When it comes to tackling anxiety or panic attacks, and taking those first steps or the giant leap into a phobic situation, your attitude can either make you or break you. A Cognitive Behavioural Therapist I know once told me that the client should always have the attitude “let’s see what happens”. She saw each anxiety provoking situation like a scientific hypothesis waiting to be tested. The client would say “I’ll go mad!” and she would say “let’s test that hypothesis, let’s see what happens.” That simple mantra to repeat in your head while tackling anxiety and panic can be surprisingly useful. If panic rises up with in you, instead of saying “I can’t handle this”, you can say “let’s see where this goes”. The more you realise that it doesn’t go anywhere the more confident you get.
One of the best ways to quickly overcome panic and anxiety is to learn to accept it and not be afraid of it. The eminent Australian anxiety, panic attack and agoraphobia expert Dr Claire Weekes once summed up her numerous books, recordings and radio appearances, in effect her whole career, in one word: accept. The attitude of acceptance goes a long long way.
A word or two should also be said about the work of Dr Reid Wilson who’s excellent site Anxieties.com has a section on attitude. He talks at length on the subject and I recommend you visit. In short it’s a good idea to try and learn from you panic or anxiety, tell yourself that it’s OK to feel anxiety, that you don’t have to fight it, that you can handle the uncertainty of the future, and handle setbacks.
Too many people approach anxiety and panic attacks with the same negative attitudes, namely: I can’t take it, I can’t cope, I must relax right now, I have to get out of here, why do I have this, there’s no way out of this. These attitudes are your enemy. Try and catch them and write them down. Divide a piece of paper into three columns. In the first column write the thought, in the second column write the evidence supporting the thought, and in the third column write evidence which disproves the thought.
The following example comes from a sufferer having a panic attack in a shop.
I have to get out of here! I’m about to faint.
My pulse is racing, the floor feels like it’s moving, my eyes are swimming and I feel strangely detached from the people around me, as if I am watching them on Cinema Screen. That means there’s something wrong with me.
I have felt like this before and nothing has ever happened, although I always think it will be awful. In fact my anticipation is always worse than the event. If I stay here my body will probably balance itself in a few minutes. Let’s see what happens, it’s OK to feel a bit funny here.
Of course in real life you might not be able to stop and write, but a great deal of this can be done in the head. If, as in the above example, symptoms are accepted and not shied away from they will subside, and after a few such experiences will quite likely stop coming. Such is the nature of exposure to anxiety or panic provoking situations. Exposure is hell with the wrong attotude, but highly satisfying and quick with the right attitude.