Facing the Panic Monster

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This is a particularly difficult blog for me to write. It’s hard for me to expose my weaknesses. However, I’m hoping that my recent experience will encourage others. If you know me personally, you probably know that I’ve dealt with anxiety and panic attacks for many years. Though this problem is extremely common (affecting 18% of the American population), it remains a shameful secret for many sufferers, myself included.1 Symptoms of panic attacks include shaking, sweating, hot flashes, racing heart, chest pain, tightness in the chest, difficulty breathing, numbness in the extremities, dizziness, and fears of going crazy or dying, just to name a few. Not fun!

Many of you know that I’m in a serious relationship with a man I adore. He inspired me to start this blog and has been a great source of support and love. He invited me to his brother’s wedding in Michigan. (I live in Virginia). I was petrified. I didn’t know how I was going to “get through” the trip. It required me to face many things that are likely to induce panic (due to my perceptions), such as flying and being alone without a “safe person”. (Anyone who’s experienced anxiety probably knows what I’m talking about!) However, I love him so much that I decided to take the plunge and face my fears. I figured that I’d succeed or die trying. (That’s definitely anxiety talking. Of course I didn’t die!) Here’s what I learned:

  1. Anticipation of an event is by far the most uncomfortable part of facing your fears. Once you’re actually in the situation, you’ll handle it!
  2. Have a “bring it on” attitude. I always think about that scene in “Home Alone” when Kevin tells the scary basement furnace he’s “not afraid anymore”. Turning toward your fears instead of running from them exposes them for what they are: false.
  3. Don’t think of yourself as “disordered”. If you have anxiety or depression, don’t think of yourself as having a mental illness or a disorder. Anxiety and depression are natural emotions that everyone experiences. If you’re experiencing grief, people don’t say you have a “grief disorder”.2 I understand that medical science needs to label things, but don’t think of a diagnosis as a lifelong prognosis. “For as he thinketh in his heart, so is he…” Proverbs 23:7.
  4. Use the Dare Response. I recently read a great book called Dare. Written by Barry McDonagh, the book highlights a unique, counterintuitive approach to dealing with panic attacks and general anxiety.2 This approach was incredibly helpful during my journey. The steps are as follows:

Step 1: Defuse (Respond to “what if” thoughts with a “so what” response. For example, when I was worried that I would “freak out” on the plane, I responded with “So what, it’ll pass. It’s all worth it to be with my honey.”)2

Step 2: Allow It (This was the hard part. If sensations of panic are present, welcome them and let them stay. Know that it’s just adrenaline and it can’t hurt you. If thoughts are running through your head, accept them as symptoms of anxiety. Let them hang out. The less you fight with these sensations, the faster they’ll disappear.)2

Step 3: Run Toward (If the sensations gets really crazy, tell yourself it’s exciting and dare the panic to do its worst! “Come on, you’re making me shake, let’s see if you can make me tremble even more!”)2

Step 4: Engage (Become fully involved with a specific task. Don’t do this to avoid the panic, but to let it know that it can’t stop you from living your life.)

  1. Don’t be hard on yourself. I had some difficult, emotional moments. I’m pleased to say that my willingness to face my fears resulted in a panic-free weekend. However, I had a few anxious episodes, employed some “coping mechanisms” by chatting with my Mum, and even had a good cry, but I decided not to let my these things ruin my weekend or take away from all I had accomplished.
  2. God will bless you. It takes great faith to face your fears. God always blesses me when I step out in faith. He certainly did this weekend! Not only did I have a wonderful time, but my boyfriend’s family could not have been lovelier!
  3. Perfect love casts out fear. “Such love has no fear, because perfect love expels all fear. If we are afraid, it is for fear of punishment, and this shows that we have not fully experienced his perfect love.” -1 John 4:18. It’s hard to be afraid when you know that God (and those He’s placed in your life) love you and wants the best for you!
  4. Ask for help. I sent out a request for prayer on Facebook. I would normally hide my anxiety, but I decided that I needed prayer and shouldn’t be ashamed! Seeing all the support made me feel so loved!
  5. Come close to God and He’ll come close to you. If you’re a spiritual person like I am, use your faith to bolster your spirits and strength!
  6. Concentrate on the “high” that comes from facing your fears! Getting through a scary experience is the most empowering, amazing feeling!

So if you’re sitting at home wondering if you can do something, you can! That’s the moral of my story. My trip was a grand success and a big achievement for me. I’m not saying that I’m completely anxiety-free, but I’m in a much better place. I’m so thankful for my boyfriend and his family, who displayed such love and patience towards me. I’m truly blessed and can’t wait for my next adventure! (A trip to England for Christmas! Eek! Stay tuned!)

P.S. Please feel free to share this with anyone who is struggling with anxiety.

References

  1. Facts & statistics. Anxiety and Depression Association of America Website. http://www.adaa.org/about-adaa/press-room/facts-statistics. Updated 2014. Accessed August 18, 2015.
  2. McDonagh B. Dare. BMD Publishing; 2015.
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