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.


  1. Aye can't fault a word of your logic here.How you approach situations and even life mentally has a huge impact on how it effect you.
    I've always reckoned a negative approach tends to guarantee a negative outcome.
    For example if I really dread going into work cos I know its gonna be a boring day,time will drag unending and I just don't want to be there then 9 times out of 10 thats the day I'll have.So I tend not to think about it and take the day as it comes.
    I've always believe you get what you expect mostly but what you were saying about your body responding to your mental outlook is something I've never thought but its true.If I feel unwell n take the day off,lay in bed then I focus on it and feel worse whereas if I put it out of my mind and get up n go to work,remain busy its never so bad.

  2. I wonder if this may go further,if you read any literature about witchcraft or magic then basically its about focusing your mind on what you want to achieve,the ritual side would appear to help you concentrate and get into the right frame of mind.Well thats my understanding of it but with no personal experience of it it's how it appears.
    The point is it certainly seems the mind has the ability to have an effect on the physical world,take telekinesis for example and we all have the potential to use our minds in this way if we knew how to focus it in the same way no one is born to play the guitar but anyone has the potential to learn.
    Thats my take on it anyway.

  3. There is a lot of very good wisdom in this post. I notice you used a lot of techniques from Dialectic Behavior Therapy. I hope people listen to your advice because it is very good.

  4. Who taught you all of this?

  5. knowing is one thing, putting it to practice under duress is another thing altogether.

  6. I'm trying to cut back on the lemons.

  7. BadPenny;
    You are so right. I am well versed in paganism and I do admit that it shares that quality of focus and pro-active measures whereas Christianity leaves a bit more for the Maker to control. We are what we focus on. Truly, I know people who feel helpless, but they're only looking at the things they can't control. I believe in the Serenity prayer--know the difference between what you can change and what you can't.

    Albert Ellis and David Burns have always been my heroes. When you learn the power of the mind, you change your emotions forever.

    I learned a great deal through self-help classes and lectures and then tons and tons and tons of reading. When I ran the self-help group, the anxiety association offered materials, as well as I got to have many speakers come in and pick their brains. When I want to know about something, I take it to the max. I ended up writing articles, giving workshops and lectures and even writing a lesson for an anxiety center in the midwest to use for their courses. I am always amazed at the power of the mind and I think that began when I was young and I realized that how I framed a haunting helped me to live with the unexplained while looking at it with wonder instead of fear.

    Well, to get to distress, one must still fill his head with interpretations. I try not to jump ahead of myself with scenarios of "what ifs" because never have one of them happened.

    I'm glad y'all liked this post. I put a lot of the info in my books. When dealing with the unexplained, your internal dialogue is critical in interpreting what just happened and then what you feel about what just happened.

  8. I can surely vouch for this. Lol As I used to have the Anxiety attacks when I was going through all of that junk...
    I remember in my Psychology class, My professor was talking about this. Said he used to HATE Mondays. He used to just loathe them, would make excuses not to work on them. etc. etc. etc.
    He started posting on facebook about how much he loved Mondays. How he was looking forward to Monday. yada yada. And he eventually started believing it. And now he likes Mondays.
    It really does help to have a more optimistic look on life. Like you said, Take the negative out of things... I feel like if you just focus on the negative, then you will the negative to happen. You give power to the negativity. That shit's never fun. Lol!
    Thankfully, when my car died, I started laughing. And it was weird to be on the other side of the situation, because my Mom was the one who was getting upset over it.

  9. Soraya;
    You really did make the transformation, sweetie. Once you have that tool, you literally can handle anything life gives at you because you know you've handled the worst and whatever comes your way, you can adapt.

  10. Hah! Yeah I think I've proved that this month. Life kind of took a dump on me this month, and yet I'm still going. Lol
    Although I'm still a little concerned about my ticket mishap for Finntroll tomorrow night... Accidentally printed two tickets, and the barcode on the second one is strange and different. O_o I'ma stick to the original... I have everything just in case it goes wrong... But... Yeah. Lol Still worried.

  11. ……. I'm soooo behind in commenting on your splendiferous blogticles, Autumn. LOL! Anywho, I, too, suffered from anxiety disorder. You could've sponsored me, had we known each other then. I seem to have aged out of it, though.

    Also, quitting caffeinated beverages & drinking potent potables ( I did a lot of both, & well past the healthy margin @ that) added immeasureably in my Recovery from that blasted demon.

    Like one of my Magus role models, Robin Artisson has said, "Go straight through without fear or hesitation." Thanks for doing this largely off-topic thread, Sis.

    From a now snow-covered Apple Mountain, your Bror,
    Anadæ Quenyan Effro (•8-D

  12. This was a very well thought out post with not only a lot of great ideas for tackling fears, but also examples of how to do it. You don't see that a lot. Nice job.

  13. Thanks, Court. I am including much info like this in my upcoming books about ghosts and psychics. It will always be a part of my desire to share skills for ghost hunting that apply to real life too.


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