Sunday, January 30, 2011
Sit Through the Panic: Observe, Rename
With 20 years of sponsoring folks with anxiety disorders, one thing I learned (learned it firsthand in my 20s) is that when you have a panic attack, you must sit through it, observe it, breathe; know that you won't die or go crazy and that it will come and go in a few minutes as it always does. Once you lose your fear of the physiologic symptoms and the mental thoughts, it loses its ability to be an affective way to get your attention.
We feed the panic by jumping and running and going berserk. I was over panic attacks in a couple months by using good mental hygiene techniques and basically staring the beast in the eye and realizing it couldn't do more than make my heart pump hard, my blood run hot, my body feel tingly, my legs feel weak.
One time on the way to a job interview as I was still in my recovery phase, I felt all these symptoms and I stopped and asked myself, “where else might I get these symptoms?” I realized—an orgasm or perhaps when anticipating opening a really great gift on Christmas. I realized what I was feeling was truly excitement, not anxiety.
It's all in what you tell yourself.
These symptoms are expected in a near-miss on the highway at 65 miles an hour, but when you're sitting and watching TV, it freaks you out. I've never had another one since and boy have I had lots of reasons to have them over the ensuing years. I can't get to a place where that my fight-or-flight is necessary to get me to pull it together. If you keep your thoughts clean and logical, your emotions follow.
I see the same sort of thing in haunted locations, scary houses, dark cemeteries, or any other place that people entertain unrealistic thoughts like, “what if something grabs me?” “what if I'm chased by a ghost?” When you run scenarios through your head, your body prepares.
Just imagine playing with a waxy dimpled lemon and then biting into it. Your mouth waters and you haven't even actually eaten a lemon right now. Yeah, the body does what the mind believes. This is why prayer and envisioning white lights and carrying crystals and all those other protective rituals work; because you believe it works. The mind will move accordingly if you feel protected and able to investigate without harm.
What sorts of thoughts go through my mind to make me never afraid of places and situations I investigate? It goes something like this:
“Man, I hope this place is really spooky and atmospheric. I want to get some cool pictures of that. I want to sit in the dark and listen for things. I sure hope something happens tonight. It feels like a good night for activity. This place has a really awesome history. I hope I get a chance to sit alone and just absorb the spookiness and maybe make contact. I really hope I can get something to respond to me. That would be amazing!”
So, imagine how I feel about encounters, darkness and what I'm entering?
Imagine what this person would feel:
“I hope they don't leave me alone. This place is scary. What if something happens? What if I hear something? What if something touches me? What if I bring it home with me? I don't want to do this! I wish there was a light on. I don't like the idea of not knowing what's out there watching me, waiting for me.”
Your head has to be in the right place for anything in life, whether it's flying in a plane or speaking in front of an audience or dealing with your spouse and kids. You need an internal dialogue that turns things that might be overwhelming into something that you are choosing to engage in, something you are curious about, an adventure.
I pretty much attack everything in life like I'm joining an adventure, witnessing something new, recording an experience in my log of life. To me, I'm a heroine in a romantic comedy and I flub up and I have bad things happen and I smile when it's all good and I pick myself up and realize that over the lifetime of goods and bads, it evens out. I'm allowed to look stupid, do the wrong thing, be scared and unsure, so long as I know my intent is good and I will be rewarded in the end with a life I didn't resist, but that I fell full force into knowing that I'm not in school and am no longer worried about final exams and GPAs.
If you do this, the world brings back to you wonder and excitement because that is what you are looking for. If you approach life as if it's throwing arrows at you, you will be looking to duck everything that comes your way, assuming it is harmful. You will avoid situations and your world and your life will become very small and constricted.
I'm not saying to pump your skirt with sunshine, but be realistic. I grew up in a haunted home, have tackled more “scary” haunted places than can be imagined and yet one thing I know as a logical woman is that the worst things that could happen are to fall through a floorboard, hit my head on a pipe hanging from the ceiling or run into an indigent who is drunk and territorial. I cannot be hurt by the unseen. It will not come home with me. I will not become possessed. I am nothing more than a witness and if I do my job as a witness with a clear head, I might further the industry. I might also be receptive and open should something want to or need to communicate. The last thing I would want to do as a ghost is frighten people away, I would desperately want their company and for them to know I'm there.
So, the next time you tackle anything you don't want to do, try turning it around into a curious adventure. You are about to do something that isn't “good” or “bad,” it is simply “interesting” and “an experience.” See how you take to it as an observer instead of a victim.
As well, I've found when it comes to pain, the same sorts of things can be done by renaming it "hot" or "tight" instead of "painful" or "unbearable." So simple and yet so effective.
Simply taking the negative off of things and turning them into neutral changes your very physiology and emotions.
It works on hunts; it works with anxiety; it works for life.