(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.)
Well, we’re halfway through the list now. And, in theory, we’re halfway through a panic attack. We’ve reached the point in the list of 10 Rules where panic begins to subside. Here’s Rule #6:
Notice when it fades. Notice that once you stop adding to it with frightening thoughts, the fear starts to fade by itself.
WHY IS THIS SO DIFFICULT?
Think about the last time you panicked. How did you get through the situation? Did you focus on the uncomfortable sensations, or did you grab your phone and start texting your symptoms away?
Did you sit and wait it out, or did you run off to find a Sudoku book for distraction?
Did you pay attention to the dizziness and the lightheadedness, or did you turn on the television so you could focus on something else?
Distraction techniques are a necessary evil. Over time, it’s best to let go of them and train yourself to become comfortable with panic’s weird physiological sensations. But — and this is a pretty big “but” — it can take a long time for that to happen. Distraction techniques can save the day when you’re in a pinch or when you’re feeling too overwhelmed to work toward recovery. We all have days like that.
But here’s the catch: when you distract yourself from panic, you also distract yourself from panic’s slow retreat. If you’re watching television, doing simple math, or calling a friend to calm you down, you probably won’t notice when the panic begins to fade. You don’t get to notice the best part. You’re not there — you’re somewhere else.
WHY IS THIS SO EASY?
It’s a lot more comfortable to notice an increase in relaxation than it is to notice an increase in fear. I mean, think about it: the first five rules covered ways to acknowledge and accept panicky sensations. Paying attention to something uncomfortable isn’t easy, and those first five rules might take a LOT of work.
But this rule isn’t about paying attention to discomfort — it’s about comfort. It’s about noticing the various ways in which your body starts to relax after panic. It’s about noticing your slowing heart rate (and perhaps counting your pulse, if that’s not a trigger for you, to mathematically “see” the fear begin fading). It’s about noticing your breath settling down into a comfortable rhythm again. It’s about noticing the way your muscles slowly release tension.
This rule is all about paying attention to the best part of a panic attack — the ending.
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Last reviewed: 4 Jun 2012