10 Rules for Coping with Panic: Rule #1(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.)


It’s time to start working my way through the Ten Rules for Coping with Panic. After all, I want to improve — I want to panic less and stretch my geographical “safe radius” more. So, here we go, step by step, from the beginning.

Rule #1 — my giant stumbling block:

These feelings are normal bodily reactions. Remember that the feelings are nothing more than an exaggeration of the normal bodily reactions to stress.

GAHHHH. Where do I even begin?!


I understand that a rapid heartbeat is a normal part of the panic experience. Same with dizziness, lightheadedness, heart palpitations, weakness, sweating, air hunger, and hyperventilation.

But they feel so abnormal. They feel so wrong. They feel so threatening. And no matter how many times I repeat to myself during a moment of panic that the dizziness and the weakness and the air hunger are “normal,” I can’t convince myself of it. What if this is the one time where a medical emergency is presenting itself? If that’s the case, and if I ignore these feelings, I could be ignoring crucial symptoms and may fail to get myself help on time.

Oh, and also, there’s this little problem: the more I try to convince myself that these horrible feelings are “normal,” the more I feel like I am lying to myself. 

Sure I’m not alone. Right? Isn’t there anyone else out there who struggles with this too?


Gah. After I typed out “WHY THIS IS SO SIMPLE?” and coded it as bold, I spent about ten minutes staring blankly at my word processor. Why is this so simple? How can I overcome my own objections to this step?



I guess…I guess I can refer to previous panic attacks for reassurance that any given feeling is a “normal” bodily reaction. I mean, I’ve definitely had some grade-A fight-or-flight moments in the grocery store checkout line that triggered the whole array of panic symptoms.

If I start to panic and feel dizzy, I could say to myself something like oh, hey, remember that time in line at Wegman’s when you needed to run away from the cashier and make a beeline for the ladies’ room to splash water on your face? Remember how dizzy you were? And remember how the cool water slowed down your heartbeat and calmed your nerves?

I would go on: Summer, remember how it felt to walk out of that restroom and back to the cashier? You weren’t dizzy any longer and your panic level had dropped by 50%. So, the next time you feel dizzy, think of how normal it is for you to experience dizziness during panic. It’s happened a lot. It’s old news.

Please note that everything in the preceding three paragraphs is completely unbelievable to me, despite having typed all of that out, and despite having presented it to you, reader, as if it were the truth.

It’s one thing to tell ourselves something, but it’s another thing entirely to convince ourselves of it.

Stay tuned early next week for Rule #2.

Creative Commons License photo credit: Thomas Hawk