10 Rules for Coping with Panic: Rule #3 (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.)
In case you missed my last post, Rule #3 goes like this:
Do not add frightening thoughts. Stop adding to panic with frightening thoughts about what is happening and where it might lead.
WHY IS THIS SO DIFFICULT?
Adding thoughts feels so natural. Let’s say I’m walking down the street (from the coffee shop that I’m writing in right now to my car that’s parked about a block away) and I start feeling sick to my stomach. Here are some of the thoughts that would float around my head:
- I don’t feel well.
- Why don’t I feel well?
- This isn’t comfortable.
- I want to go home.
- What is wrong with me?
- Did I eat something bad?
- I am scared to throw up in public.
- I am scared to throw up period.
- I need to find a restroom.
- What if this is a sign of a greater problem?
- What if I am going to pass out?
- What if my blood sugar is low?
- I don’t have any sugary snacks on me.
- I don’t have any stomach medicine either.
- I can’t possibly make it to my car.
Most – if not all – of the above thoughts are frightening. Adding them to a physiological sensation feels instinctual. After all, aren’t the thoughts helping to protect me? Aren’t they helping me to seek relief from the situation?
WHY IS THIS SO SIMPLE?
There’s been a recurring theme in my posts so far: this whole “simple” section is extremely difficult to write.
In particular, this one is the most difficult so far – perhaps because I really am at a coffee shop right now, my car is really parked a block away, and I’m now starting to half-believe the scenario that I laid out above.
Maybe I will feel sick as I’m walking toward my car. And, if so, how will I handle it? How will I deal with all of those frightening thoughts that I’ve typed out above that will surely find their way into my head as I fight my way down the sidewalk when I’m done writing this post?
How do I stop thinking? How do I stop adding frightening thoughts? Mindfulness is a hard sell – I mean, becoming aware of my breath when I’m on the verge of panic can very well trip the full-blown panic attack wire.
I’m truly stuck here. I am honestly hitting a wall on this one.
I think it’s going to take a lot of practice – in other words, a lot of exposure to triggering sensations like dizziness and nausea – and intentionally placing my focus on something external and neutral to bring me into the present moment. Focusing on my body tends to make things worse – do you feel the same way?
And of course, there’s no guarantee that having an external and neutral item to focus on (say, the sky or the sidewalk or something) will actually shut my yapping brain off.
But I guess I’ll try. It’s the only idea I can think of. It’s the only solution that kindasorta sounds feasible. (That’s the muddiest glimmer of hope I think I’ve ever put into words.)
Sigh. How do you prevent yourself from adding frightening thoughts to episodes of anxiety and panic?
On some days, coping feels like a full-time job. It’s no wonder we get so exhausted, right? It’s tiring stuff, and sometimes our closest friends and family members can’t fully understand this.
Time to walk back to my car. It’s one very short (read: long) block away.
Wish me luck.
Beretsky, S. (2012). 10 Rules for Coping with Panic: Rule #3 (Part 2). Psych Central. Retrieved on February 27, 2017, from https://blogs.psychcentral.com/panic/2012/05/10-rules-for-coping-with-panic-rule-3-part-2/