I’d just been to a lecture on pain management by Bruno Cayoun, one of the principal developers of mindfulness-integrated cognitive behaviour therapy.
Cayoun uses a simple technique that helps people diminish physical and psychological pain in less than four minutes. The process, discussed in his book MiCBT for Wellbeing and Personal Growth, has gained international recognition.
The day after the lecture, I was driving across Sydney Harbour. I always take the Harbour Bridge, which is a hassle, because I’m too scared to go into the tunnel under the ocean. When trapped in confined places without windows I sometimes have panic attacks that can cause hyperventilation and physical pain as blood vessels constrict.
As a passenger in the tunnel I can shut my eyes. But I won’t drive myself with eyes open. Coming up to the turn-off, I pondered: “Can I use the process to get me through my phobia?”
Before I knew it, I had taken the challenge and was driving into the tunnel.
“OMG. Wow. I’m OK, I’m doing it.” (Heart pounding.) “Only another minute or two to go … gonna be out soon …”
Nope. Suddenly a sign: “Breakdown ahead”. Which should have read “Nervous Breakdown ahead”. The traffic had ground to a halt. Unfortunately, my thoughts hadn’t.
“I’m under miles of water. What if this is a terrorist attack? What if it’s a crack and the water is going to pour in? Where is my asthma puffer? Oh no … no. I left it at home … I will suffocate here alone in the dark.” Then as if by miracle I heard my voice say: “Now! If you don’t do it NOW you never will.”
I shut my eyes and started to do Cayoun’s first step of deep breathing, initially struggling to get air into my tight chest. Followed by gently observing my physiology and the degree to which my thoughts were fuelling the adrenalin surges and pounding heart.
I saw the panic as if I were above it; I could name it, watch it, hear the catastrophising thoughts as they were screaming at me, but I was becoming more detached.
I kept going with other of his techniques and felt my breathing ease. I even felt myself smile: “I’m trapped in a tunnel under the sea during a time of high terrorism alert with claustrophobia. Could life get any better than this!”
I felt the adrenalin subside. I felt sleepy. The comedown that was like a sedative. I yawned. Twenty minutes later the lanes converged and we started moving towards the light. I’d done it.
It’s good to learn self-soothing techniques for the scary days ahead. If I can do it, anyone can.