Can we cope with panic?

Panic for me has been on and off since being diagnosed with a rainbow of problems a few years ago. What was initially me feeling ill turned out to be a panic disorder that I absolutely cannot stand, but have to live with. Over the years there have been ups and downs, I’ve seen it take my life away from me, yet I’ve also seen myself face up to it head on as I struggle to retain control over the physical effects of panic.

I’ve written about panic before from a few different angles; I’ve written posts looking at what panic means to me, about how it has changed my life along with tools to fight against panic and help to eventually overcome this bizarre mental illness. For this post, I wanted to look at panic from a more “accepting” point of view. As spoken about in previous posts (I write a lot don’t I?), I’m trying out ACT, a new therapy method that looks at accepting anxiety rather than fighting it, which is why I wanted to start to look at how we can accept panic, and if it’s even possible, and using a real scenario to try it.

Last night I popped out to my favourite Japanese restaurant. The food is incredible and to top it off, it’s all you can eat! What’s not to love? The plan was to have a chilled night out with my girlfriend, eat way too many gyoza and come home to a warm house and get some PJs on – and to be honest the night pretty much went to plan! Oh yea, except for the fact that my anxiety and panic disorder came along for the ride. I was happily chatting away, and BAM! The slightest thing triggered my panic and suddenly my thoughts were racing, my heart was pounding and I became incredibly hot. I haven’t felt panic to this extent for a while and I was feeling overwhelmed. I styled it out, used my breathing, brought back my focus and eventually it subsided. The problem I now had was that panic was here now, it was with me and I knew it was going to be back.

For the rest of the night I began avoiding certain conversations, I spent my time being hot, shakey and my heart pounding intermittently due to the slightest trigger. I even had to leave for a few minutes because it all got a little bit too much. All in all, it was going to be a disaster…or was it?

Clearly, I couldn’t control the panic, it was going to come on whether I liked it or not (not), and there wasn’t a whole lot I could do about it. So what did I do? It was time to just accept it. In my head, I told myself “OK, if you’re going to be here then go for it, I’m staying exactly where I am and you can just do your thing”. I let my legs shake, I let myself get hot, I let myself think stupid things such as “Can I get out, am I trapped in here, where can I go if I need to”, because ultimately nothing about that scenario had changed. I wasn’t in imminent danger, the temperature hadn’t risen, I wasn’t going to suddenly pass out, my body was just having a moment. I even tweeted about it, about how panicky I felt and how difficult I was finding it, and that’s OK!

D’ya know why? Because after the meal, after it had all happened, I was still getting lovely responses from people asking if I was OK, sending me tips, making sure I was alright. The truth of it is, I was absolutely fine. Even straight after, I felt absolutely 100% fine. As I looked back on the evening, I was saying “I’ve had a good night. Yea, anxiety came on and I had a few panic moments, but nothing to worry about”, and that really is like a revelation to me. Panic is terrifying, sometimes it hurts, sometimes we can feel ill for several days afterwards but do you know what, it’s OK. Panic is OK.

Every single one of you reading this who themselves have suffered from a panic attack, each and every one of you has survived it. You’re still here, you’re reading this thinking “I wish it was that easy!”. It’s really not, it’s SO not that easy, but we can learn to make it that easy. Panic itself is driven by the fear of panic, but panic alone cannot harm you. So, tell yourself, what is there to be fearful of? The feelings? The emotions? The after effects? All of these you’ve worked past and come through before time and time again, which shows that ultimately you’re stronger than all of them.

Can we cope with panic? We already are.

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