This post was created in the spirit of Self-Therapy Month.
If you’ve ever had a panic attack, you would know that the experience is sheer terror.
It’s so bad that the anticipation of future panic attacks is enough to trigger the panic itself.
That’s pretty awful to say the least.
Throw in the fact that panic can have such a profoundly negative effect on daily life that many people begin to develop symptoms of depression as well.
Selena: Good for You Because She’s Bold and Smart
As a Selena fan, I’m proud of her for making such a bold and responsible move and for allowing her struggle to be public. My hope is that she will inspire everyone from celebrities to all other people who struggle with panic to take care of their mental health before things get worse, and to know that panic attacks are quite common.
As a psychologist who works on a daily basis with New Yorkers who suffer from panic attacks, I’ve learned a thing or two about how to conquer this vicious emotional challenge.
A Call for Action Against the Isolation Caused by Panic
Something I’ve noticed through my work is that most people who have panic attacks feel ashamed of and embarrassed by their problem, which leads them to avoid openly discussing their struggle with people who care for them most.
They worry that panic will be viewed as a sign of weakness or craziness. As a result, sufferers of panic often don’t get the emotional support they need to overcome panic.
This is why I’m seizing the opportunity to talk about panic attacks. My hope is that if enough people in the public eye discuss their struggle with panic, then other people won’t be so reluctant and embarrassed to seek support from their friends, family and coworkers.
Basically, there’s nothing to be ashamed of if you have panic attacks.
In fact, for the record, most of the people who I’ve helped to overcome panic tend to be the most balanced, humble, stable, driven, high energy, dynamic, achievement-oriented people on the planet.
Panic often skips over the Type B, lazy, couch potato type. They have other problems to deal with.
How to Conquer a Panic Attack
Ok, now for the mind trick that you’ve probably never heard of. There’s also a good chance that if you’re already in therapy for panic, your therapist never suggested this. That’s ok. Don’t be too hard on your therapist. Just suggest that you try the following strategy:
Since anxiety and anger are generally incompatible emotions in consciousness, one technique is to flip your anxiety into anger. Then channel your anger toward empowering yourself to act boldly.
This might be confusing for some people because anger can actually come from a sudden wave of anxiety, especially if something happened that made you feel like just lost control, but trust me, you want to think about moving from a state of anxiety to a state of anger…even annoyance .
Let’s use a commonly reported place where New Yorkers often panic — on the subway. (FYI, my patients usually report having panic attacks in one of four places: on the subway, at an arena or a theater, before or during an important meeting or during a sudden interruption of the sleep cycle.)
So you’re sitting on the subway during a scorching hot summer day and the train comes to a sudden halt between stations. The dreaded overhead announcement informs you that you’re waiting for the train ahead of yours to clear. In a flash, a devastating wave of panic overtakes you and irrational fears hijack your mind. “There’s not enough air on the train,” you convince yourself. “What if I faint? Who will take care of me?”
You feel the need to escape the situation, a trademark element of panic.
Here’s how you reverse your panic: Start to get pissed off that you’re stuck in this situation. How dare they do this to you and the other riders. Get angry but don’t take it out on anyone. Keep it in the world of thoughts, unless you want to turn to the stranger next to you and say, “This totally sucks!!!!!”
Then, look around the subway car and identify the most frail-looking person. Imagine how hard it would be for him or her if you all had to leave the train in an emergency and walk on the tracks to safety. Channel your empathy for this physically compromised individual into anger about the situation.
Now a crucial element — the empowerment.
Decide that you’re committed to helping that frail person deal with the situation. You have the power to get out of your head and help them if needed.
Envision being being a superhero, an altruist, a savior. Let you anger make you decide on potential action so you can outside of your panic and take care of someone else’s situation, a great strategy for reducing panic.
Then, if needed, distract yourself with the pictures on your phone or some other simple pleasure to keep your mind busy but stay angry and embolden yourself to take action if necessary.
In that supercharged mindset of a subway superhero, you’ll start to feel more in control.
This strategy might sound simplistic or silly, but it works for many people…but not everyone.
So Selena and all of you wonderful people, since you’re already a superhero, think of how you can step outside of the current moment and get angry about the state of someone around you, or get pissed about your medical condition. Yell at your lupus and at your panic. Declare that it doesn’t control you. Enter the mindset of the unstoppable superhuman that you are.
Good luck to you.
Feel free to comment with any questions or thoughts.