What does panic feel like for you? For me, I can only see what is right in front of me, as my peripheral vision falls away. It feels like the walls are closing in and the oxygen is being sucked out of the room. My breathing gets quick and shallow. A sharp pain flashes in the middle of my head and seems to block my process of rational thought. All of this happens suddenly and before I even realize my panic points are flaring, I am fully in the grip of a panic attack.
Lately I’ve had several people tell me that they are suffering frequent panic attacks. Can you relate? Does this happen to you? It is hard to make sense of it and even harder to make sense in it, but I have learned to ask myself two things which have been game changing for me and helpful to other people with whom I’ve had the chance to share them. I write them here in hopes that you might find them useful too.
1) I ask what I can do immediately to alleviate the panic. I know that a big trigger for me is a hard deadline on a list of must-get-done items that will take longer than the time I have. A classic example is a guest coming over for dinner in an hour and I still have to clean the house and prepare the meal. If I can get the kitchen cleaned, I can think more clearly. I am not sure why, but it has proven true, so when panic grabs me, I clean the kitchen. It really helps!
Do you know what triggers your panic? Is it financial strain? Could you tuck an emergency $100 away to alleviate your stress? Or maybe, like me, there is something you can do in the moment the panic flares that will make a difference. Is there a certain kind of music that soothes you? Or a person you can call? Or a task you can accomplish? Knowing your panic points and thinking through them in a time of clarity can make a huge difference when you feel most vulnerable.
2) I ask myself what is the worst that can happen, and plan what I would do in that worst-case scenario. Using the previous example, what would I do if guests showed up and my house was still dirty and there was no meal. Well, I would apologize and suggest we go out to eat. It wouldn’t be the end of the world. I think things through in moments of peace, so that when I find myself in panic mode and unable to think sensibly, I only have to remember what I’ve already figured out.
Sometimes the stakes are larger than failing to be prepared for company. I distinctly remember one episode which was caused by a much more serious situation. But even then, because I am a Christian and know where I am going when I die, my question of “what is the worst that can happen and what would I do” was answered with “I’d go to Heaven and thank Jesus that I’d never have a panic attack again!” I could live (or die) with that, so I was able to catch my breath.
Can you apply this idea to the things that cause you to panic? Can you think through some solutions now to the worst-case scenarios that plague you so when you are face to face with them you have some tools to use against them?
Have you ever made use of these strategies or others in your fight against panic? If you’d like help to think through your specific triggers, let me know. If this discussion has brought something to mind that you’d like to share with others, please do so in the comments. We’re all in this together and if we share what we know and learn from each other, we can gain the upper hand over our panic points!