(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.)
First, I ran out of a wedding reception because of panic. Then, I sat in my fiance’s car as I waited, miserably and fruitlessly, for panic to pass.
WHY IS THIS SO EASY?
Let’s take a look at Rule #5 again:
Wait for fear to pass. Wait and give the fear time to pass. Do not fight it or run away from it. Just accept it.
Read the first two sentences of that rule. Do you see a difference between them?
“Wait for fear to pass” is one thing. “Wait and give the fear time to pass” is something else entirely. It describes in further detail how we ought to follow this rule.
Last night, while panicking in the car, I sat and waited for fear to pass. I sat and waited. And waited. And waited. Just when my heart rate slowed down, my limbs would start feeling tingly. And just when my limbs stopped feeling tingly, I started feeling short of breath. I knew that, if I wanted to prove to myself, my fiance, and my fiance’s family that I am a capable woman who can panic and then recover, I’d need to…well, recover.
I’d need to get myself calm and get my ass back inside.
I’d need to wait for fear to pass.
But here’s the mistake I made: I didn’t give the fear time to pass. Instead, I sat, waited, and got angry at myself. I sat, waited, and wondered why I wasn’t calming down as quickly as I wanted to be. I sat, waited, and grew flustered as my body continued its jet stream of adrenaline rushes and wooziness.
TIME VS. TIMING
I didn’t give the fear time. Instead, I was timing it.
Maybe that’s the byproduct of having spent three years working in a call center. Let me explain: as a customer service representative, my success was measured almost entirely in the amount of time I spent on the phone to resolve a customer’s issue. We called it “Average Handle Time”. A high average handle time (say, anywhere above 6 minutes) was bad. A low average handle time (3 minutes) was good, and the workers with the lowest average handle times would win all sorts of awards and recognition.
Everyone strove to lower their average handle time.
And, despite the fact that I left the call center over six months ago, that general rule is still impressed upon my brain. When there is an issue, resolve it as quickly as possible because that is how you win awards and recognition.
The panic attack is my customer telephone call. If I rush to resolve the issue too quickly, I muck up the original problem even more. Right?
Well, screw that. That might work to calm down a call center phone queue, but it doesn’t do a damn thing to calm down your mind and body.
I need to start giving the fear time to pass. I need to ditch the call center paradigm and give myself as much time as I need.
Rule #5, more than anything, is about self-compassion. It’s about allowing yourself the time and the resources to recover from panic. It’s about treating yourself kindly and not establishing artificial rules that limit your recovery time.
I ended up driving home and feeling like a failure for the night because, after giving myself 20 minutes to calm down from panic, I didn’t feel well enough to return to the wedding reception.
But now, in retrospect, I’m thinking that my real failure was not giving myself enough time.
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Last reviewed: 31 May 2012