In my ongoing quest for knowledge pertaining to the contributors to panic attacks and anxiety, as well as treatment strategies and techniques, I came upon some very cool stuff several years ago. It’s called Somatic Experiencing (SE) and it’s the amazing work of Peter A. Levine, Ph.D. This will be the first in a series of two articles. Here we’ll have a look at SE within the context of a contributor to panic and anxiety. The article that follows will approach SE from a treatment perspective. Well, tune-in because I know you’re going to find the information fascinating, hopeful, and helpful.

SE came to life as Dr. Levine observed that though wild animals of prey are under constant threat and siege, they’re rarely traumatized. Well, I never really gave that much thought, but I suppose it’s true. So, just how in the heck do they pull that off? Well, credit is given to an innate regulating mechanism that very efficiently manages and discharges the energy that accumulates in their bodies as a result of self-preservation behaviors. Levine observed that when an animal of prey survives a potentially deadly chase, it actually takes time to physically shake-off unused energy before moving on with the herd. Well, Levine posits we humans are equipped with essentially the same mechanism; however, ours is greatly inhibited by our more advanced cognitive capabilities. Man, how many times does thinking mess things up for us? By the way, isn’t it interesting that we so often use the phrase, “Just shake it off,” when someone takes a relatively minor hit of some kind.

Now, as we consider the notion that humans have an innate ability to manage and discharge unused survival energy, let’s take a look at a large structure in the midbrain known as the periaqueductal gray (PG). The PG is thought to be involved with physically defensive reactions such as freezing, jumping, running, rapid heartbeat, blood pressure fluctuation, and increases in muscle tone. It’s believed that when sufficiently stimulated, the amygdala, our fear alarm control panel, rings-up the PG and on come one or more of the physical phenomena just mentioned.

Interestingly enough, the PG is also responsible for something known as quiescence, a state of being at ease and immobile, yet highly alert. Many scientists believe this is a natural recovery response after a tussle with a real or perceived threat. Did you ever feel like you were frozen or immobile during a time of intense fear or anxiety? Come on, you know you have. In humans, indeed all mammals and reptiles, freezing usually occurs right before the real or perceived attack. It’s one of three primary responses called upon when we’re faced with a perceived overwhelming threat, the others being fight and flight. Well, this altered state of consciousness is designed to provide a last ditch shot at escape and to spare the body pain through a natural analgesic process should a brutal death occur. And guess what? The PG is responsible for this onboard pain relief, as well.

Now, this inability to “shake-off” causes big problems because it prohibits a complete purging, if you will, of excess survival energy. And this, in turn, impedes the nervous system’s efforts to regain a sense of internal balance or homeostasis. And that, in yet another turn, leads to trauma because the body now has to try to accommodate an excess of unused survival energy. And this “has-been” mass of energy remains bound in our bodies where it rips us up mentally, emotionally, and physically. Again, we humans have the ability to shake-off this toxic mess; however, we generally find a way to think our way out of it.

Well, it sure doesn’t seem like much of a stretch to me that this storehouse of poisonous unused survival energy would have the potential to generate all sorts of panic and anxiety. And that’s what makes this material so relevant. So, keep this information in your back pocket as you read the next article discussing SE from a treatment perspective.

Author's Bio: 

After a winning bout with panic disorder, a career in the business world, and a part-time job working with socially challenged adolescents, Bill found his life's passion and work. So he earned his master's degree and counseling credentials, and is doing all he can to lend a hand to those having a tough time.

Bill has some powerful mentoring and service packages available on his website, which include his panic attack education and recovery eWorkbook, "Panic! ...and Poetic Justice." The eWorkbook is ready for immediate download. You'll also find a link on the website to Bill's "Panic Attack Freedom!" blog. Lots of good stuff going on and much more to come.

In addition to doing psychiatric emergency work, Bill continues to do a lot of writing and speaking. He's conducted numerous mental health workshops for non-profit organizations and remains available to present more. Bill is a national and local member of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (N.A.M.I.).