How I Learned to Manage My Panic Attacks

Me with Deej and Uma, Lorraine Pentello, Somatic Sex Therapy, Melbourne
Deej, Me and Uma, 2016

The walls were closing in on me. My heart was thumping in my chest. I couldn’t breathe. I had to get out! I fled the workshop and hid in the tiny kitchen.

The ‘Active Receiving Workshop’ taught by Deej Juventin and Uma Furman from the Institute of Somatic Sexology was my first experience of somatic practice.

Ever since my horrible break-up, I had been troubled with panic attacks. The awful relationship and then the trauma of the separation had opened up a world of pain for me; activating old wounds and throwing my nervous system into chaos. Back then, whenever I found something challenging I would panic, hyperventilate then run.

I had been seeing a psychologist for a few years. He felt like a kind and caring best mate who taught me about personality disorders, anxiety and how to cognitively manage panic without needing my meds (mostly by talking myself out of it). I was feeling a lot better about myself and less confused, but my anxiety was still there stalking in the background, ready to pounce whenever I was vulnerable.

So I came to this workshop to learn something new; to see if somatic work could help me, but instead I was cowering this tiny kitchen. The sound of excitedly chattering voices bouncing around the walls as my unrelenting heartbeat reverberated through my ribs.

After what felt like an eternity, but in all likelihood was only a few minutes, the voices started to quieten and so did my heart along with them. Regaining a little confidence, I left the kitchen and ventured back into the workshop.

As I entered the space I witnessed the participants in groups of two and three, blissfully interacting with each other; shoulder rubs, foot rubs, eye gazing, hands on hearts and breathing deeply together.

I was scanning the room looking for a discreet corner to hide, when one of the teachers, Deej, gently approached and invited me to join him. My eyes fill with tears as I write this, because what Deej taught me in the minutes that followed completely changed my life and led me to the work that I do now.

Without me needing to explain, he knew exactly what I needed. He asked me to feel the sensation of my body touching the ground. Then he guided me to increase the length of my exhale a little longer with each successive breath. Once I had the hang of it, he encouraged me to wiggle my toes at the same time.

Such simple exercises and yet my anxiety melted away. I could feel my face brightening into a smile and the room suddenly felt warmer and more inviting. I started to feel more like I belonged there.

“I was panicking.” I said.

“I know…” he replied, “...And next time you feel that panic coming you can do this and it will help you regulate.”

After that I was able to re-join the workshop and participate more fully.

This simple exercise gave me freedom and taught me that I don’t have to be a prisoner of my past. After eight years of healing and learning, I now have a whole toolbox of techniques I can use to calm both myself and my clients, but this grounding exercise still has a special place in my heart. It was a game-changer for me.

It redefined what I believed was possible in the realm of healing trauma and finding peace. I realised that healing trauma is more than arguing with our story. By paying attention to the sensations in our bodies, we can take action to change how they feel and this, in turn, can influence a healthy shift in our emotions and bring resolution to our painful stories.

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