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She Can’t Tolerate Medication – What to Do for Anxiety, Panic & Traumatic Stress?

26 May

Hi there, Belleruth!
I heard you speak at a meeting for employees at our place of business, where we participated in a guided imagery session following a violent and tragic incident.

I have been diagnosed with PTSD and anxiety disorder and, quite honestly, have been battling anxiety all my life (which is very frustrating).

My question is this: my doctor suggested I start taking Celexa (an anti-depressant in the medication class called SSRI’s, or serotonin reuptake inhibitors) to help treat some of my symptoms, which I did with a lot of reluctance. 

Needless to say, within about 12 hours after taking the medication, I had the absolute worst panic attack I've ever had.  I have heartburn and nausea, dilated pupils, feel edgy and moody.
 
I absolutely will not take another anti-depressant.
 
Are there any other solutions to PTSD and anxiety?  Any help or input would be so much appreciated!!!
 
Thank you!
 
Donna K.

Dear Donna,

Yes, there are many things you can do for the posttraumatic stress and anxiety, and I’ll be happy to suggest some of them.

But I do want to reassure you that most SSRI medications like Celexa take a few weeks to really kick in, so it’s not likely that it was the pills per se that set off the panic, nausea and heartburn, so much as your fear of the pills.  That said, I’m still with you – with a horribly unpleasant reaction like that, it makes sense to look for other approaches that won’t catalyze such distress.

First off, any technique that teaches you how to relax at will is going to be helpful – for the general anxiety, the panic attacks and the posttraumatic stress.
 
So I’d start with our guided imagery for Panic Attacks.  This audio program has 3 simple relaxation exercises – counting the breath, progressive relaxation with a body scan, and simple phrase or mantra repetition – plus some more complex guided imagery and affirmations.
 
There should be some tracks in there that work for you.  Remember – your most useful tool is going to be training yourself to relax at the first hint of getting triggered.  And the good news is, if you were suggestible enough to have that immediate reaction to taking Celexa, you’re very likely going to be totally terrific at accessing that immersive, hypnotic state that makes guided imagery so effective.
 
Please note that I’m purposely not recommending our Posttraumatic Stress imagery for you.  It’s very effective but also very intense and emotionally evocative, and if you use that before developing and strengthening these relaxation skills, it could trigger another panic episode.  So let’s steer clear of that one for now.  Besides, if you have success with the other ones, you may not need it.

Another tool that could really help is one of the acupoint tapping techniques – in spite of many theories, nobody is quite sure how these work to reduce anxiety so quickly, but they’re helpful for a lot of people, and that’s what counts. 

You may want to find a local practitioner of EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) or TFT (Thought Field Therapy) or EFT (Emotional Freedom Technique) or SE (Somatic Experiencing) to name a few.  Or, if you want to check out what this approach is like first, try Mary Sise’s DVD to see it in action.
 
Another thing you can do is energy work for accessing a profound state of relaxation – Healing Touch or Therapeutic Touch, aromatherapy massage or acupressure.  This brings you relaxation from the outside in, and that could be really helpful to you to deepen your ability to access this mind/body state.

You can actually even combine this kind of table work with listening to guided imagery – we know from Scripps’ work with traumatized Marines from Camp Pendleton, who were given just 6 Healing Touch sessions while listening to guided imagery, that this was very effective in dramatically reducing their symptoms.
 
So why not start there, and see how it goes?  Try to be patient.  It may take a while, but try out different methods, see what suits you and works well for you, and build from there.

Good luck and let me know how it goes.

All best,
Belleruth

Belleruth Naparstek

Psychotherapist, author and guided imagery pioneer Belleruth Naparstek is the creator of the popular Health Journeys guided imagery audio series. Her latest book on imagery and posttraumatic stress, Invisible Heroes: Survivors of Trauma and How They Heal (Bantam Dell), won the Spirituality & Health Top 50 Books Award