Most of us with anxiety disorders have pretty big imaginations.
That is one of the reasons we have anxiety disorders in the first place. Our minds can create all kinds of dramatic scenarios for us to dwell on, obsess over and panic about – and I don’t think I need to point out to you that we are REALLY good at it.
But the good news is that we can use these same imaginations that helped us get into our anxiety mess, to help us get out – even during intense panic episodes.
Panic Pointer #2 is: “Fake it ‘Till You Make It.”
It’s all about playing a positive worry game for a change.
When you are in the middle of a panic episode it is kind of like being stuck on a hamster wheel that you can’t jump off of.
It’s your thoughts that make the hamster wheel spin faster. The only thing that will make it slow down, is the slowing down of your thoughts.
I’m sure you know that can feel nearly impossible to do and this is where your imagination comes in.
To help slow your thoughts down and ultimately put an end to your panic episode, simply pretend that you aren’t panicking.
You are probably thinking that is impossible, and I don’t blame you. But if you just go with it – and don’t over think it, this trick works.
Do not sit or stand where you are and think about how bad you feel. Just behave as you imagine any non-panicking person would behave, and think the thoughts that you imagine a non-panicking person would think.
Is your heart pounding? Pretend that it isn’t.
Are you feeling that incredible adrenaline rush? Pretend that you aren’t.
Scared out of your mind? Pretend that you’re not.
Again, do not over think this.
That is what causes difficulties with this trick. Suspend your reality and pretend to be a calm confident person who doesn’t have a care in the world. If you stick with it for a few minutes, and you really commit, your wonderful acting will convince your brain that you are fine and it will shut off the adrenaline and you will feel in control of yourself again.
It’s all about outsmarting your brain.
I know what you might be thinking:
“If I could pretend to calm down I would. But it’s a panic attack and I can’t calm down because I am not in control of myself. Pretending or not, I can’t do it.”
But the truth is that you can and I am going to give you something to think about here that will hopefully make it easier.
You see, panicking is an anxious person’s version of a wall of protection.
Its sort of our last line of defense when we are in a situation we feel completely out of control of. We are doers and when there is nothing else we can possibly do….we panic. It is how we claw at an enemy we feel powerless against.
By telling ourselves that we are only “pretending” to calm down, it allows our wall to stay up. It allows us to stay on guard and keep our sense of control, as we trick our brain into believing we are no longer scared.
Deep down we know that we haven’t REALLY stopped panicking, it’s all just an act, and calming down from that standpoint is acceptable to us and much more easily done.
If you are still shaking your head and thinking “No way is that working for me.” – that’s okay.
I recommend trying it before giving up on it, but even then – not every panic tip is going to vibe with everybody. Here are some ways to tweak this tip for those who are still left struggling after giving it a try.
Get a timer and tell yourself that you will allow yourself to pretend to be calm for 60 seconds.
Tell yourself that at the end of that 60 seconds, you have permission to go back to panicking again if you choose. Then set that timer, do your best to pretend your way calm, making sure to breathe deeply, and when the 60 seconds are up, see how you feel.
It’s often easier to let go of your control in bite sized bits, a little bit at a time, rather than all at once. Then once you see that you survived the first round, you can stretch your “calm time” to 90 seconds then two minutes then so on and so on. If you do this, you shouldn’t need to go much past a few minutes because if you don’t over think it what is going on, the adrenaline will start shutting off.
Another thing you can do if you need help pretending to be calm, is to pretend to be an entirely different person.
People with anxiety disorders are quite often natural actors.
I love acting and playing different characters with my kids and when I used to get panicky I would pretend to be these super confident over the top ladies with southern accents. I would saunter around talking to them saying “I would NEVAH, EVAH be scared of anything DAHLIN’s.” , and they would laugh so hard.
You have to kick this particular plan into gear before the panic gets good and strong though. Make sure you switch into character when you first start to feel those swells of panic rise in your chest because otherwise it will be extremely difficult to switch “modes”.
Going into “characters” has helped distract me from my panic many times and it is always fun. Yes it IS okay to have fun with your anxiety! It is okay to mix laughter in with your fear. Once I learned those two things are not mutually exclusive – it was a game changer for me.
Of course you might not feel comfortable strutting like a diva and spouting off southern accents to your family or when you are at the grocery store, but you can pretend to be somebody else inside your own mind as you are going through the motions of the first few minutes of your panic attack.
Sometimes that little bit of extra use of imagination can be just what you need to stop panicking. Remember that it takes a lot of imagination to make panic, and if you are using up your imagination supply on “positive pretending”…..there won’t be much left to make panic with!
On a final note….every time you have a panic attack I want you to remind yourself that you aren’t weak for panicking.
I want you to remind yourself that what you are really doing is showing strength. You haven’t lost control when you are panicking. You are trying to keep control with your panic. You are fighting an invisible threat with the only weapon you have available to you…the only tool in the toolbox…a tool which keeps you alert and aware and on guard.
Of course, the best tools during a panic attack are your own strength, will, common sense, and maturity. But as we all know, those tools tend to a get a little lost in the box when you are in the throes of a panic attack, hence, we have the Panic Pointers series.
Speaking of which, I will have a lot more Panic Pointers in the future, readers, so if this one’s not doing it for you, keep checking back because we are bound to find one eventually that gives you your “click moment” and helps you get your panic under control.
If you are looking for some more panic-related reading, I recommend this article from Nikolay Perov at TinyBuddha.com. Good stuff.
Thanks for reading and remember, no worries.
Thank you Pixabay.com for the use of their lovely image. (Red Couch)