The message 'This is tough but so are we' has been chalked on a wall of my local shop. It’s been there since the very start of lockdown. Whenever I’ve looked at it and taken it in again, I’ve always fully agreed with its sentiment.
STRUGGLES WITH PANIC ATTACKS
I know from my past experience of dealing with and then accepting horrendous panic disorder that I have inner strength and resilience. You undoubtedly possess this too! Even if it’s just raising yourself out of bed in the morning, as sometimes finding the physical energy to do so can seem like a mammoth task. This is especially so when your mental processes are in overdrive, and you feel absolute exhaustion plus that ongoing knot in your stomach, before you’ve had breakfast. Something keeps you going, and challenges the anxiety even on your worst days.
YOUR INNER RESOURCES AND RESILIENCE
This part of you is your drive, your hope and your inner resilience. It will strengthen as you learn to accept and embrace the anxiety. It’s the part of you that challenges the anxiety to come and do it’s worst, so that you can practice acceptance and not add secondary fear or anticipatory anxiety. Both of the latter are similar in nature. Secondary fear is the bunch of rapid alarmed thoughts you have when anxiety strikes, for example ‘Oh no, my voice/legs/arms are wobbling. I’m going to collapse/run out of the room/go mad/die.’ By intercepting these thoughts and dampening them down by telling yourself ‘It’s just a physiological reaction to the adrenaline my body has released. It’s temporary. It will end. It’s a chemical reaction’ or ‘I am going to be OK. Come on anxiety do your worst. I have faced you before, and I can get through this again.’ Anticipatory anxiety is the anxiety that builds up when you think about an event you are attending in the future.
ACCEPTING AND EMBRACING ANXIETY
Accepting and therefore embracing anxiety, means consciously stopping the chain reaction of fearful thought on top of fearful thought. This is replaced with acknowledgement of the physiological, emotional and mental symptoms of anxiety and a knowing that these will run their course. This knowing is gained from understanding how the anxiety response works on our brains and bodies. The beauty of this is that it’s the same for everyone, it can be learned and it provides some comfort that your extreme anxiety is nothing unusual, that it follows a set pattern.
PRACTISING ACCEPTANCE OF ANXIETY
Of course, acceptance isn’t an effortless process as it requires repeated doing until it becomes more habitual. Dr Claire Weekes says that by practising accepting, “…you earn the little voice that says, ‘It doesn’t matter anymore if panic comes!’ this is the only voice to listen to. It is your staff, and will always come to help you in setbacks, even if you find yourself almost helpless on the floor”. Very wise words indeed.
Try practising acceptance today, and let me know how you go below.