Facing your fear without fighting or fleeing is a skill that requires practice. Before we get started, we need to be in an objective frame of mind. Let’s learn to assess your physical and mental state objectively. Stick to the facts without adding judgement, interpretation, inference or prediction because this is vital to the success of your recovery efforts. Lets look at what this means.
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When struggling with anxiety disorders – especially panic disorder and agoraphobia – we are focused almost entirely inward. We are hyper-aware of every sensation in our bodies and we spend most of our time “inside our own heads”. This means that we make a full-time career out of constantly evaluating and assessing our physical and mental state. This fuels the fear cycle, especially when we fall into the trap of adding judgement, interpretation and even predictions of the future to our self-assessment.
Often the trigger that leads to full blown panic is a simple phrase like “it feels like” or “what if“. Learning to be objective – sticking to just the facts when it comes to our thoughts and bodily sensations – is the key to getting past this common hurdle. This is especially important when it comes to the effectiveness of exposure therapy. Too many capable people label exposure therapy as a failure because “it stills feels like”. In that case its not exposure that’s failing us, its the cognitive patterns we drag into it.
Learning to be objective in our viewpoint means abandoning anything that involves predicting the future, guessing, or inferring. From a practical standpoint, this means completely abandoning the following phrases:
- I think …
- It feels like …
- What if …
- Is this …
- I can’t …
Its important to understand the difference between the following statements:
“I’m feeling unsteady and disoriented.”
“It feels like I’m going to die.”
See how the first is simply a statement of fact, while the second is a subjective interpretation of the situation? A statement of fact stops after describing observable reality. It does not attempt to predict what might happen or explain why things are happening. Its just the facts. ma’am! State the facts, then move on. Eliminating subjective interpretation is a HUGE step in not allowing that hot flash, dizzy spell or twinge in your shoulder to trigger a full on panic attack.
Of special note is the phrase “I can’t”, which will be the subject of its own podcast episode in the future. This one is particularly evil because it allows small obstacles to blown into insurmountable difficulties all due to irrational subjective interpretations. For now, I will tell you that before you ever say “I can’t”, you better be sure that you’re bleeding or have actual broken bones.What you think might happen should never lead to “I can’t”!
Finally, learning to be objective – sticking to the facts then moving on – can turn your long history with anxiety and panic into an asset! Its true. When you can think objectively and rationally instead of going into “Oh my God” mode, you can use the fact that you have not died or otherwise been damaged by the previous 10,000 panic attacks to your advantage. That might seem like common sense, but common sense does not apply when our thinking is fueled by irrational fear.
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