In our last post we looked at an important Panic Attacks Info Tip: to Expect, Allow, and Accept – not fight, resist or deny- when your anxiety does come.
Today we will expand a little more on our 10 Rules for Coping with Panic Attacks, specifically Rules #5: Wait for the Fear to Pass, and #6: Notice When it Fades.
Today’s Panic Attacks Info Tip is: When Fear Comes, Wait.
Let it be.
When you experience fear and anxiety or an impending panic attack, your natural impulse is to flee and run rather than to stay and feel the fear. But this is the exact opposite of what you need to do in order to get better.
As strange as it may seem, and it definitely does feel uncomfortable & strange, the most helpful thing you can do when you have an anxiety attack is to simply stay put and wait.
At first you may be unable to stay in the panic attack trigger situation for long. This is normal, especially at first. This is because you find the feelings and anxiety symptoms so unbearable and so incredibly frightening.
But when you are really ready to start coping with panic attacks and anxiety the right way, this is what you must do.
You’re much more likely to keep going if you can guarantee yourself gratifying little successes from the beginning. So my advice is to set a small goal for yourself: start by going into Wal-Mart and standing in line 3 times a week (if standing in lines in stores is something that makes you panic). Or get yourself into church and sit in a pew and say a prayer. Or getting in your car and driving 3 miles from home 3 times a week. I’m sure you get the picture…
If even that feels too hard, scale it back until it’s manageable to you, but (and this is key) still a bit of a challenge.
If you desperately need to leave the situation, know you always can. At any time. Be proud that you entered the anxiety provoking situation and stayed for even a little while.
Try to stay a little longer or persist in your activity the next time. In taking this very important step, putting yourself into the anxiety and waiting, you learn that the fear does recede.
I used this tip to help me learn to go back to church and also to re-learn how to do my grocery shopping without panicking. Both of these activities caused me tremendous anguish in the past, as the panic attacks and anxiety symptoms always came on without fail.
In the past, I retreated from the anxiety by avoiding the situations as much as possible. With church it was easy. I just stopped going. But the longer I stayed away, the worse I felt. Deep inside I knew I was avoiding my fear, and that somehow if I could just go there and stay, I would not die or go crazy or lose control.
Shopping was a little trickier. I couldn’t not grocery shop. You need to eat, after all. So I relied 100% on my anxiety medication to calm me down enough to be able to go there.
But as I gradually applied the panic attacks info tip to let the fear come and wait, little by little, I became less afraid each time I tried.
To use this tip of letting fear come and waiting it out with my social anxiety symptoms, I learned to say Yes to invitations to get-togethers, lunches, and neighborhood gatherings (those dreaded jewelry, Pampered Chef, & home decor parties). I refused to let myself say no, or make up some lame excuse like I always did in the past. (Because whenever I did beg off, I felt horrible and really beat myself up about it later).
So I would accept the invitation and then go to the event and wait the anxiety out- fully feeling all the anxiety symptoms and weirdness. I might not stay long, and I’m sure I was less than graceful at some get togethers (like the Superbowl party where I was too anxious to say goodbye to the hostess and just snuck out).
But the point is I went, even just for a little while. And by showing up- to the store, to church, to a breakfast with neighbors- and waiting the fear out, it always, always, always, to my utter delight and joy, it always did die down. It never lasted.
I’ve been doing this for awhile now, and it still feels almost amazing that the fear, anxiety and panic can actually go away-especially when I’m in an anxiety trigger situation.
I remember when I was crippled with anxiety how I longed to do just this. And I think that’s a big reason why I appreciate how great it feels to acknowledge my fear and then feel it pass.
It always does you know. Take comfort in this.
I wish you peace,