You want to get over panic or anxiety. You’re tired of avoiding the grocery store at crowded times or making excuses for why you can’t give presentations at work. Most people think, “Get over it!” Friends and family have probably told you to “just stop worrying” and to “face your fears.” But that’s the wrong advice and there’s a much better way to tackle your fears. I explain this below.
Why Your Past Attempts Haven’t Been Successful
Most people I have treated for panic aren’t coming to me because it’s the first time they tried to do something about their panic. Most people see many attempts. They try to change, get overwhelmed, and lose their confidence. Their efforts were often more than sufficient to make change but they directed their energy in the wrong way. The missing ingredients are taking small steps and proactively working on panic.
Taking Small Steps Can Help Your Panic
Most of my people struggle to get over their panic because they have tried to tackle too much at once. They have decided to stop avoiding going out by themselves and decided to take an afternoon trip. After leaving the house, they start to worry, struggle through it for an hour or two, get overwhelmed, and head home feeling defeated. You need to start small and build your way up. Tackling an enormous fear from the get go is not a good idea. Do something challenging but more manageable. Do it again until you feel more confident. Repeat this two, three, even a dozen times. Make sure you feel confident doing simpler tasks before moving on to more difficult ones. What will build your confidence doing these simpler tasks?
Stay Long Enough To Feel Confident
Another reason people get stuck in panic is insufficient time to adjust. If you confront a situation you’ve avoided and then two minutes later take off, chances are you’re not going to feel emboldened. You need to stay long enough to start feeling confident. The rule of thumb is that you stay as long as you need to prove to yourself you can do it. That could be five minutes or fifty. If you start small, you can always build up. Start at a level of challenge that you can almost certainly handle now.
Decide in advance how long to stay. Instead of letting your anxiety dictate when you exit, set a time limit and try to stick to it. Set an alarm on your phone and stay for that period of time. Increase the time and you’ll find that you’ll get more and more confident. What you don’t want to do is let your anxiety spiral out of control and then leave at its peak. This makes you feel helpless and thrown out by your anxiety. If you stay long enough, you should start to notice that your anxiety rises, peaks, and then starts to decline. This can take anywhere from one to twenty minutes. Also, remember that the first several tries your anxiety probably won’t decrease. Don’t worry. It will change with practice. If your anxiety doesn’t start to drop, you may be starting out too hard, not giving yourself enough time, or engaging in safety behaviors. If you continue to struggle, consider practicing relaxation, meditation, or diaphragmatic breathing to ease the intensity of your panic.
Reduce Safety Behaviors To Get More Out of Your Efforts
There are things that get in the way of us getting over panic and anxiety. One culprit is safety behaviors. They are the things we do to appease our anxiety: we only go somewhere after we’ve had a few drinks or we will only do certain things when we feel like we’ve had an absolutely perfect day. Stopping these behaviors means not protecting ourselves from fear and anxiety through these rituals and protective habits. But striping away each one can make us feel a little more vulnerable. So I don’t recommend stopping every single one at the same time but taking time to experiment and stop doing some of these safety behaviors gradually.
Don’t Let Life Determine How You Deal With Panic
Often people want to start confronting their fears and what they do is what for life to serve up opportunities for them – a presentation at the office, an invitation to a sporting event . . . But these may not be the right level of challenge for you at this point. I once worked with someone who was deathly afraid of being in crowds and felt he had to attend a Nascar event. It was a terrible experience and far too much for him to handle. It was great effort and he showed true moxie but he stopped trying for several months after that because he felt so overwhelmed. Remember this . . .
“Life won’t pick just the right challenges for you.”
It’s important to tackle challenges that you are ready and willing to. Usually you will need to plan out activities and more appropriately select or create situations that you’re ready for. If giving presentations are hard, raise your hand in a meeting and speak or take the lead in a small informal group. If you struggle going out by yourself, go to the grocery store (not to shop) but practice being around people. Pick a time when few people are there and stay longer than normal.
Things Get Worse Before They Get Better
In many cases, stopping your avoidance and confronting your fears takes courage. Your anxiety may flare up but keep practicing and it will get better. Your confidence will continue to grow. As it does, situations that once overwhelmed you won’t require a second thought.
Photo by Mirjee ….