How to Beat Panic Attacks (part 2): Coping
Having faithfully and diligently followed my advice in part 1 of the program, you now have a full four weeks of material to review and make sense of. The purpose of the exercise was to reveal something about your thoughts, your actions, your feelings and what you or others do to help your symptoms subside.
Let's focus on how you cope with a panic episode. By ‘cope', I simply mean how you dealt with the situation, not necessarily how successful it was.
The following list contains some of the most common ways of coping with panic. I'd like you to use the records you made during part 1 of the program and simply count the number of times any one or more of these occurred. If a method of coping you use regularly isn't on the list, just add it.
1. Getting away from the situation before or during panic.
2. Using some kind of prop or support (an object, a person).
3. Taking some medication.
4. Going to see the doctor, or to a hospital.
5. Trying to breathe and relax and waiting for the worst to pass.
6. Using some kind of distraction.
7. Giving yourself a good talking to or a good telling off.
As you work through the list keep a tally by placing a mark next to the category that best fits. You may find that more than one applies, in which case mark them down, for example:
1. ∕ ∕
When you have finished, take a look at your tally. It will give you an idea of the coping strategies you use the most (i.e. the one's you prefer).
Now it's time to consider the implications of these coping strategies. In this sharepost I'll focus on the first (getting away from the situation before or during panic). We'll cover the others in the next sharepost.
1.Getting away from the situation before or during panic.
This is a completely natural reaction and is all part of our ‘fight or flight' response to situations we find threatening. The great benefit of being able to avoid or run away from such situations is that it provides an almost instantaneous sense of relief. However, there are several problems associated with this form of coping that, if not checked, can easily escalate.
Avoiding or escaping threatening situations can very quickly become habit forming. Because this type of behavior is associated with symptom relief, the danger is that your tolerance to stressful situations becomes ever more diminished the more you apply it. Things you would normally have taken in your stride become things to avoid. The number of situations and events that remind you of difficult times begins to increase and the anticipation of your own difficulty in coping starts to dominate your thoughts.
Avoidance is a difficult thing to maintain, particularly if this includes your place of work, shops, public transport or simply anywhere outside the safety of your home. Paradoxically, the likelihood of a panic episode becomes ever more likely the more you avoid these situations. When the day comes that you have to go to the shop, for example, you find you have a panic attack and you ‘prove' to yourself that you were right to avoid the situation in the first place.
The examples so far have focused on situations outside the home. But home isn't necessarily a sanctuary from panic. As much as panic can spread between people it can spread within a person. Here's an example. Mary has her first panic attack at work when she is required to make a presentation in front of her colleagues. She feels ill, she makes her excuses and she avoids the presentation. Mary then becomes more reluctant to speak in front of groups. Subsequently she finds meeting people face-to-face too stressful to manage. Eventually Mary finds she can't even answer the telephone in her own home for fear she will have a panic attack.
With the thought of how avoidance can escalate, this might be a good time for you to reflect on the situations you avoid or escape from. In your diary, make a list and note down the things you do, the excuses you have to make. Also, make notes about what you fear will happen if you had to deal with the situation(s) you have avoided.