Diffusing a Panic Attack with The Voice of Reason

grocery storeLast night I watched that old Stephen King movie The Shining. I think you would agree that no horror movie could come close to the terror of living with panic attacks. Hollywood has nothing on an anxious mind, lol.

I thought of a great idea today– Let’s walk through a panic attack inducing event to it’s natural conclusion. Let’s use logic and reason and see if that helps.

Let’s play the What If? game. Is it scary? You bet!  But come on along, let’s get to the other side together…

Let’s take a fairly common panic attack trigger: a crowded grocery store, a long line to the register, and a cart full of groceries. The goal: you have to stand in line, get to the register, pay for your groceries and leave. While you’re standing in line feeling very anxious, someone you know gets in line behind you and wants to talk.

For the sake of this post, even if this is not something that normally freaks you out, stay with me, and see if we can do it.

As you walk through the store filling up your cart with groceries, you notice how unusually crowded the store is today. Crap!  You were really hoping to zip in and out quickly, but you know that’s just not going to happen. You are irritated.

You’re notice you’re feeling sensitized and on edge today, so being here is bothering you more than normally.

By the time you finish gathering your groceries, your cart is filled to the brim. You notice there are only a few registers open, and each has a long line…

Damn it, you think. What if you panic? This stinks! You choose the line closest to the exit, just in case it gets too much and you need to make a hasty retreat.

As you’re standing in line, suddenly you feel trapped. You try not to look around too much, but you have a feeling that other people are noticing you. You want to look natural and relaxed, so you pick up a magazine and pretend to read it. You feel your heart starting to race and you get a hot flash, that makes you dizzy…

You notice how bright and irritating those fluorescent lights are. Why is it so bright in here? It feels like you’re standing there forever. A The lady checking out directly in front of you right now brought all her own bags, has a ton of stupid coupons and keeps asking for price checks. Great….

You notice you feel flushed, your heart is racing and you’re breathing fast. As you’re standing there “reading” the magazine, you try to do slow down your breathing. You feel dizzy and off balance. You feel like you want to cry…

Suddenly you feel a cart push up against you from behind. You turn to see what’s up, only to be jolted into fear. It’s a neighbor just joking around (shit!!) and she has a full cart of groceries too. You notice there are several people in the line behind her.

If you weren’t trapped before, you are now. And she wants to talk. How are you ever going to do this?

Now you’re in a full blown panic attack. This is too much. You’re dying to abandon your cart and just get the hell out of there.

Ok that’s the horror version, where the anxiety and panic attack ruled your thoughts and actions. Now let’s add the voice of reason into the mix and see this event through to it’s conclusion.

Diffusing a Panic Attack with Reason:

As you walk through the store filling up your cart with groceries, you notice how unusually crowded the store is today.  You were really hoping to zip in and out quickly, but you know that’s just not going to happen. You are irritated.

The Voice of Reason: Ok, it’s very crowded in hear and that makes me uncomfortable. BUT- I can make a choice to stay here and continue grocery shopping. If I really need to, I can always leave.

I will tune in to how I’m feeling and not add any 2nd fear to the situation. Other people might feel anxious here too. I’m certainly not the only person who gets nervous. I can do it. It’s not a big deal, and I’m going to do everything in my power NOT to exaggerate the situation…

You’re notice you’re feeling sensitized and on edge today, so being here is bothering you more than normally.

The Voice of Reason:
I did have a bad night last night and feel a bit off and vulnerable today. But that’s ok. It’s good to be in tune to how I’m feeling. I will be gentle with myself.

Although I’m feeling more anxious than usual, I know it’s just a feeling. Feelings aren’t facts. I might feel a little nervous, but feeling nervous and anxious won’t hurt me.

By the time you finish gathering your groceries, your cart is filled to the brim. You notice there are only a few registers open, and each has a long line.

Damn it, you think. What if you panic? This stinks! You choose the line closest to the exit, just in case it gets too much and you need to make a hasty retreat.

The Voice of Reason: Alright, this is not my favorite thing to do, but I know I can stand in this line. *I can do anything for a half hour*. If I feel panic, I will do the 21-7 Technique. Panic is just a big surge of adrenalin and nothing more. Anxiety is not big deal- if I don’t make it one. I’m standing here and I’m doing great. Atta girl!!

As you’re standing in line, suddenly you feel trapped. You try not to look around too much, but you have a feeling that other people are noticing you. You want to look natural and relaxed, so you pick up a magazine and pretend to read it. You feel your heart starting to race and you get a hot flash, that makes you dizzy…

You notice how bright and irritating those fluorescent lights are. Why is it so bright in here? It feels like you’re standing there forever. A The lady checking out directly in front of you right now brought all her own bags, has a ton of stupid coupons and keeps asking for price checks. Great….

You notice you feel flushed, your heart is racing and you’re breathing fast. As you’re standing there “reading” the magazine, you try to do slow down your breathing. You feel dizzy and off balance. You feel like you want to cry…

The Voice of Reason: Ok, I’m feeling very trapped. This is very uncomfortable, but this isn’t a true fact. I am not actually trapped. This feeling just isn’t true. There is nothing physically holding me here.

I may not like being in line, but I can make a choice to wait this out- one minute at a time. I’m a powerful, competent woman, and I can do this. I can do some slow diaphragmatic breathing, and try to keep the focus outwards. My anxious thoughts are trying to take over but I will not listen to them.  And no one is focused in on me, that’s just my old distorted thinking acting up. That’s a bunch of crap.

Let’s see, a National Enquirer. I can look at amusing pictures of celebrity plastic surgery gone too far…..Hey, I’m getting through this. This is alright..Yay me! See I knew I could do it!! Thank God I didn’t leave!!

Ok well this is taking longer than I want. Why did I have to pick the line with the coupon lady? This is annoying…. actually, it’s not. I’m feeling pretty good that I can stand here and do this. Yay me!

Suddenly you feel a cart push up against you from behind. You turn to see what’s up, only to be jolted into fear. It’s a neighbor just joking around (shit!!) and she has a full cart too. You notice there are several people in the line behind her.

If you weren’t trapped before, you are now. And she wants to talk. How are you ever going to do this?

The Voice of Reason: So now we have my nosy neighbor right behind me. That’s ok. I can make some small talk about the kids. We don’t have to have some intimate discussion…Hey this really isn’t any big deal. If I have a panic attack, I’ll just do the 21-7 Technique. It always works. The worst thing that can happen is I’ll be standing here feeling scared. And then the adrenalin will wear out. It always does.  I won’t die, I won’t do anything outrageous. Hey, I really am *normal*. I’m standing here with everyone else mildly irritated in a grocery line. I didn’t panic and I didn’t leave. Now THAT’S a really big deal!! :)

That grocery store scenario actually really did happen to me. When we use our voice of reason over panic attacks and anxiety, we win every time.

The truth about anxiety is nothing is ever as bad as we make it up in our minds to be. So reason with yourself, notice if you are engaging in negative self talk, and make your mind up to not exaggerate the reality of a situation. Fear and anxiety blow everything out of proportion, but you can reign it in, challenge it’s validity, and calm yourself down. If you feel a wave of panic, see it for what it really is, just a burst of adrenalin that has to run out.

And that is how you can diffuse a panic attack with the voice of reason within you. Even in the middle of a crowded grocery store! :)

I wish you peace,

Jill G.

ps.- Anxiety is a beast. I’ve had great success with Panic Away and highly recommend this program to panic attack sufferers. You can find our more about it here>>.

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2 Responses to Diffusing a Panic Attack with The Voice of Reason

  1. JellyBean says:

    Awesome information but I have a question. I suffer from anxiety/panic and have almost all of my life. It started getting really bad after I got married and moved to a new town. My panic triggers when I am in the car and I have tried the rational “self” talk but the part messes me up is this. You say you can get out of line and leave if you need to, that is not an option when you are in a car waiting at a left hand turn light. I cannot move the cars in front of me and I just havet to wait it out. I am trying to expose myself little by little to these stop light situations but it’s hard. I was just wondering what your thoughts are on not having that back up plan during a panic attack?

    • JillG says:

      You’re right, you can’t just get out of the car. So what did I do? The back up plan is to not resist the panic. I learned to let the horrifying, scary panic feelings wash over my body without trying to push it away. Because then it goes away. What you resist persists, and this is especially true for anxiety and panic attacks. The same thing for the grocery store, yes I can leave and get out of line, but I try at all costs not to do this. Otherwise fear wins and i leave feeling like crap. I try to Face Accept Float and Let Time pass. This is what’s really made a difference in my life. Here is a post I wrote about my experience with driving anxiety, hope it helps you.

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