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  • During a panic attack, the anxiety that a lot of us already carry in our minds every

  • day and that is typically content merely gently to corrode away our lives, promptly changes

  • tack and decides it really wants to kill us, once and for all - preferably very soon.

  • The key thing to remember is that it can't and it won't. And at the same time, that

  • we'll be utterly convinced that it will. That's the duality we have to cope within

  • those dastardly episodes we call panic attacks.

  • How do these things feel? Imagine that the airplane doors close and we realise that we

  • won't be able to get off for six hours, that we can hardly move our legs without touching

  • passengers on every side, that the air we're breathing has passed through the lungs of

  • two hundred other people and a couple of jet engines too and that we're about to be a

  • few miles off the ground - and the whole situation suddenly seems wholly surreal, tear-jerkingly

  • cruel and deeply unsurvivable.

  • Or we're at a business meeting, surrounded by colleagues and prospective clients and

  • we're made aware that our bowels are about to open or our stomachs to heave across the

  • table, and that we'll be publically reduced to a pure emanation of noxious sludge - after

  • which it would evidently be best not to try to continue with one's life and instead

  • to be taken away, done in and never mentioned again.

  • What are we to do at such moments? What could the most well wrought philosophy do for us

  • when we're about to shit ourselves or start wailing uncontrollably at the back of a tightly

  • packed Airbus?

  • There are, in spite of all our feelings of chaos, a few bits of solid advice to hold

  • on to:

  • Firstly: though this seems like the oddest and most embarrassing thing ever to have unfolded,

  • it happens all the time, even to good, decent people who are worthy of respect and will

  • enjoy a lengthy and dignified old age. People don't talk about these episodes of course

  • and you can see why - because it threatens to be humiliating and an ejection from polite

  • society. But in the process, we make it worse for everyone. Part of what getting through

  • panic attacks involves is rehabilitating the whole concept of losing control to fear. Don't

  • add shame or embarrassment to your worry. These episodes are neither a punishment nor

  • weird. They're an essential part of being a sensitive thoughtful human in a chaotic,

  • complex and disordered world. If you are prone to attacks, do the opposite

  • of hide the tendency: tell the world - and let the light of public playful confession

  • chase away the shadows of shame.

  • Secondly, accept the fear; don't fight it. It threatens very seriously to kill you but

  • it won't and can't. No one has ever died from fear alone. You should look at the situation

  • as if you were out at sea trying to wrestle with the current. Rather than agitate further,

  • it is best to let the waves carry you this way and that and know that they can't tear

  • you apart; they'll tire eventually and then set you back on shore. Never struggle against

  • a rip tide. Similarly, accept the worst that the terror can do to you - and stand defiant.

  • Maybe the speech won't happen, you might faint in your airline seat or be forced to

  • run out of the office. So what. Refuse to be humiliated by the panic. You don't have

  • to be competent all the time. Everyone is allowed to fail, very often and this just

  • happens to be one of your well-earnt fiascos. Welcome to being human.

  • Thirdly, when calm has returned, try to think all this through, ideally with a kindly friend

  • or therapist. The fear is to do - perhaps in part, probably - with a baseline sense

  • of unworthiness. People who think they're not worth much fear the worst. Maybe you don't,

  • at some level, feel it's allowed for you to give a speech and impress a hundred people

  • or succeed in your career or go off on holiday somewhere nice. Maybe, in your unconscious,

  • this might make someone (a parent?) feel jealous or inadequate - and it's kinder, therefore,

  • to stick with being small and unobtrusive and afraid of everything.

  • To which the answer is to reassert, in the light of day, the basic truth that you,

  • you beautiful, crazy, worrying human, have every right to exist and draw pleasure from this life,

  • that there is nothing illegal about being alive and working a positive effect

  • on others, that - whatever indications you might have received in your past - you are

  • allowed to be. Also, consider that the panic might have to

  • do with a memory of long ago having been appallingly controlled, hurt and not allowed to get away.

  • It's an airplane door that has just closed but in the unconscious mind, it's a perhaps

  • also return to other situations of powerlessness that were unmasterable and that continue to

  • haunt. To which the answer is to go back to the past,

  • understand it fully and drain it of its power to upset and spoiled the present. The memories need to

  • be heard and the trauma digested. But in the meantime the plane is going to take off and the doors will eventually

  • open again and you will be free to go wherever you want without being oppressed, because

  • you are now an adult, with all the agency and liberty and light that that word should

  • imply to you. Or maybe what powers your terror is a feeling

  • that you have to impress other people and won't be forgiven if you don't. To which

  • the answer is that though it's always nice to achieve a bit more, frankly, you're more

  • than OK just as you are; the days of having to impress others are over; you need to prove

  • nothing at all. There is no need to let your commitment to self-contempt keep tearing you

  • apart.

  • Fourthly, at the height of the fear, it can help to get deeply but redemptively pessimistic

  • about everything. Though it seems like everything matters intensely, gloriously, in truth, nothing

  • matters at all. Almost every human on the planet is entirely indifferent to you; out

  • in the Mojave desert, scorpions are scuttling among the rocks; an eagle is soaring above

  • the Korakorum pass, up there in the universe, the two moons of Mars, Phobos and Deimos,

  • are completing their orbits. You will soon enough be dead, properly inert, and it will

  • have been as if you never existed. You are but a blip in eternal cosmic time; whether

  • your speech unfolds well or badly, or you soil your trousers or not is a matter of sublime,

  • beautiful indifference to planet Kepler 22b, 638 light-years from earth in the constellation

  • of Cygnus.

  • Keep in mind the eternal wisdom of the medieval proverb that says of the waxing and waning

  • of all things: THIS TOO SHALL PASS

  • Lastly, don't avoid everything that scares you; don't let the panic reduce you. Don't

  • accord the fear so much respect that you start to listen to its tyrannical dictates.

  • Answer the aggression within every panic attack with its opposite: with a deeply unconditional

  • love for you, fear's unfortunate, blameless, worthy and hugely loveable calm-deserving

  • innocent victim. ALL THIS TOO SHALL PASS.

  • We can learn the skill of being calm. Not through special teas or slow breathing. But through thinking. Our book guides us through that process. Click to find out more.

During a panic attack, the anxiety that a lot of us already carry in our minds every

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How To Cope With Panic Attacks

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    林宜悉 posted on 2020/11/25
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