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Panic Attacks? Try these things.

Panic attacks are frightening. They are also very powerful reminders of how much power fear can have once it lodges into the mind. One of my favorite stories about panic is from Dr. Steven Hayes, the author of the book Get Out of Your Mind and Into Your Life. He tells how he began having these attacks during staff meetings when he and the other psychologists would meet. He would feel the panic feelings start, so he would demand himself to be “calm and relaxed!” He would repeat the phrase over and over. He noticed, unfortunately, the feelings would worsen instead of getting better.

At some point in this battle, he became fully convinced he was having an actual heart attack. He called 911 and began to tell the operator. Suddenly, it dawned on him that this wasn’t a heart attack, but a panic attack!

He wondered, “What does this mean about the nature of fear and panic?” What was he doing that was making it worse?

He realized that commanding himself to be calm is a little like commanding yourself not to be nervous right before walking up to give a speech for the first time. It lacks compassion. It’s not realistic at a time when literally anyone would be nervous. By doing this, you are creating a bar so high you could never get there even with the tallest ladder.

So what do you do if panic starts?

You watch it. You watch it the way you watch a child swinging higher and higher into the air on a swing. You watch the way you might tune into a diver about to jump from the high dive. You notice the nervousness and you report to yourself. “Heart is beating faster.” “Hands feel sweaty.” “My mind is speeding.” “Noticed the thought of being insecure in my body.” “I notice wanting to appear confident but not feeling confident.” And so on.

You stay in a surrendered state like someone who doesn’t have a choice, but who decides very skillfully to notice the details of what’s going on.

((Willingness to feel it without a need to get rid of it.))

It’s kind of like driving over a bridge. The fear is there but you watch the thoughts about possibly hitting another car and careening over the edge into the water. You keep driving in faith.

You can also, once the panic starts to settle, ask it what it’s really afraid of. Do a journal on that very thing. Really tune into it. Fear loves to be heard kind of like a little child who needs someone to care. Journal what the fear is about as far out as you as you possibly can. “I’m afraid this will happen… if this happens then this could happen… if this happens then people might think… if people think… “ and so on.

Be gentle with yourself!

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Free Clear Mind Therapy provides in-person therapy in Fishers & Indianapolis and online therapy across Indiana. Specializing in anxiety therapy for teens, adults, and kids.

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