One of the large, hindering factors in trying to overcome anxiety is the imaginative pre-emption of negative future events. People with social anxiety, and also those with panic disorder, often catastrophise situations in their minds without even approaching or undertaking it. One of these situations is merely venturing outside in the public domain. They conclude, even though they may know it’s irrational, that something horrendous may happen: ranging from large scale embarrassment to the extremes of sudden death. A big reason why people with anxiety are agoraphobic, or refuse to go outside alone, is because they have adopted this irrational philosophy.
Further to this, it is common for people who have experienced panic attacks to be apprehensive of experiencing another one. After all they are simply terrifying to the person who goes through it. A panic attack occurs when the overwhelming feelings of intense fear, crippling dread and a loss of control overwhelm a person. When someone has been subjected to these feelings it is of no wonder that they try their all to apprehend another one from happening again. However, this leads to crippling and counter productive behaviours in some people.
People are often so traumatised by a panic attack that they shape their behaviours and lifestyles in order to ‘avoid’ one from happening again. Unfortunately, this means sacrificing doing many ‘normal’ things that they once did or that most people do every day. Going outside, for example, becomes an arduous task due to being fearful of a panic attack striking at any moment. Anxiety and fear of a panic attack happening becomes the forefront of any decision making. Unfortunately, this stops people from going into public and resuming their lives as normal, or relying on other people to be their emotional crutch if they are to venture outside.
At The Panic Room we work with people whose lives are hindered by this fear. During his battle with panic disorder, Joshua was often confined to the walls of his home due to experiencing many panic attacks. He has worked with clients who have been in situations and has collated some information and advice for people who a fearful of having a panic attack in public. Below is what you should do if you start to feel the onset of panic in public:
- Remember that your reaction defines how ‘scary’ the panic attack is
When you can feel that initial, sudden change within the body, usually when the stomach does a little flip or that you feel like someone has put 50 volts into your bloodstream, you must just focus on your reaction. It is this reaction that can do most of the work for you. If you immediately remind yourself that this feeling is just anxiety and that it will pass then this rationalisation will go a long way from preventing a full blow out. Regardless of where you are whether it be a supermarket, on the street, on public transport or even in an airport, just immediately focus on your initial reaction to the wave of panic – it can be tamed.
- Remind yourself that it’s just adrenaline
That rushing feeling of unease at the start of an anxious episode is just the body’s reaction to adrenaline within the bloodstream. This adrenaline causes the mind to rush and the body to tense up. This is completely normal and nothing bad will happen. When we’re in a public space these feelings may feel intensified. If your breathing starts to change then simply allow it, which is contrary to the belief that we must ‘control’ our breathing. In other words, just go with what it happening and try to keep your reaction as calm as possible.
- You don’t look as strange as you think
In public spaces it is common to fear embarrassment, particularly when carrying around an anxiety problem and suffering from persistent panic attacks. If you feel the rush of anxiety then don’t just automatically assume that you are looking and acting differently to others. The feelings of panic are horrible but actually do little to affect your exterior – the feelings are mostly internal. Therefore, do not assume that you’re immediately going to embarrass yourself.
- Focus your mind elsewhere
The more you feed the catastrophic thoughts during initial panic, then the more adrenaline is released into the bloodstream. This causes the rapid heartbeats, the lightheadedness, the inability to concentrate and strange feelings of detachment from yourself and surroundings. A good way to stop the worry from spiralling out of control is to immediately concentrate all of your focus on something. This may be playing a game on your mobile phone, counting in 7’s, listing all the countries in Africa, replaying a song in your head or just being mindful of your surroundings. There are many ways to focus the mind elsewhere so try and work out what works best for you.
- Be mindful of the disappearing feeling
It is extremely important to notice when the adrenaline and cortisol levels start to lower and the nervous system starts to calm. When you notice this, it means you are over the hill and strolling down calmly to the bottom – to the end of your anxious episode. The more you actually observe your anxiety and panic the more ‘in tune’ you become with it. When you notice even the slightest ease of tension and worry during a panic attack in public, then make a mental note of this as it will help you in the present and for the future. Be careful not to trigger yet more adrenaline during this period. Even though it is harmless, the feelings that accompany adrenaline aren’t nice to experience, therefore try your best to be positively mindful of your body calming.
- Do not run
You know that panic attacks and anxiety in general are harmless in themselves. They are merely a product of what adrenaline, cortisol and a sensitive nervous system do to our bodies. However, the mind if a powerful thing and can form associations with people, places and objects as part of the brain’s defence mechanism. Therefore, if you’re dealing with a panic attack in public, it is important that you don’t strengthen any negative associations with what you perceive to be a scary situation. If you feel like you’re panicking in public then do not run. By running away you are reinforcing the irrational belief that the place is ‘dangerous’ and therefore it’ll make things slightly more difficult next time. Try and stick it out and see what happens; you’ll be pleasantly surprised!
If anxiety is preventing you from being out in public then The Panic Room may be able to help. For more information please Contact Us using the details provided.