Panic About Anxiety — A blog about panic attacks, panic disorder, and anxiety. A blog about panic attacks, panic disorder, and anxiety. 2015-05-26T14:40:15Z https://blogs.psychcentral.com/panic/feed/atom/ Summer Beretsky http://blogs.psychcentral.com/panic <![CDATA[New To Meditation? Try These Tiny Stepping Stones From Headspace]]> http://blogs.psychcentral.com/panic/?p=5354 2014-08-14T20:57:54Z 2014-08-16T10:55:50Z New To Meditation? Try These Bite-Sized Stepping Stones From HeadspaceWhile I’ve played around with meditation before, I never really held myself to its committed practice. I’d get excited about it for a few days, cozying up with Meditation Oasis podcasts after dinner, but then I’d drop the habit out of boredom or inattention. Or both.

But for the past ten days, I’ve been using a meditation app called Headspace to get me meditating more habitually. I can’t even remember where I’d first read about it — probably some Reddit thread, which is where I usually find enjoyable things and then forget the source — but I’m now hooked on creator (and former Buddhist monk!) Andy Puddicombe’s creative approach to easily-digestible ten-minute meditations.

That’s why I love them — even though they’re only ten minutes long, and according to his TED talk, that’s plenty of time to spur considerable changes in the brain:

So, with continued meditation practice, I hope to accomplish three main things (which Puddicombe says are, indeed, possible):

  1. I want to see my thoughts — particularly the thoughts of anxiety, worry, and stress — as ideas that simply pass in and out of my head. I want to see them come and go without latching onto them. That’s the key — without latching on.
  2. I want to become more comfortable in my skin. Whether I’m a bit jumpy with a racing heart, or feeling dumpy and exhausted down to my bones, I want to learn to accept that. To notice and acknowledge without judgment. (After all, isn’t it the judgment of our feelings that causes additional layers of mental distress?)
  3. I want to stop being so afraid of doing nothing.

I’ll elaborate on that last point: not long ago, I went to a local park and sat down on a bench. And that’s all I did — I sat. No phone, no book, no coffee cup in my hand.

Sure, that’s not really headline-worthy stuff, but I felt uncomfortable — like passersby were judging me. Why is she there? Why’s she just sitting? She must be up to something.

For some reason, I felt like the act of sitting and doing nothing might be interpreted as cause for concern. Why do I think this, you might ask? Well, maybe it’s a holdover from my teenage years and all those “No Loitering” rules my friends and I broke (and often got in trouble for). But as an adult, I need to remind myself that it’s perfectly fine to sit for the sake of sitting — and to do nothing for the sake of doing nothing.

But often, we forget this. I forget this.

The “Take Ten” meditations on the Headspace app (free on the iTunes store) are bite-sized stepping stones that (I hope) will lead me — and perhaps you? — toward these goals.

(By the way, given that I’m doing a lot of Headspace gushing right now, I should tell you that they are not paying me for this blog post. Some bloggers do things like that — they get a few bucks or a free product or service in exchange for some favorable words. I don’t do that sort of thing. I truly love this app and its meditations!)

Photo: Spaceamoeba (Flickr)

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Summer Beretsky http://blogs.psychcentral.com/panic <![CDATA[Sloppy And Scattered: This Is Your Brain On Grief]]> http://blogs.psychcentral.com/panic/?p=5348 2014-08-14T20:10:33Z 2014-08-14T20:10:33Z Sloppy And Scattered: This Is Your Brain On Grief

Ever since my dad passed away three months ago, my brain has been busy. Busy, cluttered, and disorganized.

I’ve felt so mentally disorganized, in fact, that I’ve had a difficult time writing. (This probably isn’t news to any of my regular readers who have noticed the lack of blog posts lately.)

I have about seven half-written blog posts in my “drafts” folder that just…don’t…make the cut.

They’re sloppy. They’re scattered.

And I, too, feel sloppy and scattered. I’m grieving the loss of my father, handling his estate (and by “handling”, I mean “drowning in paperwork regarding”), and preparing for a brand new full-time job that starts…uhm, tomorrow.

That’s a lot of slop. And a lot of scatter.

But am I blaming myself for the cognitive fog that’s crept in? No.

Am I getting angry at myself for being unable to put together a jigsaw puzzle of words on a blank page? No.

Adding anger or self-hatred into this Trifecta of Overload wouldn’t help to solve anything. It wouldn’t make me feel better, it wouldn’t make my recovery more speedy, and it certainly wouldn’t help me to keep my anxiety levels in check (which, graciously, have not spiraled out of control more than a handful of times since my dad died).

STORIES STUCK BETWEEN BRAIN AND FINGERTIPS

I hope to tell you all the full story soon — I’ve been trying to now, for months — of my dad’s death. It’s something I want and need to share with the world — especially you. The anxious. The panicky. The agoraphobic.

And why? Under the weight of such stress and sadness, a panic-riddled Summer Beretsky managed to survive. I managed to travel. I managed to blankly roam the aisles of Jo-Ann Fabrics the day after he died, shopping for memorial scrapbook supplies and funeral-bound photo frames, without collapsing.

I managed to do a lot of shit I never thought I’d be able to do. The shock, I think, helped me to plow a path I wouldn’t have otherwise been able to tread.

In time, I want to tell you how I did it. I want to share stories, advice, tears, frustrations, and my list of woulda-coulda-shoulda. The story about how my local mental health care system failed me on the night of my dad’s death. And the story about coping with all the asshats on the internet who said my father deserved to die. Oh, and how I got my father an obituary on the national news (because once an overachieving daughter, always an overachieving daughter, right?)

But until I can get my brain on track again, I’ll be — well, trying to get my brain on track again. I’m working to tame the messy jumble of muck in my head that spits out phrases like “messy jumble of muck” because, frankly, muck isn’t something that jumbles, is it? But my brain decided to hand me those words, in that order, so…yeah. Take it.

You know what is helping me out, though? Mindfulness meditation.

Yes, meditation — and lots of it.

I’ll tell you all about it tomorrow, but until then, I have a question for youother than the magical thing that is time, what’s helped you to deal with grief? Has any form of meditation ever helped you to cope with loss?

Photo: Orin Zebest (Flickr)

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Summer Beretsky http://blogs.psychcentral.com/panic <![CDATA[A Helpful Pamphlet About Heart Disease? There’s Just One Problem.]]> http://blogs.psychcentral.com/panic/?p=5322 2014-06-26T17:35:19Z 2014-06-26T17:35:19Z A Helpful Pamphlet About Heart Disease? There's Just One Problem.

A few days ago, I received the following letter in the mail from Blue Cross Blue Shield, addressed to my father:

Dear Paul,

Managing a chronic condition can feel overwhelming. I am here to help!

We just learned that you recently saw your physician about a new or existing health condition. I’ve enclosed some information to help you learn more about the condition and ways to manage it.

Enclosed was a handy booklet on heart disease, complete with cartoonish diagrams of the human heart and stock photos of sweatsuit-clad seniors doing yoga at the park.

The letter continued:

Together we can find ways to improve your health and your overall sense of well-being…I look forward to hearing from you.

Sincerely,

Susan Stevens, RN, BSN

Back to the booklet now. On page five, a drawing of a “normal artery”, which looks something like an enclosed waterslide, and a drawing of an “artery narrowed by plaque”, which, based on the artwork alone, convinces me that “plaque” must be housefly larvae.

A Helpful Pamphlet About Heart Disease? There's Just One Problem.Page 14? A photo of legumes, grapes, walnuts, and bell peppers. Not pictured: my father’s favorite foods. Think peanuts, steak, and salty pretzels.

And then, the kicker on page 24: aspirin. He took aspirin every day.

“Honey,” he’d tell me, “see this? See how I carry all of these baby aspirins in my pocket? You just never know.”

True, dad. You don’t. You just never know.

WELL THIS IS JUST HILARIOUS NOW

This “helpful” letter and brochure, while obviously well-intentioned, transmogrified any shrapnel of shock left in my body into pure irritation.

Did his insurance company not get the memo that his heart disease was discovered via autopsy?

Did they erroneously think that the $1200 charge submitted to them for “Heart/Lung Resuscitation”, followed by a cancellation of his insurance the day after, meant my dad had intentionally cancelled his insurance after a minor wake-up call heart attack and boarded a plane south to the Caribbean so he could spend his golden years throwing back Coronas on the beach?

I want to live in this fairy-tale world that Blue Cross Blue Shield has created for my father. I want to buy into the fantasy that he’s alive and (mostly) well.

I want to assume his wake and his burial were just some realistically vivid nightmares, the kind I’m used to having anyway because anxiety disorders do that sort of thing to you.

I want to whip out the Heart Disease brochure, meet up with my dad for coffee (decaf, of course), and help him fill out the Daily Blood Pressure Tracker (page 36) or laugh with him about how the silver-haired lady (page 17) is eating a plate of salad larger than her head. I would then wait for him to launch into the story about the best salad dressing he’d ever had (at a restaurant in Endicott, NY, circa 2003).

“To die for!” he’d say as I grimaced slightly, having heard this goddamn salad dressing story a million times over. “Oh honey, that salad dressing. Trust your father. It was to die for!”

But I can’t do any of this. I can’t pass this helpful information about heart disease from BCBS along to my father.

Because he’s dead.

A FOOTPATH THAT WON’T FAIL ME

It’s been almost three months, and I still feel blank — wait, no. I think that last clause of my last sentence was a complete lie, because after I typed it, I decided that my next sentence ought to be “I feel every emotion ever” and suddenly we’re all tangled up in contradictions here, aren’t we?

Such is the life of the daughter, freshly kicked into her third decade, whose father sat up in bed shortly before midnight on April 6th.

“Something’s wrong,” he said. Or so I’ve been told. I wasn’t there.

“My chest hurts, and my arm hurts.”

And that was it. No warning, no time, no gather-the-family-at-the-bedside thing. He had a massive heart attack with no prior (known) history of heart trouble, and his life-long story came to an abrupt end.

And here I am, stumbling forward.

Between finding baby aspirin pills in his car, and in his truck, and in every not-yet-laundered pants pocket, and in his nightstand, I’ve been lost in grief, call center queues, paperwork, the winding halls of doctor’s offices, estate stuff, and stress.

And language — I haven’t been lost in language; instead, it’s exactly the opposite. Language has been lost within me. (I’m convinced that grief and all of its downstream effects just pound the living crap out of the language center of my brain. The other day, I couldn’t think of the world “spatula”. I called it the “flat scrape-y thing with a handle”.)

With this blog post, I would like to invite vocabulary and clear-headedness back into my life. And you — yes, you, readers. I would like to invite you back into my life and to my blog.

Here I am — both stronger and weaker, somehow, yet ready to continue doing something that made my father quite proud.

It’s time to start writing again. I am back.

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Summer Beretsky http://blogs.psychcentral.com/panic <![CDATA[A Very Sad Hiatus for ‘Panic About Anxiety’]]> http://blogs.psychcentral.com/panic/?p=5307 2014-04-16T04:48:09Z 2014-04-16T04:48:09Z A Very Sad Hiatus for 'Panic About Anxiety'There’s no easy way to say this, so I’ll just blankly blurt it out as if it doesn’t twist my insides into a million knots.

My father died unexpectedly last week. Heart attack, right out of the blue. No warning; no (known) history of heart problems.

My worst nightmare, basically, has come true.

Hence, the lack of blog posts.

I’ve spent the past week suffering in many, many ways. I don’t have the energy or a clear-enough head gather the words into a full post about it right now. He and I were incredibly close — after all, he raised me by himself after my mother’s death.

So, in the meanwhile, check out ABCNews.com’s coverage of my online tribute to my father’s death.

I’ll be back soon, friends.

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Summer Beretsky http://blogs.psychcentral.com/panic <![CDATA[Video: Earthquake On Live TV? These Anchors Calmly Own It]]> http://blogs.psychcentral.com/panic/?p=5236 2014-03-25T20:41:55Z 2014-03-25T20:29:29Z Video: Earthquake On Live TV? These Anchors Calmly Own ItLast night before bed, I found myself putzing around on my iPhone on my living room floor.

It’s a nightly thing: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Reddit. Rinse and repeat if I’m still not sleepy.

But I was caught off guard while scrolling mindlessly through my Facebook news feed — suddenly, I felt the floor shake.

Always on high alert, I jumped. What was that?

After a moment or two of frozen uncertainty, I audibly exhaled when I realized the source of the shaking: a heavy diesel truck, barreling down my street.

SHAKING ON THE INSIDE OR THE OUTSIDE?

I live on the east coast — far from any real fault lines — but ever since that magnitude 5.8 earthquake in Virginia (that rumbled all the way to up to my apartment in Pennsylvania) back in 2011, I’ve been a bit leery of any shaking.

For the record, and I’m being completely serious here, I was meditating when the earthquake hit.

Yeah — meditating! That thing that’s supposed to, you know, relieve anxiety?

I’d taken a “mental health day” from work and spent a good half hour laying on my living room floor during the afternoon, relaxing my muscles and sinking into my breath.

There’s nothing like a few wall-hung photographs slapping against the drywall to knock me out of my meditative reverie.

It was my first earthquake, and I hope it’s my last — but still, three odd years later, even a passing diesel truck will put me on high alert.

“EARTHQUAKE! WE’RE HAVING AN EARTHQUAKE.”

That’s why I so admire the KTLA news anchors who let cooler heads prevail during last week’s actual St. Patrick’s Day earthquake in Los Angeles. They exhibit a stress response to a very real trigger — shaking ground on a major fault line — yet still manage to remain composed:

Oh, if only I could react so logically and calmly to my own anxiety triggers! I long for the day when I can just hold up my right hand, announce my trigger, and then calmly proceed to deal with it rationally.

Right now: “Heart racing? Ohmygod. It won’t stop. Two seconds have passed and it still won’t stop. This must be a heart attack, and I am certainly going to die.”

My ideal future: “Heart racing? Ahh yes, it’s true — my heart is racing, folks!” (Holds pointer finger in the air like the KTLA anchor.) “I shall now sit down and watch a funny TV show until those beats return to their normal rate.”

Do your triggers send you into insta-panic mode or have you figured out a way to respond to your triggers thoughtfully?

Photo: Bjørn Giesenbauer (Flickr)

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Summer Beretsky http://blogs.psychcentral.com/panic <![CDATA[Do You Feel Like An Impostor? You’re Not Alone!]]> http://blogs.psychcentral.com/panic/?p=5245 2014-03-22T21:22:25Z 2014-03-22T21:21:45Z Do You Feel Like An Impostor? You're Not Alone!

In my last post, I introduced you to what Dr. Pauline Rose Clance calls the “impostor phenomenon” — that nagging feeling that, despite being perfectly qualified to do something, you just don’t belong.

That you’re just not good enough (even though you are).

That you’re just not smart enough (even though, again, you are).

Have you ever felt like this before?

I have to credit the good folks on Reddit’s /r/anxiety community for inspiring this series of blog posts about impostor phenomenon. In fact, they’re exactly who I’ll be turning my attention to now.

In my last post, I shared a few anecdotes about my own experience with impostor phenomenon at work, and my fellow blogger’s experience with it at grad school.

And now, to really prove that this is a commonly-shared experience, I’m going to share a few of the Reddit posts that opened my eyes to how common this phenomenon actually is!

DOES ANYONE ELSE FEEL LIKE A PHONY, TOO?

It all started when user Thinksincode posed the following question to the community:

Do you suffer from impostor syndrome?

I get this all the time. It’s a feeling that, despite having done well at your job, you feel like you’re a fraud and it’s only a matter of time before everyone finds out that you’re just an “impostor” and the house of cards collapses.

It can be really anxiety-provoking, and really hurts my self-confidence. Have any of you dealt with impostor syndrome?

And the response to his question was overwhelming. Several answers from fellow Redditors had to do with feeling like an impostor school or in academic settings. User Amateurpolymath wrote:

As a graduate student surrounded by genius colleagues who went to much better universities in undergrad, I feel this all the time. I don’t know know what to do about it, and it haunts me every second of every day.

User Bikemistress responded with some empathy and wise words (and I’ve bolded a very significant part of her response):

Same here. One thing that I learned after finally getting up the courage to talk to my closest friends in my department is that everyone feels like this in graduate school.

Once I opened up to one of my classmates about feeling like this, she told me she was shocked to hear that from me. Apparently since I would always leave when everyone was studying together for midterms, they assumed that I had all of my shit together and didn’t find it necessary to study.

In reality being around everyone else talking about details of the material would put me on the verge of an attack so I had to leave to avoid it.

I can guarantee that even when you’re feeling like an impostor and stressing out about if you can succeed there is someone else in your department having the exact same thoughts, and looking at you as the one that deserves to be there more than they do. Remember, your department would not invest time and resources in you if they didn’t think you were good enough.

User Teds101 related his own experience with the impostor phenomenon in the workplace:

I went through a few weeks where for no reason I felt like I was going to be in trouble, was doing inadequate and didn’t deserve my job and that my boss was going to fire me. I was doing the same thing I always did though.

And even people who are “successful” in the traditional sense of the word aren’t immune to feeling like a phony. From user Boomerangotan:

I was hired by a company in 1998. Been with them all the way. It was a small company of 5-8 employees when we were bought by a much larger company a few years ago.

I am happily a lead developer. My boss and his boss are good friends. The boss’s boss is now a VP of our division and still good friends -he still asks my advice for things and asks how other managers are performing. I still produce good stuff and occasionally blow away coworkers with some cool solutions to problems. The product my little company got bought out for went on to become a huge money-maker for the bigger company.

And yet I am still in a constant state of anxiety about my job. I feel that tightness in my chest throughout the day. I fear that my colleagues put on a facade and only put up with me for my seniority. I fear that everyone else knows what they are doing and so far I have just lucked out that I have been able to find good solutions to the problems we’ve faced.

I logically realize I couldn’t really be in a better position, yet I don’t know how to shake this constant fear.

So, how can we shake this feeling of fraudulence?

1. First, recognize what impostor phenomenon is. If you’ve read this blog post, you should have a pretty solid idea of its symptoms by now. Notice when you’re feeling it, and remind yourself that about a billion other people feel the same way. It’s not just you.

2. Avoid self-deprication. My own therapist calls this the “but” syndrome. After noticing that I tend to downplay all of my successes by following up with the word “but”, she urged me to begin noticing how often I do this in daily life. Turns out, I was doing it very often: I’m a college instructor, but only part-time. I was published in the LA Times, but only once. I went grocery shopping today, but I still couldn’t get all the way over to aisle 14 without panicking.

3. Make a list of your accomplishments. Recognizing your triumphs doesn’t make you conceited; rather, it helps you to focus on the value of what you’ve achieved. Review the list regularly — especially when you start to feel like you’re a fake who is about to be “found out” by classmates or co-workers.

How do you manage the impostor phenomenon in your own life? Please share your own techniques in the comments!

FURTHER READING:

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Summer Beretsky http://blogs.psychcentral.com/panic <![CDATA[Do You Feel Like An Impostor? A Fraud? A Phony?]]> http://blogs.psychcentral.com/panic/?p=5238 2014-03-20T03:04:49Z 2014-03-20T03:04:49Z Do You Feel Like An Imposter? You're Not Alone!Do you ever feel like you’re “faking it” — at work, at school, or at home? Like you’re not qualified to be there, but by the grace of chance or luck, you are?

And do you feel like one day someone’s going to “out” you? Reveal you as a fraud? Point a finger at you and identify you as an impostor?

I remember my very first day of teaching business students at my local community college. The class? Introduction to Marketing.

Was I qualified? Well, yeah. I’ve got a master’s degree and several years of experience working for a marketing and advertising company. I’ve also taught college classes online before.

I know how to write lesson plans. I know how to put together activities and lectures that fulfill student learning objectives. And, despite that pesky anxiety disorder I deal with, I’m pretty good at speaking in front of a crowd.

But still, on that very first late-summer day, standing in the bright classroom on the second floor of a gigantic academic center, I felt like an impostor — like they’d chosen the wrong person to teach. Surely I wasn’t smart enough or qualified enough for this. I should be sitting at a desk, not standing behind the podium.

Appropriately enough, there’s a term for this feeling: the impostor phenomenon.

I CAN’T POSSIBLY BELONG HERE, CAN I?

From Dr. Pauline Rose Clance’s website (with spacing added for clarity):

Most people who experience the Impostor Phenomenon (IP) would not say, “I feel like an impostor.” Yet, when they read or hear about the experience, they say, “How did you know exactly how I feel?”

And how do they feel? Even though they are often very successful by external standards, they feel their success has been due to some mysterious fluke or luck or great effort; they are afraid their achievements are due to “breaks” and not the result of their own ability and competence.

They are also pretty certain that, unless they go to gargantuan efforts to do so, success can not be repeated. They are afraid that next time, I will blow it.

Can you imagine the anxiety that impostor phenomenon (also called “imposter syndrome”) might cause?

I FEEL FAKE, BUT MY NERVES ARE REAL

Consider Clance’s last sentence above — have you ever felt like you succeeded at something difficult, but only by the hair on your chin?

What kind of thoughts and behaviors might follow that feeling of undeserved success? Might you feel insecure about your own abilities? Might you avoid taking chances as a result? Might you begin to over-work yourself so that you feel like less of a phony?

Might you continue to feel like a fraud who is just barely making it?

Gosh — even typing out those last few questions made me feel uneasy.

(On that note, let’s pause for a brief interlude of Summer’s Uncensored Thoughts: Wow, I have a blog? On a psychology website? Why do I deserve this? I can’t write. I don’t belong here. Everyone else here can write well, but I can’t.)

Well, I guess it’s clear why those questions made me feel so uneasy.

MEET SOME LIKE-MINDED IMPOSTORS PEOPLE

But it’s not just me who feels this way. I know at least one other blogger who understands the impostor phenomenon intimately:   my fellow PsychCentral blogger Margarita Tartakovsky, who felt like a fraud during grad school:

I felt like the program made some exception to accept me, that I really didn’t deserve to be there, that I wore my stupidity on my sleeve and that soon the professors and powers-that-be would find out and kick me out…

…[e]ven when I received high grades and positive feedback and praise, I still felt a gnawing discomfort that I just didn’t belong in such a smart place.

I also wasn’t the only one. My cohort and I talked regularly about feeling like our department had a made a mistake in admitting us. We worried about keeping up, regularly questioned our intelligence and abilities and felt insecure all-around.

In my next post, I’ll take you even further into others’ experiences with impostor phenomenon.

Until then, Clance offers a test on her website that allows users to gauge the extent and severity of their impostor phenomenon symptoms.

Where do you fall on her scale? Which situation in your life — work, school, or something else — makes you feel like you’re not quite good enough to belong?

Photo: Aftab Uzzaman (Flickr)

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Summer Beretsky http://blogs.psychcentral.com/panic <![CDATA[A Panic Attack On Live TV? ABC News Anchor Dan Harris Reflects]]> http://blogs.psychcentral.com/panic/?p=5210 2014-03-12T00:48:02Z 2014-03-12T00:44:17Z [Warning: this video might (obviously) be triggering for those of you with panic disorder. It definitely put me a bit on edge. It does end on a happy note, if that’s of any consolation.]

Have you ever had a panic attack in front of a large audience?

I’ve had my (unfairly large) share of panic attacks — but most of them were only in front of small audiences, like the gaggle of shoppers who were behind me in line at CVS when I doubled over in dizziness at checkout.

(The moments between that first scanned item and that final step of swiping my payment card is akin to being stuck on an elevator between floors. After the first “beep” of the UPC scanner, I am trapped. I no longer have an easy excuse to run out of the store, if needed. I have to have to have to keep it cool and stay non-panicky, dammit, until that receipt is in my hand, right? I mean, otherwise…I’d look like a complete ass running out of there.)

And, oh, the marketing meeting at my former job in a stuffy, sardine-can-of-a conference room! I’ll never forget that panic attack.

At least five middle-management bodies were packed in tightly around a small rectangular table. I was furthest away from the door to cooler air and (relative) freedom. This made me nervous — then, as always, my body betrayed me and I suddenly felt faint.

Then, the shaking.

Then, the dizziness.

So, what could I do? How could I escape without violating business decorum?

By intentionally spilling water on myself so I had an easy excuse to get up and run to the restroom, that’s how.

Seriously. I did it — and it was…weird. I felt so stupid for resorting to such a tactic, but I felt like there was no other option — escape was both difficult and embarrassing, as it often is during just about any episode of panic.

DAN HARRIS PANICS IN FRONT OF A NATIONAL AUDIENCE

Panic drives us to do some strange things. It drives us to find a way to escape — to flee from — the uncomfortable physical and mental sensations.

I know what it feels like to panic in front of one person. I know what it feels like to panic in front of two people and three people and small groups.

But a national audience? I can’t say I’ve been there (yet).

So when I saw Dan Harris on ABC World News last night recalling his on-air panic attack during a national — yes, national — news segment on statin drugs, I felt a strange kinship with him — and how he handled the situation.

He panicked, and then he escaped.

He didn’t run — not physically, at least — but he ended his news segment early by throwing the ball back to the other anchors:

His method of escape is exactly like running out of CVS or the grocery store. It’s like taking the closest highway exit after your heart begins to flip out.

RETURNING TO THE SCENE OF THE PANIC

Now, don’t mistake my commentary for a criticism of Harris’s decision — he was breathless, after all, and it was essential for him to go off air to take care of himself. He clearly wasn’t doing well, and I know that feeling. It lives in my gut.

Rather, I’m pretty damn proud of the guy.

As I’ve said before, escape from a panic-inducing situation is might be absolutely necessary at times. You certainly don’t want to be driving on a freeway, say, while you’re so woozy that you can hardly see straight.

And you’d probably stand a better chance at, say, succeeding at a job interview if you excuse yourself from the interview room for a few moments to calm down than if you’d begun to speak in choppy, breathless, and somewhat nonsensical sentences in front of the hiring manager.

But returning is the key that helps you in the long run. Escape all you want, but go back. Go back to CVS later, or tomorrow, or even next week. Blot the water off of your (erm, my) dress pants in the restroom, and then go back to the cramped meeting.

Avoidance will only reinforce the idea that the place, scenario, or trigger from which we’ve escaped is a true threat to our well-being.

Returning — even if it takes a little while to go back — can teach us what the place, scenario, or trigger is not a true threat. (And it may take multiple “returns” for this lesson to burn into our brain’s film, but it will happen with time.)

I am proud of Dan Harris for returning — especially to talk about the panic attack itself.

Kudos to you, Dan.

What do you think about this news anchor’s decision to speak so openly (and publicly!) about his panic attack?

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Summer Beretsky http://blogs.psychcentral.com/panic <![CDATA[Adjust Your Posture This Weekend For A More Confident Monday]]> http://blogs.psychcentral.com/panic/?p=5191 2014-03-08T03:00:09Z 2014-03-08T02:57:55Z Adjust Your Posture This Weekend For A More Confident MondaySo, I own a pet bird. (That’s him on the left.)

Actually, I hesitate to call my parrotlet a pet. He’s more like a little bird friend — a tiny little feathered dinosaur who talks.

He’s a comical little guy: he knows how to play peek-a-boo, he loves shredding tissues, and he’s learned to imitate my laughter with near-perfect pitch.

But when he gets angry — when he doesn’t want to be touched or bothered, for example — you know it.

And how do you know it? Well, he fans out his tail feathers if I try to touch him. He also fluffs up the feathers on his back.

This birdie non-verbal language lets me know my little featherbutt doesn’t want to play. The feather fanning and fluffing makes his pint-sized, hollow-boned bird body look bigger and stronger, as if to say, “Hey! I’m big and powerful, mom! Go away. We play by my rules because I’m the boss around here.”

FLUFFING UP: IT’S NOT JUST FOR THE BIRDS

I don’t think it’s any secret that adopting a “power posture” (say, standing with your hands on your hips or reclining on a chair with your arms behind your head) can communicate a nonverbal message to someone else.

Using a power posture tells others that you’re the boss. You’re in charge. You’re the alpha.

But can these confident postures tell yourself anything? Can they tell yourself that you’re in charge and in control?

Amy Cuddy, a professor and researcher at Harvard Business School, delivered an inspiring TED talk based on those very questions. You might be surprised about what just two minutes of “power posing” can do to both your testosterone level and your cortisol level:

USING YOUR BODY TO CALM YOUR BODY

So, why does this matter? Why am I posting about this on a blog about panic and anxiety?

Cortisol.

As Cuddy mentioned, it’s a stress hormone — and a powerful one. Learning to manipulate it via power posing might have important implications for us chronic anxiety sufferers. (I mean, think about it — when you get anxious, what do you do? Curl up into a ball or stand tall with your hands up?)

But more broadly speaking, the crux of her message is this: our bodies can indeed change our minds, and our minds can change our behavior, and our behavior can go on to change our life’s outcomes.

That’s a pretty uplifting thought with which to welcome the weekend, eh?

And I’ll be pondering that koan-like thesis here at my desk — with my feet kicked up and my arms behind my head.

(If the embedded video will not play for you, the entire talk can be accessed via this link: Amy Cuddy: Your body language shapes who you are.)

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Summer Beretsky http://blogs.psychcentral.com/panic <![CDATA[I Hate Quotes About ‘Success’ (Except For This One)]]> http://blogs.psychcentral.com/panic/?p=5172 2014-03-01T01:51:20Z 2014-03-01T01:51:20Z I Hate Quotes About 'Success' (Except For This One)Generic platitudes tend to annoy me. You know the kind I’m talking about — right?

Say you’ve just been through a bad breakup. It stings monumentally, and you keep hearing crap like this:

  • “It’ll all work out in the end.”
  • “Maybe it’s for the best.”
  • “There are plenty of fish in the sea.”

Blah. These phrases are so scripted into our culture, and I’m sure the people who use these phrases mean well — but I can’t help rolling my eyes a bit at these saccharine one-liners.

That’s precisely the reason why I also tend to strongly dislike the words “succeed” and “success”. They’re scripted into our modern culture as these super-essential buzzwords that better damn well wave hello from the “objectives” section of your résumé — lest your application be tossed into the circular filing cabinet.

DOUBLE THE ‘C’, DOUBLE THE ‘S’, AND YOU’LL ALWAYS HAVE SUCCESS?

But the definition of “success” varies for everyone, right?

I mean, success for you might mean reaching a certain income or job title. Success for someone else might mean finishing the work week without a migraine or without the kids coloring on the living room wall.

Success for me, these days, is all about how far this agoraphobic gal can push herself away from home.

So, when it comes to generic platitudes about success, that’s where I start to get really annoyed. My high school trigonometry teacher (in whose class I recall failing the midterm exam abysmally) would begin each day by writing out success-related quotations on the blackboard.

Stuff that went something like this:

  • “Success comes in a can, not a can’t!”
  • “If you can dream it, you can do it!”
  • “Success is counted sweetest by those who never succeed!”
  • “You always pass failure on the way to success.”
  • “If at first you don’t succeed, try try again!”

Gag.

SUCCESS IS FINDING THE BLACKBOARD ERASER

I mean, I can see the guy’s good intentions — he obviously wanted to motivate a classroom full of dopey 11th-grade students whose eyes tended to glaze over after staring at triangles and cosines and formulas on the blackboard.

But it never worked on me. (One day, angry at my failing grades in that class, I even got up and erased the quote when the teacher left the classroom briefly. It felt like a gigantic act of rebellion in the tiny context of high school.)

But today, I actually found a success-related quote that I don’t mind.

And why?

Two reasons: first, it’s sort of an anti-success quote about success.

Second, I was introduced to it via this most excellent animated image posted to /r/funny:

If at first you don’t succeed, redefine success.

The quote (which I can’t find reliable attribution for, sadly) is this:

“If at first you don’t succeed, redefine success.”

Now there’s something I can agree with. Create your own definition for success, and you’ll never be following anyone else’s script — only yours.

(Also, um, the bunny! He is chubby and cute and makes me giggle.)

And so, I hope you all find a way to make this weekend successful — by your definition alone.

Photo: SalFalko (Flickr)

Reddit hat tip: /u/PaperkutRob

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