(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 been a long time — maybe about a month or so — since I wrote about these rules.
Truth is, I’ve been doing pretty well. I’ve had a few panic attacks here and there, but nothing I couldn’t get through with a little breather and maybe a phone call to my supportive husband.
And when I’m doing well, I fill my days with thoughts of cooking, walking, reading and writing — not with thoughts of anxiety.
To a degree, that’s a good thing. When I’m feeling well, it feels so darn good to focus on that wellness and completely forget the fact that, a year ago this week, I went on LOA from the full-time job that was a breeding ground for anxiety and panic.
But I think, occasionally, reflection is nice. In fact, it’s more than nice — it’s essential. It’s essential to teaching ourselves exactly how far we’ve progressed in the course of a week, month, season, or year. Sometimes I use a journal (or, increasingly more often, this very blog) to help me reflect in this sort of long-term way.
HOW TO REMEMBER THE GOOD PARTS
Reflection is also critical in the short-term to teach us exactly how far we’ve progressed in the course of a day (or less). Let’s say you had a rough panic attack around 11 am today. Now, you’re doing much better — your heart rate is normal, your fear has decreased, and you’re actually able to concentrate on your work or your parenting or your studying. Do you realize how awesome that is? Do you realize how difficult it is to overcome panic and return to a functional state? Do you realize that you accomplished something that ought to make you proud?
Here’s Rule #8:
Think of what you have done. Think about the progress you have made so far, despite all the difficulties. Think how pleased you will be when you succeed this time.
Thinking about this brings our own improvement to our conscious attention. It makes us more aware of the fact that we just successfully overcame a panicky obstacle.
If we build up a repertoire of memories of each time we successfully “came down” from a panic attack, wouldn’t you think that’d drive our future thoughts and behavior? It produces that “I know I can do this” feeling — instead of the dreadful opposite that many of us are used to.
Remember when you learned to drive a car (or ride a bike, for any younger readers)? I’ll bet you stumbled. Maybe you hit the curb while trying to parallel park. Maybe, on your two-wheeler bike, you crash-landed on the sidewalk after hitting a bump. We remember these events because we play them over and over again in our mind.
THE BEST BROKEN RECORD YOU’LL EVER LISTEN TO
But it’s up to us to replay the good memories, too — lest we forget them. The memories of pedaling down to the end of the block without falling. The memories of how euphoric it felt to progress from driving in abandoned parking lots to driving down residential streets.
And, likewise, it’s up to us to remember the beauty of that slow-but-steady return from dizzy to grounded, from fearful to calm, from air hunger to air-full, from panic to normalcy.
Consciously replaying these memories will help our brain learn that even the worst panic eventually fades.