Paul Cockayne – 07791 970406 – firstname.lastname@example.org
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It was the “Dad’s Army” character, Corporal Jones, who I first remember using the phrase “Don’t Panic” – as he dashed around, panicking frantically, while everyone else was perfectly calm. And then “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galazy” carried the same words in “large, friendly letters” on the front cover, and offered the additional advice always to carry a towel.
Panic attacks are no laughing matter, of course, and being told not to panic or to carry a towel is not necessarily especially helpful. But there are things you can do to help yourself, and I think they fall into three categories.
The first category is about things you can do if you are suffering a panic attack, or feel you are about to. The earlier you can spot it coming, the easier it is to deal with – you may be able to take preventative measures, so being aware of the feelings and the physical signs that presage an attack can be really useful. Then you can take steps to avert it, or minimise its effect. What steps those might be are very personal – you need to think about the things that help you – you need to develop a coping strategy. Corporal Jones’ flapping around might be seen as a coping strategy – presumably he felt better dashing about than sitting still – and some of your coping strategies might be physical – taking exercise, or taking a bath, or deep breathing, for example. As well as that, there will probably be mental things you can do to ease the panic – telling yourself that it will pass, giving yourself positive messages, or distracting yourself in some way. It can be a good idea to write down your various coping mechanisms and carry them with you – maybe even laminate them.
You might think that carrying some laminated paper around with you will not prevent panic attacks, but actually it can be a significant help, because having a coping strategy, having a clear plan, reduces your anxiety about the possibility of an attack, and the less anxious you are, the less likely you are to panic. However, lamination is not a complete answer, any more than a towel would be – and the second category of things you can do is about reducing the chances of a panic attack. To do this you need to think about and analyse the causes of your panicking. This might be easy – public transport, being alone, speaking in public might be clear causes. In other cases it can be more difficult to see common threads and then it can be useful to keep a diary, recording where and when panic attacks occur and looking for patterns that emerge. And keeping a diary in itself can reduce your anxiety because you are taking positive steps to manage your anxiety – you have a plan.
Having identified the patterns, you can hope to avoid situations where you are likely to panic or to prepare yourself mentally before going in to a danger situation. In some cases this can be straightforward and very helpful – in other cases it can be difficult to achieve. If you are fearful of going out, you can shut yourself in the house – but you may then be exchanging one problem for a bigger one.
The third category of things you can do is about stopping the attacks altogether and here it is usually very useful to understand the root causes. If you find yourself becoming very anxious when you are late for an appointment, for example, you might try thinking about how lateness has affected your life – as an adult and also as a child – and sometimes it can emerge that the origins of your panic come from someone else. If your mum was afraid of thunder, your fear of thunder might be more about what it was and a young child like to see your mum panicking, than about the thunder itself. It is not necessarily easy – or even possible – to identify root causes, but if you are able to understand the roots of our fears, it can the be possible to “re-programme” your brain to deal with them in a different, calmer way – although in fact sometimes the understanding on its own seems to be enough to bring about change.
So – three approaches – sometimes all three can be helpful – sometimes one is significantly more helpful than the others. And while “Don’t Panic!” is good advice and carrying a towel is just common sense, the most effective remedies are the ones that work best for you, not for other people.