Rescuing yourself from anxiety and panic

When you have become isolated and lonely in a relationship you often find that you are thinking and feeling more about those around you rather than less. You may spend may spend many hours alternating between  listing your grievances and hurts and then fantasizing about what you wish it could be, what it should be- if only others would wake up and appreciate what you truly have to offer.

Two important questions you can ask yourself when you find yourself in this situation are: “What do I really need?” and “What am I trying not to feel?”  Being emotionally overwhelmed most often grows out of feeling of panic that there is something you need and that if you do not get it you will not be able to survive. Teenagers provide classic examples of this all the time- “If he/she doesn’t like me I will just die!!“.  Yet most often they do.

At the same time you may focus on feelings of loneliness and fantasies of finding the perfect relationship as way not to address other thoughts and feelings. You may be avoiding memories of past hurts or moments of perceived failure. Distracting yourself even with painful thoughts becomes a way to avoid those memories, thoughts, or feelings which would seem catastrophic if you had to face them.

Breaking free from these crippling thoughts and emotions is challenging yet can be successful with your effort and help from others. A principle that I have found very useful for myself and others is “rescuing the drowning man”. When you are emotionally overwhelmed you are ‘drowning’ in emotions and negative thinking. You are panicked that you will be pulled under and never come up again.

Life guards recognize that in order to save a drowning person they have to first calm the person and then move in to save them. The same principle applies in overcoming emotional overload. Saying to yourself “STOP” will be a critical move in regaining control. This self-talk can be paired with imagining that you are standing away from that part of yourself that is panicked and floundering.

Establishing a part of yourself creates a degree of safety and allows you distance to gain perspective and problem solve. From this perspective you can offer your panicked self reassurance- “You will be okay”, “You will not die- I can help you”, “Tell me what you need”.  Give yourself clear directions as well as permission to give the ‘higher self’ control. Understand that giving up control may difficult for you panicked self and it may take time. Be patient and stay close.

When you have calmed and returned the panicked part of yourself to safety you are ready to address those around you. Communicate as best you can the struggle you have experienced using “I” statements: “I am having a very difficult time feeling safe when…”.

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jwalk1162Rescuing yourself from anxiety and panic

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