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Panic Attack: Associative Memory

Post 13 of 21 of the #newhabitchallenge.

Yesterday, I told you possible reasons why Jill and I both had a panic attack at a show. I mentioned over-stimulated senses and hyper-empathy, and started to explore potential sensory associations with past traumas.

Associations with traumas

I realized a few months after the panic attack that there were actual past traumas that I was making sensory associations with. In psychology, it's called associative memory: involuntarily learning and remembering the relationship between unrelated items through operant conditioning. Operant conditioning is when at phase 1, your behavioral response is a direct result of the environment you're in, and at phase 2, your behavioral response is triggered again when you're back in a similar environment (same stimuli).

Put simply: you experience an aggression at a concert (environment) that triggers stress (behavioral response). You associate crowded and loud environments with aggression. Now whenever you're in a crowded and loud place, your body starts to react as if it were living an aggression again.

My first associative memory was relating fainting with being in a big mess tent... because a few months earlier, I had fainted in a big mess tent. About 6 months prior to the show in Geneva, I was at an event, giving a presentation in a large mess tent that sat approximately 200 top executives. It was a very hot day and I was very nervous. After I gave my part of the presentation, my colleagues took over but I started to feel dizzy and before I could sit, I fainted off the stage and fell to the ground (some 50 cm). I don't remember this (I was passed out) but there was a big gasp in the audience and a few people rushed to the side of the stage to help out. I then woke up like from a dream and I couldn't remember where I was and what had happened. What happened when I was at Cirque du Soleil? I was back in a big tent that sat - well, a lot more people - but somehow I was in a similar state of stress and anxiety. My body remembered the trauma from the last time I was in a big tent like this one. Even the canvas that made up the tent felt very uncomfortable.

My second associative memory was relating danger with being in a place with a lot of people... because only a week earlier, a friend and I lived an aggression on the bus. Exactly a week before that show sometime around 10pm, I was sitting on the bus with a friend. I was sitting at the window and she was sitting at the aisle. We were going to a themed party so we were dressed up. I was a ladybug and she was a tiger. We both wore pants and jackets over our disguise (not that wearing a skirt is a reason for aggression of course), but a man on the bus noticed and started talking to us. At first, he asked why we were dressed up so we looked in his direction, and answered politely. But then he started to insult us so we ignored him but it just made him more aggressive. He started to call us names. My heart was beating really fast and I kept looking at my friend. He started getting more annoyed to the point that as he was getting off the bus (finally), he came close to our seating area and waved an insisting middle finger at us. Cherry on top, just as we were departing from the bus stop, he kicked the window I was sitting next to really hard and I jumped. Even if we weren't physically hurt, it felt just like it to me. I felt dizzy and I wanted to cry. What happened when I was at Cirque du Soleil? I was in a crowded place. Somehow, my body started having the same reaction it had on the bus that night - I felt dizzy, in danger...

So I get how this associative thing can be useful but don't you wish you could just MIB yo'self...

It's funny how our body has its own memory, no? #shareyourexperience #sharingiscaring

Tune in tomorrow for some life-changer tips! I've tried and it works!!

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