Practicing Peace When You Feel Panic

No matter the cause, panic is a horrible feeling. I know because it sneaks up on me more often than I’d like. It usually happens suddenly and can be incredibly overwhelming. Sometimes there’s an obvious trigger. Other times, it seems to come out of nowhere. But the experience is always the same. My chest starts to tighten and hurt. My heartbeat starts to speed up. I can’t seem to catch my breath. And all my worries, fears and questions threaten to crowd out any rational thought. Yeah, good times.

Probably the very worst part of panic is the feeling of—or the perceived threat of—a complete loss of control. The very thought of being helpless in any situation is incredibly unnerving. So, it only makes sense that our bodies would have a physical response to it, too.

I’ve discovered, though, that trying to fight against panic doesn’t seem to help. In fact, it often makes things worse. Think of being underwater. Fear—and yes, panic—may lead you to flail and thrash around against the liquid environment that surrounds you. But doing so makes it even more difficult to find a way out. Panic, like so many other things, can snowball.

Now, consider the exact opposite. What if you acknowledged and accepted the fact that you’re underwater? Then, you purposed to relax your body instead. Eventually, your muscles would relax, and your body would float to the surface of the water. Even if you don’t know how to swim, just the very act of staying calm can help you rise above the albeit stress-inducing situation.

The bad news is that staying calm even when panic presents itself isn’t easy. The good news is that it is possible. The even better news is that it gets better with practice. Here’s a few specific strategies to get you started:

Intentionally separate what is factual from how you feel (or perceive things to be). Challenging emotions have a way of coloring our perspective—and usually not in a good way. Make a point to write down or mentally run through the specifics of the situation.

Purpose to retain self-control. Don’t let panic take over. Instead, use the information you gathered in the first step to stop panic in its tracks. Refuse to let first reactions or feelings fool you. Act based on what you know. You may be in shock or caught off guard. But don’t allow yourself to feel rushed into a reaction. In other words, stay in the driver’s seat.

Ensure that panic isn’t the only thing you feel. Your circumstance might very well warrant a great deal of panic. But don’t let that be the only way you feel. Make mental space to recall all that you know and are capable of. Take time to remember past challenges and how you overcame them. You can do a lot. You may just not feel like it right now. Change that.

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