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When Medical Issues Cause Fear & Panic

by Deah Curry, PhD

I’ve noticed a new trend among my professional colleagues lately.We’re paying more attention than ever before to the psychospiritual impact of being confronted by a medical mystery.

Knowing or feeling that something might be seriously wrong with one’s physical health can provoke fear, anxiety and panic, especially when such a circumstance is unexpected. How we all deal with such unsettling uncertainties can, I believe, make a difference in our illness and healing experience. Our attitude is the key to a healthy response.

Fears Block Healing Energies

Jan had never given much attention to her health. Being in her early 30s, everything was working as it should, except for some bothersome pains. She was shocked when her doctor said the aches in her toes and ankles were gouty arthritis — a condition that could progress to affect fingers and wrists, and eventually cause kidney problems.

Jan was a jewelry artist who worked long hours with her hands and sold her work on the fair circuit where she stood for many hours at a time. Inclined to always see the worst side of things, she went into a deep depression about her chances for recovery and the impact on her career. Though her doctor assured her that this was a very treatable illness, she began to isolate from her friends and cancel fair bookings for fear of further exposure to other health problems.

During her several months of treatment, she constantly worried about financial security, and even though her hands remained pain-free, she felt absolutely miserable anticipating the loss of easy dexterity using her jeweler’s tools. She was convinced she would die from kidney failure even when her doctor said she had recovered completely and could resume normal life with some precautionary changes in diet and a moderated work schedule.

She was unable to kick the depression and soon ended up in treatment for that. Her energy had been stagnant for so long that it took time for her to gradually come out of the depression. Although her body was well once again, something had been lost from her spirit during her illness and it was years till she felt truly whole again.

Sitting Productively with


Cele tells a different story. Ten years after her last period, she woke with bleeding on a morning she happened to already have an appointment with her homeopath. Initial disbelief was quickly replaced by anger mixed with panic, for Cele remembered how the process of going through early perimenopause had been extreme and prolonged for her. And she was well aware that unusual vaginal bleeding could be a serious sign of cancer.

Discussing this unsettling situation, she and her homeopath reviewed the full range of conventional and natural medicine options. Talking it through gave her new information, provided the chance to discharge her anger, and turned her energies towards taking control of panic with familiar coping strategies.

Cele immediately applied those strategies, which included a few brief moments of calming breathing meditation, and a somatic visualization of the healing spirit within her being called on to address the situation. Cele also made a determined decision to give her body a chance to respond to how she directed her innate psycho-spiritual healing energies. Her homeopath concurred with taking this wait and see approach and not overwhelming the vital force with suppressive interventions.

Telling her story to several friends and doing further research on the possible causes of this unexpected event over the next few days allowed Cele to be with her emotions and her body. She listened closely to the signals her body sent about which non-suppressive strategies to employ, knowing that she had many she could use if her body asked for them.

Perhaps most importantly, she talked to her fear response, giving it a chance to express itself then countering its projections with calming alternatives, just like one might reassure a frightened child. This strategy she had previously learned in therapy for a different issue. When combined with meditative breathing and healing visualizations, it strengthened her sense of being essentially safe even in the midst of transitory uncertainty.

Getting to Self-Trust

Disbelief, confusion, fear, anger, and panic are all natural responses when confronted with the appearance of new signs of a potentially serious health problem. These responses can shut us down and trap us in a negatively reinforcing cycle that diverts healing energies of mind, body and spirit.

Or, these responses can prompt information gathering, consultation and planning, sharing with and encouragement from friends, and the development or use of alternative methods of sitting more comfortably with uncertainty. Which path each of us chooses is in large part dependent on our individual sense of trust in being able to create emotional safety no matter what the physical outcomes may be.

A lot of factors go into achieving and sustaining a strong sense of self-trust, which I would define as the quality of deeply knowing that you can handle whatever happens, that even the worst of times won’t break your spirit or sense of connection to your community and to the universe. Trauma in Jan’s early childhood conditioned her to make the choice to shut down, while Cele’s life experiences pushed her onto the path of seeking alternatives. Where Jan contracted and resisted, Cele allowed and explored.

Seeking alternatives, allowing unsettledness, and exploring uncertainty are but three of many ways to develop self-trust. Each contributes to a sense of having more options, which adds to confidence in one’s ability to create personal emotional safety. Self-trust is like a muscle that when exercised daily produces the characteristic of a grounded sense of well-being, despite whatever might be happening with our health. It can help us to recognize that we have many possibilities for wellness.

With 17 years experience as a psychotherapist, I have many therapeutic coaching approaches that can help you sit with unsettling uncertainties and develop self-trust. For information, appointments, and Kirkland, WA, office location, send email to DrDeah@deahcurry.net or call 425-814-9083 for a free 15 minute phone consultation. Details about my work are available on these websites: www.EmotionalFirst Aid-Coaching.com, www.DeahCurry.net, and www.InnerJ ourneyWork.com.

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