In my eWorkbook, Panic! …and Poetic Justice, I share a story about crossing the I-43 bridge, with its open view of Green Bay (the actual bay) to the northeast, in Green Bay, Wisconsin. As I was driving the incline of the bridge, the whole experience was bombarding me with all sorts of mental, emotional, and physical aggravation. Among these, my upper abdomen tightened-up and wanted to spasm, my breathing became fast and shallow, I began to physically feel like a two-by-four, and I was just plain scared. I mean, I had all of these expressions of underlying stuff that I, of course, managed masterfully, allowing me to cross the monster (uh, yeah).

But as all of this was going on the thought occurred to me, “Gee, I’ve experienced these sensations tons of times in the past, and I wasn’t always crossing a bridge at the time.” Hmmm. By George, all of what I was experiencing was part of a long-standing reactionary pattern. Well, I found that darned interesting. So that led me to the realization that if I’m presenting very specific mental, emotional, and physical phenomena when I very definitely know I’m scared or, let’s say, angry, why can’t I confidently assume that I’m scared or angry when the very same mental, emotional, and physical phenomena present in a different setting, at a different time? Makes bucket loads of sense to me, and I’m amazed it took me so long to connect the dots.

I came up with a name for this concept and technique, Symptom Identification and Association (S.I.A.). This S.I.A. business is worth discussing and can be very helpful to us. Think about it. It allows us to assign an underlying emotion or feeling to a specific set of detectable presentations, giving us a picture window view into what’s going on beneath the surface in the immediate; not to mention what may have gone on in the past. So not only does this help us pinpoint foundational emotions and feelings that may lead to panic and distress today, it also helps us understand what may have happened yesterday; as well as assisting us in identifying and managing baggage that may build sufficient strength to cause distress and panic down the road. You see, it’s all about examining, identifying, and acknowledging patterns, giving us the tools to clear out the trash.

Here, let’s work through two very simple S.I.A. examples. Suppose you’re attending a meeting and you sense the back of your neck tightening-up, and it’s intensifying as the meeting progresses, and it gets to the point where it’s really starting to aggravate you. Well, instead of just putting up with it and getting all the more ticked-off and flustered, why not implement S.I.A.? And here’s how. Take a mental moment and think back to a time when your neck behaved as it is now. Hmmm, you remember the very same sensation as you were arguing with your relational partner. Okay, and what emotion were you experiencing during the argument? Yes, you were angry as heck. And the back of your neck clinched-up so badly it almost brought your chin to your chest. Voila! There’s the connection. Stiff neck = anger.

So could it be possible you’re becoming angry during the meeting? Think about it. What’s the subject matter? Who’s in attendance? You think, “No, the topic isn’t an issue.” Hmmm. Wait a minute. Well, what do you know, look who’s leading the meeting! You lost out on a promotion to this idiot six months ago. You think being a participant in a meeting led by this jerk is enough to make you angry? And is it possible that this anger could make your neck tighten-up like it did when you were arguing – and angry - with your partner? Finally, do you think making this connection, allowing you to identify the underlying emotion, holds the potential for relieving your immediate and future distress? I’d say the answer to all three questions is a solid, “You betcha’.”

How ‘bout this one. You’re about to drive out of town on a week-long business trip. As you pack your bag on the morning of your departure, you begin to feel kind of scattered and jittery. You get in your car to head-out and not only is the inattention and nervousness persisting, but you began to feel your upper abdomen knotting-up. And before long it begins to spasm, rather a twitching action. Oh, and out of nowhere you feel the front and sides of your neck tightening-up and there’s this sensation like you have a lump in your throat. What’s going on here? Well, you try to move beyond the discomfort by letting your mind kind of wander as you drive. “Dang,” you say to yourself as it sinks in how much you’re going to miss your wife and children. “Man, I’m going to be lonely as heck for the next five days. And what will I do if I get sick – who’s going to come to my aid and make me feel better?”

As you’re kicking these thoughts around you suddenly feel a resurgence of the tightening of your throat and the spasms return to your upper abdomen. Wait a minute, could there be a connection here? And you realize that, yes, this is what happens to you when you feel lonely, vulnerable, and – well – helpless. Son of a gun. And something else suddenly comes to you. You remember having an unexplained bout with the very same phenomena when you left home for your freshman year of college. Indeed, it didn’t end there, as now that you think about it you experienced the same stuff many times over the years. You connect some dots and come to the conclusion that this all ties together. “So that’s what was eating at me when I went-off to school, and all those other very painful times. I was afraid I’d be left alone – abandoned. Yes, I was horrified by the prospect that I wouldn’t be able to take care of myself and that something awful would befall me as a result.” Now, how many doors were opened by the insight supplied through S.I.A.? Do you get the point?

See if you can implement S.I.A. The next time you feel strong mental, emotional, and physical symptoms as a result of being in an uncomfortable situation, identify the underlying emotion or feeling - in the immediate - and see if you can make some connections to what may have gone on in the past, as you experienced the same phenomena. And burn an image of the connection on your brain so you can have some readily available insight as the same phenomena present in the future.

I know this technique will help you identify, and come to understand, some internal dynamics that may have flown under the radar for years; and may well have caused huge problems for you tomorrow. Believe me, all of this will help you feel ten jillion times more comfortable in your own skin.

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 authored a panic disorder education and recovery eworkbook entitled, "Panic! ...and Poetic Justice," which is available on his website and online store for immediate download. Also available is information regarding a collection of poems he wrote along his panic disorder and recovery journey entitled, "The Poetry of My Life." And now he's managing a 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. 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.).