Curious things can start to happen when we pay attention to ourselves. Think back to any new skill you picked up as an adult – perhaps driving, art, golf, and try to recall how complex it appeared. Driving is a classic example. There’s the dials, the mirrors, the pedals and the steering, but there’s also the sense of responsibility, the rules of the road, coordinating everything, and of course people’s lives! These days you probably don’t give it a second thought, but I’ll bet there was many a sticky palm gripping the wheel in the early days.
When we pay attention to something a shift takes place from what was once ignored or somewhere in the background and it comes into sharper focus. Suddenly that dog you were thinking of getting, or that car, that coat, is everywhere. Start thinking about what you’re doing when running down a hill and you’ll likely trip yourself up. These everyday examples are familiar, in some way or another, to most of us but what’s less familiar is the attention and interpretations we make about ourselves.
If you experience panic you may have noticed how much your symptoms have increased during the day and which seem unrelated to panic. In fact these sensations can be explained in ways I’ve just mentioned. It’s a little like being worried you will get a viral infection before some important event. Suddenly your throat feels a bit sore, your joints are a bit stiff and maybe you sense you aren’t quite yourself.
In effect you aren’t experiencing more symptoms but as a person who experiences panic your attention is focused squarely on your body. Every tweak, increase in heart rate, stomach flutter, tremor and so on has taken on an importance it didn’t have before. It reinforces the fact there may be something seriously wrong with you, something medical experts haven’t been able to identify, and this worries you even more.
Perhaps you’ve also noticed symptoms more at different times of day? Many people begin to feel bad after a day at work and at times they should be relaxed. Why? The likely explanation is distraction. During the day they’ve had other things to focus on and there has been additional pressure on their time and attention. After work these distractions have subsided and allowed your symptoms to take priority. Alternative explanations, if you allow yourself to consider them, can help to relieve your symptoms. Understanding a sensation is merely a sensation is a good first step.