10 Rules for Coping with Panic: Rule #7 (Part 3)

(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.)

If you missed the first two parts of this story, let me catch you up: I, recovering agoraphobe, felt uber-confident the other day and decided to go to the mall. Why? Well, because of Rule #7:

It [panic] is an opportunity for progress. Remember that the whole point of practice is to learn how to cope with fear — without avoiding it. So this is an opportunity to make progress.

Predictably, I panicked while in line to return a bra to Victoria’s Secret. I wouldn’t exactly call the experience pleasurable, but once the panic subsided after my retreat to a mall bench, I’d realized that my panic attack wasn’t a setback — it was progress.

It’s all in the way we frame things.

WHY IS THIS SO DIFFICULT?

Most of us — myself included — like to seek pleasure and avoid pain. It’s why we love sex, but not root canals. It’s why we love getting hugs, but not bug bites. It’s why we drink alcohol, but always promise to never drink again when that throbbing hangover hits in the morning.

Panic is not pleasurable. I’d even argue that it’s painful. I mean, severe anxiety can definitely manifest itself as headache or back pain. The pain is real, too: it’s not “all in our heads” or anything like that. Real real real.

And there’s emotional pain in panic. The fear, the sense of regret, the withering self-esteem…it hurts. It all hurts. It’s no wonder that avoiding panic-triggering situations seems like the most logical choice. I mean, who wants to put up with that stuff if you don’t need to?

WHY IS THIS SO EASY?

But here’s the problem with that line of thinking: avoidance shrinks our world. It might feel safer to avoid a trip to the mall. It might even save you from a panic attack. But, in the long run, the places, people and situations that we avoid become more threatening to us. Avoidance reinforces our fear. By not going to the mall, time and time again, you’re effectively delivering the following monologue to yourself:

Hey. Hey you. See that mall over there? That place is dangerous. You might die there. If you don’t die, you’ll at least suffer. You’ll pass out. You won’t be able to handle the people. Or the open space. Stay away. If you try to set foot there, you’ll be sorry.

It’s a self-perpetuating cycle.

So, as difficult as it might seem, it’s very important to avoid getting caught in this trap. While panic might (unfortunately) be an opportunity to experience pain and discomfort, it is also an opportunity for progress. And doesn’t the idea of “progress” ultimately diminish the likelihood of future panic-related pain and discomfort?

Yes. A thousand times yes. Let me re-iterate:

It [panic] is an opportunity for progress. Remember that the whole point of practice is to learn how to cope with fear — without avoiding it. So this is an opportunity to make progress.

Go. I challenge you to get off the internet and go make progress. Today. Go and pick up some take-out instead of getting delivery again. Go and walk the mail to the mailbox instead of handing it to the mail carrier as he does he rounds.

Or, go and buy (or return) that pink bra that you’ve wanted (or have decided that you hate).

Go.

Creative Commons License photo credit: The Facey Family

 


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    Last reviewed: 13 Jun 2012

APA Reference
Beretsky, S. (2012). 10 Rules for Coping with Panic: Rule #7 (Part 3). Psych Central. Retrieved on July 29, 2014, from http://blogs.psychcentral.com/panic/2012/06/10-rules-for-coping-with-panic-rule-7-part-3/

 

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