10 Rules for Coping with Panic: Rule #2 (Part 2)
(Note: this post is part of a series about navigating my way through the 10 Rules for Coping with Panic, which is a nifty little list I keep in my wallet. To read the introduction to this series, check out this post: Coping with Panic: Why I Can’t, and Why I Can.)
THE SECOND RULE
I introduced Rule #2 in my last post. It’s about the bodily sensations that we feel when we’re anxious or panicky:
They are not harmful. They are not in the least harmful or dangerous — just unpleasant. Nothing worse will happen.
WHY IS THIS SO SIMPLE?
In truth, I don’t know. This one’s not very simple to me.
In high school, I decided to donate blood as soon as I was old enough. The Bloodmobile came to our gymnasium during school hours and we got to miss class if we donated…so, of course, my fellow classmates were signing up left and right. I signed up too.
After all the paperwork, they tested my iron level — and it was low. Not so low that I couldn’t donate, but low-ish. I was herded along to a donation table where I laid down and got comfy.
They stuck me with the needle and I watched myself drain into a plastic bag. It was weird and a little disconcerting to see so much blood — MY blood — but I could handle it.
Until the very end.
The volunteer nurse closed the big blood bag & began taking three final vials from my arm for testing. My stomach started feeling nauseous. I started getting lightheaded.
I looked up at the gym ceiling as one of the student volunteers came around to chit chat with me. I felt cold. I felt nauseous. My eyes were fixed on the gym ceiling and I recall thinking the following thought: If I don’t talk to the student volunteer, he’ll think I’m about to pass out. But you know what? Screw it. I can’t move. I don’t feel right. I am going to lay here and look at the gym ceiling until this is over.
I woke up to ammonia inhalant. They told me to cough continuously to keep myself conscious, and then they fed me copious amounts of soda and cookies.
Because of that incident, I still link nausea to passing out.
Wait a second — I’m not doing a very good job at explaining why Rule #2 should be so simple, am I? The more I think about it, the more my Red Cross story makes Rule #2 seem impossibly difficult to follow. After all, it reminds me how harmful and dangerous nausea can be — I mean, it can lead to passing out, after all. Which, you know, can cause concussions or car accidents or worse.
This is where I’ll try to squeak out a meek rebuttal to my own argument.
It’s not easy.
Okay, here goes.
Statistics. How many times have I passed out? ONE TIME. One lousy time, and I happened to give blood immediately beforehand. I’ve never otherwise passed out. Granted, I’ve felt extraordinarily close to passing out on occasion, but it’s never actually happened except on that Red Cross table in my high school gymnasium.
If I take the total number of times that I’ve felt like passing out — which is clearly somewhere in the hundreds — and compare it to the number of times that I’ve actually passed out, the fraction works out to a very small number.
Less than 1%, in fact.
And, if I sit here and recall all of the times when I’ve felt like passing out — yesterday, for example, when I got inexplicably nervous while cleaning my kitchen — I can say with certainty that, after letting a period of time pass, the light-headed feeling eventually dissipates.
I swear there are eons of time compressed into the ten minutes or so that it takes to let panic symptoms subside.
Previously: Rule #1
Beretsky, S. (2012). 10 Rules for Coping with Panic: Rule #2 (Part 2). Psych Central. Retrieved on February 6, 2016, from http://blogs.psychcentral.com/panic/2012/04/10-rules-for-coping-with-panic-rule-2-part-2/