If you're doing exposure therapy, or just trying to do things that you want to do in spite of anxiety and panic, remember this mantra - face a little discomfort today for a more comfortable tomorrow.
You have to feel the panic to get evidence that it's only a feeling and it never lasts. The more you experience the feeling, the more you habituate to the feeling.
Panic can't hurt you. It's just uncomfortable, you will cope.
Everyone has anxiety and everyone is capable of panic. Now, I'm sure there are a very small percentage of people that medically are unable to do either, but I'm guessing its a very small number of isolated cases. But the vast majority of humanity has the gift of fight or flight.
And it is a gift. It's keeps us alive.
My problem, and maybe yours too, is that our fight or flight response gets kicked off in situations that aren't actually dangerous, let alone life threatening. I wish it was as easy as just turning it off in those situations. For some people it is that easy ... not for me.
So the next time you feel panic coming on, smile. Smile knowing that you're body is actually working as designed. Smile because you know that you're not actually in any danger. But most of all, smile because it will send a signal to your brain that if you really were in danger, you wouldn't be smiling. So since you're smiling, you must not be in danger.
I know it sounds odd and that it doesn't work. But it does. Force a smile. The mind body connection is strong. A nice smile can go a long way toward finding peace and calm.
A great tip I received from one of my doctors is to pretend to be an actor. Just simply pretend to not be nervous, even if your insides feel like they're turning inside out.
Tell yourself that you are Helen Mirren or Leo Dicaprio and you're playing the part of a very calm person going about their day in the next big Scorsese film. You want to nail this next scene because it's the one that's going into the film. Ready ... and ... action!
You don't have to do it for a long time. The goal isn't to be a *good* actor. The goal is just to pretend to be an actor for a minute or two. I know the anxiety doesn't feel good and it scary. But by just pretending to be calm, you will send signals to your brain that will, in turn, send signals to your body that fight or flight isn't needed right now.
You also get the added bonus of shifting your thought away from the anxiety and panic. Why? Because you're brain is using up most of it's CPU to act the part of a calm person.
Anyway - this works for me, when I remember to do it, that is. You should try it. It may work for you too!
The words we use to describe our experience matters. We use very specific terms like terrifying and going crazy and dying to describe how it feels. And rightfully so. But it's interesting that we continue to call our bodies' natural panic mechanism an attack.
The word attack implies an unwelcome intrusion. And yes, it sure feels that way. But is it really an attack given that we are the originators of the panic in the first place?
Panic is our reaction to the perception of immediate danger. The key word here being perception. We have to believe that this danger is true and justifiable for panic to happen. This is where anxiety and panic gets tricky, we often tend to justify danger using untruths. But that's another story for another time.
So try calling it a panic *event*. I panic in perfectly safe places but in each case, it's my perception of that triggers my panic. My body is just doing what I'm instructing it to do. It's working as designed!
When I'm in the throughs of panic, it feels like an attack for sure. But I'm going to practice calling it an *event* when it happens and remove the negative, and untrue, connotation that it's an *attack*
When we start to feel anxiety or panic, oftentimes our brain is tricking us. It's telling us to get ready for fight-or-flight when there really isn't any danger.
So trick your brain right back. Rather than fight the feeling, wish it on. Sincerely wish it on. Say out loud "ok, you're coming, give me your best shot, I WANT the panic. I'm EXCITED about the panic. This is going to be fun!"
I know, it's counter-intuitive. But anxiety and panic feeds on itself. If you fight it, it gets bigger. So do the opposite. Wish it on!