poppy.

Steven Webb [00:04:09]:

That's all I had to do. And I just did not know how to do it. I knew how to do it. I just did not I was so terrified of doing it. With all the anxiety, just the thought of going into a supermarket and having that same transaction, no, sorry, we need change or something terrified me and it, you know, I'm paralyzed anyway, so I know what it's like but it completely paralyzed me Yet when I was younger, I used to go out and drink. I used to go out and do different things. I'm on the city council. I can talk in front of groups of people.

Steven Webb [00:04:44]:

I've spoke to large dinner parties. I've done the toast of an evening. I've spoke in front of loads of people. And yet, here I was. I couldn't go and buy a simple puppy. I was terrified. So I drove home immediately. And, yeah, that that feeling of complete uselessness didn't go away for a good few hours.

Steven Webb [00:05:13]:

And here I am after all this work and I know all these things, I have all these tools, you know, under my belt, but why me? I'll tell you why. Because I'm just a page ahead. I'm just a chapter ahead. That's all. So I haven't had it since. Maybe partly because I understand it a little bit. I I know how the body and the mind works. It doesn't mean I'm immune against the the effects of the body and how it happens.

Steven Webb [00:05:45]:

But just understanding it means that I may be able to see the signs next time and and address it a little bit quicker or listen to it a little bit quicker and things like that. So it comes down to why would we have panic attack, why wouldn't we have all these things happen to us when we're younger, when we've got this ignorant confidence and all that. And then suddenly we start getting them, you know, 30 plus, 40 plus years old. And suddenly, we're frightened of mixing lots of people. We're frightened. Well, I think it's because when we get older, we start to go deeper. We start our spiritual journey. We have children.

Steven Webb [00:06:29]:

We grow more compassion. We grow more understanding. And if you have a child, you have to feel with that child's feeling. We develop empathy And then the grown up version of empathy is compassion. And then as you grow, you become deeper and you feel things more. You suddenly become aware of the world around you rather than just all about you. So when I would walk into a party or a pub or something at the age of, I don't know, 18 my thought was where do I get a cigarette or where do I get the pint and just sit down and, you know, I didn't really think about what everybody else was doing, I was in my own little world Whereas now when I go into these places, a pubs terrify me. I was in one for 10 minutes the other day and it was too loud.

Steven Webb [00:07:22]:

I said to him can we just go over and get the meal because no, I don't want a drink I can't stand it it's too loud for me too many people for me And I think it's because we pick up on energies of people. And I don't mean this in a woo woo kind of energies and auras of people, But there is an energy people have and there's an energy that a place has and the energy of the people around us. And here here you are in a busy car and busy traffic and well, I don't know if the car is busy, but busy traffic or you're in a supermarket or something and you've got so many so much stuff going on and The body just reacts to it Just like it would have done a 100, 200, 300,000 years ago, reacting to a bear in the forest. You know, instant your anxiety, run like hell. Whereas now we're in a car, we're in a traffic jam. We're worried about all these different things. And we got a child with us and we got other things going on, just like me. It was nothing to do with a puppy.

Steven Webb [00:08:24]:

It was to do with my me being overwhelmed by my emotions. And I think that's what so we have all these emotions coming up like a 2 year old has. It's like, what do I do with them? And a child doesn't know anything else. So they gotta let off steam. They gotta have a tantrum. They're terrible twos. All those things which is so badly misnamed. It's not terrible twos.

Steven Webb [00:08:49]:

It it should be understood that it's just a human having all these emotions, but they don't know what to do with them. And that's really what a panic attack is. And my ignorance, when I witnessed my, I hope she doesn't mind, but Kember mum had a panic attack. It's about 10 years ago now. And she thought she's having a heart attack. Her hands went numb. She could barely stand up. I called an ambulance.

Steven Webb [00:09:16]:

They come out quite quickly as opposed to today. A different story in the UK. And she was on the floor. She had to put her legs up. And the paramedics said, you know, we've tested everything. It's probably a panic attack. And I was like, ah, you'll be alright. It's fine.

Steven Webb [00:09:36]:

I I I was like totally dismissing it. My god, how ignorant was I? You know, some years later, after more more more work, I ended up having one. It's so strange. And so where was I going with the story? So we can be really ignorant and these panic attacks can be really, really serious. And they can mass just like a heart attack and things like that. The paramedics did take her in and she was all clear and it was all fine. But we are so ignorant to how much feelings can overwhelm us. You know, we do know now that stress will take away the feelings in the hands and feet just in case you have to fight that bear and just in case it cuts the hands or something or you cut your feet running away from it.

Steven Webb [00:10:28]:

That's the best thing it can do. But we don't know these things because we're not educated or we don't understand them. So this is where I think the Buddhism and Eastern philosophy can really come in and help us to understand. So when feelings arise, just like I talk about the funnel, they come out of the point of origin and you have a thought and you have a feeling and it Truro, it grows, it grows, we can intercept it and go, oh, wait a minute. Why why am I feeling anxious? What is happening now? And then we can choose not to do anything with it. So first is to understand that the experience, though deeply troubling, carries with it a profound opportunity for growth. You know? And this growth with insight. Zen Buddhism teaches us about impermanence of all things.

Steven Webb [00:11:23]:

Anika is called. You know? And it invites us to observe our experiences without attachment or aversion. So observe that, message that anxiety has given us and just don't be attached to it or don't try to push it away. It's like the 4 year old coming in and going, I've got to tell you something. I've got to tell you something. And we're like, no, go away. We don't want to hear it. Or we're like, okay, tell me everything.

Steven Webb [00:11:49]:

This is really, really bad. Keep telling me. And he's like, yeah, I just lost my train, my toy train. So that attachment to it, like it's really bad or that aversion pushes it away. Either way, that 4 year old is going to really try to get your attention. It's either going to be make it worse when you push it away or it's going to make it worse by listening too much So it's that balance between when these your anxiety, when that protector comes up ah, hi again. You're here to help me. This is what's happening at the moment.

Steven Webb [00:12:26]:

It's all fine. Everybody else in the other cars, everybody else is not really paying any attention. They don't know what's going on. They don't know how my heart is beating and things like that. You know? So when the panic attack approaches, rather than trying to push it away or cling, you get a sense of control. You might gently observe it. Notice the sensations, the thoughts, the emotions, labeling them good or bad. This isn't easy.

Steven Webb [00:12:55]:

And I wouldn't label good and bad, thinking about it. Although I've just said that. I would label them as healthy or unhealthy or, you know, do I need that in this moment or do I not need that? Because the minute we say good or bad, when we call them bad, we're then trying to push them away again. But it's a practice of compassion towards yourself. And really, it's an opportunity for growth. It's an opportunity for real compassion towards yourself. Some self love. Because all these voices are coming and going.

Steven Webb [00:13:23]:

They're not permanent. And, you know, you can use the practice of mindfulness to develop what's called bodhacitta. And where the mind's enlightened, where it seeks the well-being of everybody. So I'm aware of what's happening and I'm aware that other people have these things. I'm not alone in this. And you can breathe in the you can picture it as, breathing in the anxiety and I'm breathing out the love and understanding. Breathing in calm, breathing out relaxed, like I do in my meditations. And just that breathing and all that and focusing your breath on just doing that can really help.

Steven Webb [00:14:07]:

And there's a practice called tongue learn that as you breathe in this painful, transforming, pain that you've got this opportunity to breathe within, and then you breathe out just compassion and love. Because so many of us are going through these things. I'm not here to diminish or to reduce anybody's anxiety or anything like that. I'm just saying you're not alone. You know, it's the way our bodies have evolved. You know, we're not a culmination of just what we've done in our life. We're a combination of 1000000 of years. We're a combination of 90,000,000,000 humans that have come before us that have all evolved all these different things.

Steven Webb [00:14:51]:

We are the story of all of that. And luckily, we've got this anxiety and we've got these other things that warn us about this fear and things like that. Because if we didn't have them, we wouldn't have survived as long as we have. And like I say, if there's if there's a group of you in a forest and you've got that really positive person that doesn't worry about anything, never gets anxious, and the other person that is quite anxious and worries about everything And there's a loud noise suddenly in that forest. And the person that's really happy says, don't worry about it. It's fine. We'll just carry on. Carry on playing music, keep drinking, put the fire a bit higher.

Steven Webb [00:15:33]:

Well, if that now noise was something you put your pay attention to, you're all dead. On the other hand, that person that does have the anxiety, is in tune with their anxiety, said, no, put the fire out. Shut up, everybody. Stop. Let's find out what this is. They've just saved the day. So it's not a bad thing to have these voices inside of us. We're just not aware of them when we're younger.

Steven Webb [00:15:59]:

So the fact that we get to an age of 30, 40, 50, 60, And not all not everybody gets it, but this is about the waking up. You know, we grow up. The waking up is realizing we have these feelings and realizing that we don't have to do anything with it, but they're valuable to us. It's very much important that we do listen, but we don't give too much weight to it. And if you resist it, it's going to keep coming up. The more you resist it, the more you push it away, the more that anxiety is going to get your attention. And I did a guided meditation. I released it last week.

Steven Webb [00:16:40]:

And it's called, Your Anxiety, Your Companion. And it's about making anxiety your friend because it is your friend. It's your protector. It's your friend. It's the it's a little being inside of you, one of your little voices that is just going, hey, something might be wrong. And then you go, ah, okay. Thank you for that. I've took note of everything that's going on and we're okay.

Steven Webb [00:17:08]:

And then when you say thank you and recognize that anxiety, very often I go, oh, okay. No worries. I'll let it just die back down again. Sometimes, they're a little more persistent. And another thing you can do with it is just almost invite it and play with it and have a dialogue with it. And it might not speak in, spoken language. It might speak in different ways and manifest in different ways in your body because it doesn't have a voice. It doesn't have a mouth, so to speak.

Steven Webb [00:17:39]:

All these emotions evolved when humans weren't talking to each other. We use our mouths for communication. We didn't have that for 1000000 of years. We used our mouths for other things. You know, primarily eating or chewing on stuff, I suppose. So I'm just trying to think of all the things we can use our mouth for now. Don't even go there. So it evolved in a very different time.

Steven Webb [00:18:08]:

And it's still evolving today, but we don't recognize it in our lifetimes, it evolving because it's involved it evolves over 1000000 and 1000000 of years. And we are where we are, and we've got what we got. And resist the, eager to fix it. Your anxiety doesn't need fixing. It might be a little overzealous. It might be a little eager, but it's not broken. Yeah. It's just a tap that when you turn it on it flows a little too quick sometimes.

Steven Webb [00:18:37]:

But that's not really a brilliant analogy, but it would do and I think you'll understand and like I said at the beginning, I'm not a professional, but if I was to sum this up, recognize that your anxiety is a friend. And it's there to protect you. It's there to help you. And the fact that you're getting it now is because you're going deeper. It's because you're caring more. It's because you're on the spiritual journey to less suffering. And in order to have less suffering, we have to have deeper insight. And you have to go there to do something with it.

Steven Webb [00:19:16]:

You cannot feel the pain unless you go there to feel the pain. And that's why as we develop empathy and compassion on a real genuine spiritual level, that's why we end up feeling things much deeper. We end up having better experiences, we end up experiencing joy more, we end up suffering less, we end up more alone in the world because there's less people on this path and the whole spiritual journey is about suffering less and you will suffer less the minute you realise that your anxiety or these voices are there to they protect us, they help us, they guide us. They're not there to take control over you. And you can even say to yourself the mantra, that I sometimes feel anxious, but I am not anxious. And I know you're not anxious, because if you're anxious, that's what you would be all your life. It comes and goes, right? So therefore, you sometimes feel anxious. You're not anxious.

Steven Webb [00:20:18]:

It's the same as depression. When someone says, I am depressed, I'm like, are you? You're a body? You can't change that. You cannot wake up tomorrow morning and become a rabbit. I'm sure there's people trying in the world nowadays, but they're crazy world sometimes. Anyway, my mind wanders again, But you cannot change your body so you are a human, okay? You cannot argue with that. But that doesn't come and go. But what does come and go is how you're feeling. A feeling of depression, a feeling of anxiety, a feeling of excitement, a feeling of joy, they all come and go.

Steven Webb [00:21:01]:

Because you are not any of them. They're just experiences. I hope that makes sense and I hope this helps. And if you can support this podcast, that would be absolutely amazing and awesome. Go to stevenweb.uk. Otherwise, just head over to Inner Peace Meditations podcast. Search for it on Google, search for it anywhere, or go to stevenweb.uk and there'll be a link to it on there for your favourite platform. There's the last one I uploaded was how to make anxiety your companion.

Steven Webb [00:21:37]:

And I hope that helps. But, yeah, if it is really bad and it is really persistent, please seek professional help. I'm not a professional and I'm just a page ahead. That's all. And sometimes I'm not even that. Take care and I love you.