Since my first panic attack 18 years ago I have spent a good part of my life worrying about having another panic attack. How many panic attacks have I actually had? Maybe 75? How many hours have I spent worrying about having a panic attack? I can’t even begin to calculate but I know it’s in the thousands.
The fear of having a panic attack has caused me to miss out on a lot of wonderful opportunities in my life. I have missed out on promotions at work, vacations, parties, reunions with friends and family and so much more. It has prevented me from being there for people when I should have been.
Panic attacks are the reason I am afraid to fly. This fear has caused me to give up the opportunity to travel for work and fun. I am afraid of a situation that will bring me discomfort but will not effect my health. The fear is so strong I let it stop me from doing things even though I know a panic attack won’t hurt me.
I don’t like leaving my comfort zone because I am afraid this will cause a panic attack. I avoid driving far distances by myself and I hate sleeping away from home. I have always had a fear of turning into a hermit that doesn’t leave their home. I can see how people find themselves in that situation. Your safety net gets smaller and smaller if you let it.
Why does this fear effect my life in such a big way? I wish I knew and I wish I could stop it. Eighteen years, thousands of hours in therapy, thousands of happy pills swallowed and thousands of breathing exercises later I still don’t have the answer. I have been on a never ending journey to manage my anxiety. I have given up on trying to “cure” it.
When I am panicky I focus on the worst case scenario to make myself feel better. I find that if I focus on the absolute worse thing that will happen then I can see that it’s not as scary as my mind and body are telling me it is. So what is the absolute worst case scenario for me? I would say dying, going crazy or losing control.
If I have a panic attack am I going to die? No. If I have a panic attack am I going to “go crazy” and end up in a mental hospital. Probably not. And am I going to lose control of myself? No. When I am having a panic attack I feel out of control but I’m really not. I can’t speak for everyone who has had a panic attack, but for myself I have never lost the ability to physically and mentally do things. I can’t stop the physical reactions from my anxiety or the scary thoughts in my head but I can make my body do whatever I need it to do like get up and walk around. Even if I can’t stop the negative thoughts in my head it’s not like I am hallucinating or losing my ability to think and speak.
Another worst case scenario for me is the embarrassment of people knowing I am having a panic attack. Besides a few of my closest family members and friends I am afraid of people finding out about my anxiety. I don’t want people to know I am having a panic attack while I am having one. It is a lot easier to tell people “I had a panic attack before” but it is terrifying to say “I am having a panic attack right now”.
Part of me is afraid I will freak them out and they will make a big deal about it. I hate attention especially when I am feeling anxious. I have no desire to become the center of attention when having a panic attack. If I am in a group situation the fear of embarrassing myself is amplified. Imagine a whole room full of people staring at you while you are having a panic attack? It sounds like a nightmare! I am afraid people will think I am crazy or that something is wrong with me.
What is the worst that will happen? Will I be embarrassed? Hell Yes! Will I lose my health, my home, my husband and kids? No! Nothing awful is really going to happen to me. If people want to judge me and talk about me behind my back then let them. If embarrassment is the worst case scenario in my life then I will be okay. They aren’t good people if they make fun of me so why do I care?
If the worst case scenario when having a panic attack really isn’t that bad then I shouldn’t be so scared. I wish I could tell myself this and believe it every time I am experiencing a panic attack. It has helped me calm down in the past but this exercise isn’t bullet proof. I am sharing this strategy in hopes it can help other people when they are feeling overwhelmed by their anxiety. Here is an outline of what I think about when I am focusing on the worst case scenario.
Worst Case Scenario When Having A Panic Attack
- You will not die, go crazy or lose control.
- You can go to the emergency room and they will help you. You will be okay and you will live.
- You can take time to regroup – Pull over if driving, leave any situation you are in and go outside and focus on your breathing.
- Tell someone you are having a panic attack and need help. Don’t feel bad or embarrassed. Most people are good people and they will help you. If they don’t then that is their problem and there are always people that will help you.
- Don’t feel bad or embarrassed about doing what you need to do to take care of yourself during a panic attack.
- There is medication that will calm your down (like xanax).
- You can go to http://www.mentalhealth.gov for resources and information.
- You can call a mental health crisis center- you can call SAMHSA- 1-877-726-4727. They will give you general information and tell you about locale treatment services in your area. They are available M-F – 8am-8pm.
- If you are having a serious mental health crisis or need the suicide prevention lifeline call- 1-800-273-8255 (veterans can press 1).
I hope this helps you!