Fear is something I deal with on an almost daily basis.
I don’t say this so you feel sorry for me or so you can rescue me. I say this because I want it to be clear that I know what it is to live with anxiety and fear.
I am not one of those people who fearlessly goes out into the world and just gets on with it. I am one of those people that girds her loins and faces her fears head on. Fear does not have to stop us doing what we want to do, but quite often it does.
One of the problems people who live with fear face is a the risk of a panic attack. I admit, panic attacks haven’t been a regular manifestation of my fear for many years but I do know how crippling they are. These crippling moments often come from a lack of self trust or self love; for me they happened either when I didn’t believe I could handle a situation or when someone pointed out an aspect of my personality that I feared might be true. Once a panic attack strikes the self talk spirals out of control, we become ungrounded and fall apart.
For someone trying to face fear, having panic attacks adds a second layer to deal with; the fear of having a panic attack becomes greater than the fear of the actual situation. And so the cycle continues until we are unable to function.
So how do we stop this?
Many years ago I read a book called “Feel the fear and do it anyway” (follow the link, they are selling for £0.01!) and it taught me so many things about how to stop fear ruling my life, but when we are at risk of a panic attack we need a new strategy
There are 3 aspects that I think are important to beating a panic attack: grounding, awareness and self talk. Here I am going to explain why they are important and offer some simple suggestions on how to shift the energy in all 3.
In my blog The Importance of Grounding I explain what grounding is and why it is so important. In brief though, grounding is our energetic connection to the earth and when we panic this is the first thing to go, we become ungrounded. When this happens we feel spacey and light headed, this sensation can actually add to the panic attack because we don’t feel in control.
Of course there are a number of complicated methods we can use to ground but when we are falling apart none of them are possible. In this situation the best thing you can do is THINK FEET. That is all. Put as much of your attention on your feet. Concentrate on how your shoes feel, or if you are bare foot, what does the floor feel like? Concentrate on gravity, feel how it drags your feet onto the floor.
In doing this you are acheiving 2 things, firstly, you are moving your attention away from what is going on, and secondly you are concentrating on grounding your energy and that which is around you. If you can, feel the energy pouring through your feet into the earth. But if that is too hard, just think about your feet.
I have a sneaking suspicion this may resonate with mindfulness, but as I haven’t studied it I can’t be sure. When we sink into a panic attack our awareness of the situation becomes warped. We believe the worst thing we fear really could happen. We tell ourselves that the train will crash, people will leave us, we will die. All of these beliefs cause the panic to spiral out of control. This is where we have to STOP AND LOOK AROUND. This might be for real or it might be metaphorical.
What are the real chances of the train crashing, everyone leaving us or us dying? Become aware of the actual reality, not what we are creating in our world of fear. In seeing that our greatest fear is unlikely to happen we can start to bring the level of panic down.
Part of the process of a panic attack is the self talk; phrases like “I can’t cope”, “this is terrible” and “I am so afraid” all continue the cycle. In reality they are negative affirmations and continuing to use them will simply make things worse and cause us to spiral. The great thing is we can use this concept to counter the panic attack instead. The phrase WHATEVER HAPPENS, I WILL COPE is phenomenal. Just say it now and witness how strong you feel now. If that doesn’t work spend some time thinking about all the times you thought the panic attack or situation was going to kill you and realise that it didn’t. Hold onto the pride that you got through it and pin it to that phrase. Remember, in the past, whatever happened, you coped. You got through it! It didn’t beat you, you are still here.
Now use the phrase again, filled with the pride that you got through those times! Do you feel you could take anything on now?
I realise, when a panic attack hits it comes like a steaming train, it feels like there is no stopping it. Your body fills with adrenalin and you go into that fight or flight mode. But, if you can begin to even think about these 3 steps you are on your way to beating panic attacks. You may still get them, but very soon you are the one in control.
I have reached a stage where more often than not my body is going through the motions but inside I am sitting there, looking around me, seeing what the situation really is and just waiting for my body to calm down. It’s still unpleasant, but it doesn’t cripple me any more and is soon over.
Nearly every day I leave the house I face a fear in some way, and every day I get through it. There is nothing special about me, it’s pure bloody mindedness and a refusal to let fear get the better of me. With baby steps and a determination I believe anyone can do it. Don’t let fear of panic attacks stop you trying.