How to Stay Calm During a Medical Crisis
with Captain Tom Bunn
An excerpt from the book,
My Action Plan for Stopping the Symptoms of Mitral Valve Prolapse
How to Stay Calm During a Medical Crisis
In the Foreword in my book, Bunn explains how to train your mind in advance to handle a medical crisis, in a cool, calm, collected, rational, effective calm manner. You can read Bunn’s Foreword in my book in the “Look Inside” option where my book is listed on amazon.
Let’s imagine. You are feeling something you’ve never felt before. Maybe it’s pain. Maybe it’s a fluttering in your heart. Or it could be something in your gut that makes you double over.
A 200-million-year-old device in your brain will react. It’s your amygdala. I’m calling it a device because it doesn’t think. It just reacts. The amygdala monitors what is going on inside you and outside you. If what is happening has happened before, it’s “Ho, hum. Been there. Done that.” The amygdala ignores it. But if it senses something you haven’t experienced before, it releases stress hormones. Why? Something different could be life-threatening.
The reason the amygdala has been around for 200 million years is its success. By ignoring the familiar and reacting to the unfamiliar, it has helped preserve the lives of the creatures equipped with it. One of the first creatures to have an amygdala was the Tyrannosaurus rex. A T-rex wasn’t very smart. That massive reptile had a brain the size of a German shepherd.
A T-rex survived as long as it did because whenever anything unfamiliar happened, its amygdala released stress hormones that caused an urge to run.
Since a T-rex didn’t have enough brainpower to distinguish a life-threatening emergency from a false alarm, it just ran away.
Better Safe Than Sorry.
Fast forward to now. You inherited this device. It’s no smarter than it was 200 million years ago. Any unexpected pain or physical sensations will cause your amygdala to release stress hormones. The stress hormones do the same thing in you that they did in the T-rex. They create the urge to escape. If escape routes are blocked, the urge is redirected to fight.
But with the threat inside your body, you can’t escape it. Nor can you fight it. Trapped, you may panic. You have intelligence the T-rex didn’t have. But in a state of panic, your reptile brain takes over. Let’s say someone gets you to an ER. There, your challenge is to set your reptile brain aside. Otherwise, you will not be able to use your high-level thinking to team up with your doctors. Even though you are extremely revved up, you need to down-regulate well enough to offer them the best source of information available: what you are feeling, where you are feeling it, how did it start, and how long has it been going on.
Did you ever take a pet to a vet? Think about it. Your dog or cat can’t tell the vet where it hurts. Your vet is shooting in the dark. Even if it is your pet parrot, what the parrot says won’t be helpful. Your doctors need you to give them the information they need. But how can you downregulate the feeling of alarm enough to team up with your doctors and potentially save your life? Frankly, unless you have programmed your subcortex to automatically attenuate your feelings of alarm, you won’t be able to.
In a state of panic, your conscious mind is overwhelmed. Anything you do consciously only adds to the feeling of being overwhelmed. You could wait 90 seconds for the stress hormones to burn off. But as they burn off, awareness of what may be a life-threatening emergency will replace the stress hormones you burn with more stress hormones. So how can you keep your wits about you? You can do it the same way firefighters, law enforcement, and ER personnel do it. You train your mind in advance to deal with the situation. This is because, in a life-threatening situation, we do not “rise to the occasion.” Rather we descend to the level of our training.
It is essential that you train your unconscious procedural memory (it still works in a crisis because it is in the subcortex) to activate the only system that can override the effect the stress hormones are having on you: the parasympathetic nervous system. Para means against. When activated, the parasympathetic nervous system works against the sympathetic nervous system, the system that is pushing you into panic
You need to train your unconscious procedural memory to automatically activate your parasympathetic nervous system when needed. Once it is activated, your parasympathetic nervous system overrides your reptile brain’s fight-or-flight response. This allows your high-level thinking to function. Without automatic activation of the parasympathetic, in a life-threatening situation, we can be our own worst enemy. When hyperaroused, we no longer separate what is real from what is imaginary. What we fear becomes our reality. We are sure the worst outcome is inevitable. This renders us unable to give accurate information about our condition to those who are trying to help.
In this book, Joan Anderson shares her action plan for dealing with health choices. At some time in your life, you will face a situation that may be life-threatening. She shows you how she teamed up with medical professionals who earnestly wanted to help her. She reveals how she identifies and chooses the doctors who would be the best for her team.
Joan will tell you how she learned about various tests, including diagnostic imaging where she found a method to get a better definition for her thyroid issue while avoiding radiation. She will tell you how she, as a patient, can advocate for something better and how others can choose to do it too.
Joan details how she determines which medication options to accept and which to reject. After reading this book, you may want to develop a plan too, specific for you, to do the same.
What I hope to contribute to Joan’s book is how to train your mind in advance to handle a crisis in a cool, calm, collected, rational, and effective manner. If you can present your medical history and your present self-observations accurately, you will be your doctor’s best source of information. To do this, you need to be able, even in a crisis, to keep your high-level thinking working. After all, isn’t that when you need your high-level thinking most?
One last word. And this is personal. A few years ago, my wife, Marie, had a stroke. Initially, the right side of her body was paralyzed. Now she can get around with a walker. Her stroke was completely preventable. If she had had the information in this book, she could have avoided the stroke, and our life together now would be very different. Read this book.
Books by Captain Bunn
Captain Tom Bunn, LCSW, Author of Panic Free, The 10-Day Program to End Panic, Anxiety, and Claustrophobia and Founder of The SOAR Program for nervous flyers
Article by Captain Bunn
Captain Tom Bunn, L.C.S.W., The Three Things You Must Disconnect to Be Free of Anxiety Pounding heart? Breathing fast? Tense? Is this fear? Does it mean danger? Psychology Today, May 26, 2020
About Captain Bunn's Book and What it Taught Me
The best book I’ve found that taught me how to stop adrenaline and escape the fear and symptoms the hormone causes was in Bunn’s book, Panic Free: The 10-Day Program to End Panic, Anxiety, and Claustrophobia.
I met the author on the phone in 2005 when I purchased his Fear of Flying course. A retired pilot and licensed therapist, he combined the best of several approaches to create a system that cured me of my fear of flying when every other program failed.
His unique method can also help people who suffer from general panic and anxiety issues. Below is more information about the book and the author from the publisher:
Panic, and its close cousins, anxiety and claustrophobia, have long been a problem without a reliable solution. In most cases, the estimated six million Americans who suffer from a panic disorder receive only marginal relief from psychotherapy, usually Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), medication, or the two combined. While CBT has been found to stop panic in only one of seven patients, the medications often added on to CBT are addictive, needed in high doses to combat panic, and involved in thirty percent of prescription drug overdose deaths.
After years of working to help sufferers, author Tom Bunn found a better way. His system uses the part of the brain that is not flooded with the stress hormones instead of the part that is and causes the panic. This “unconscious procedural memory” can be programmed to control panic by preventing the release of stress hormones and activating the parasympathetic nervous system. It sounds complicated but is not, requiring just ten days and no drugs or doctors. Panic Free: The 10-Day Program to End Panic, Anxiety, and Claustrophobia includes specific instructions for dealing with common panic triggers such as MRIs, bridges, airplane travel, and tunnels. Because panic is such a profoundly life-limiting problem, Bunn’s technique is a true life-changer.
Readers can visit Captain Bunn’s website at: PanicFree.net