Whisper this to yourself.
Tattoo it on your heart.
Forget your tangled thicket of thought. Forget your confusion, and your doubt, and your fear.
Forget all that isn’t you…
Follow your breath through every step of its journey. Accompany it as it enters your lungs. Feel yourself expand, bigger, bigger, so much bigger than what troubles you.
Revel in its fullness.
…and let go.
Fill up. Let go. Repeat.
Such is the rhythm of healing.
Honor your pain. Honor your anxiety.
But do not, under any circumstances, believe them…
…and never, ever, become them.
The whole wood seemed running now, running hard, hunting, chasing, closing in round something or – somebody? In panic, he began to run too, aimlessly, he knew not whither.
— Kenneth Grahame
Unfortunately, for many of us, intense fear is unavoidable—as are the well-intentioned but misguided reactions of others. Those we encounter during our harried peregrinations mean well, but their words can inadvertently amplify our distress.
If you meet someone suffering from anxiety/panic (and you will—we are legion), these are the five things NOT to say:
1) Calm down.
This is my favorite—and the one that elicits the strongest urge to punch someone in the face. Panic is not the least bit amenable to suggestion. If it were that simple, none of us would panic—ever.
Telling me to “calm down” places the spotlight on your discomfort (“OMFG THIS PERSON IS FREAKING OUT WHAT DO I DO!!”) while doing nothing to alleviate mine.
2) You don’t look anxious.
Not all sufferers sweat and tremble. In fact, many of us have become Oscar-worthy actors in hiding our discomfort.
It is an acquired skill, and a necessary one: since panic sufferers are not kindly looked upon, we are forced to keep ourselves concealed, chameleon-like, as we go about our daily lives.
When we tell you we’re anxious/panicking, believe us. Accusing us of lying—which is precisely what your doubt does, however unintentionally—only exacerbates our malaise.
3) Was it something I said/did?
No. If my panic/anxiety is of the social variety, then you are but the embodiment (just one person) of a much wider trigger (people).
It is true that someone who fears spiders will scream in terror at the sight of one; however, that individual spider is not the cause of that person’s terror—all spiders everywhere are.
Additionally, seeing your distress only worsens mine, as now I begin to feel guilty and self-conscious, full of regret that my inability to function has brought you discomfort.
Basically, unless you went out of your way to provoke my anxiety/panic, you are NOT to blame.
4) Is there anything I can do to ease your anxiety?
Again, your question is well-intentioned but pointless. Sensing your distress (and implicit sense of guilt—since you believe you can help me, you must, on some level, also believe that you aggravated my condition) only amplifies mine.
Your question calls attention to my unease, making me more self-conscious and sending my panic into overdrive.
Simply put: stay calm. If you don’t make a big deal out of my panic, then perhaps neither will I.
5) Do such-and-such; I heard it helps.
Many of us panic sufferers are amateur pharmacists/herbalists of the highest caliber. We have tried every remedy under the sun.
Being reminded of how few treatments have actually worked only increases our sense of futility.
That said, if you are a fellow sufferer who has found an effective remedy, then by all means tell us!
I try not to worry about the future – so I take each day just one anxiety attack at a time.
Worry: The Elephant
Worry is an elephant sitting on my chest.
Like all elephants, this one remembers everything. No failure, slight, or trauma escapes its recollection.
Worries are residual ripples of memory.
Weird thing is, our subconscious minds can’t tell the past from the future. To them, all that has ever occurred or will occur is always already here. All our past demons are kept in suspended animation, no longer alive yet not quite vanquished.
The venom of snakebites past still slumbers in us—and, when awakened often enough, kills us.
As past and future converge, the worry elephant sits on my chest and squeezes the air out of me.
Here’s the other thing about elephants, though: they are friendly, affable creatures.
Unless actively confronted, they leave you alone. Worst-case scenario, they approach you for a friendly pat on the head—or a banana.
You need not fear them—and you need not fear worry, either.
Acknowledge it. Give it a friendly wave. Feed it a banana now and then.
Better yet: hitch a ride on the elephant’s back. Use nervous energy as fuel to propel you. Burn it in service to your goals.
(Please don’t burn an actual elephant, though. That’s just cruel.)
Turn worry into an ally, and you reach your destination much faster.
- I become aware of my need to control.
- I acknowledge my need to control.
- I release my need to control.
It is a letting go of the need to control anything—including the process of letting go.
[E]verything you ask and pray for, believe that you have it already, and it will be yours. And when you stand in prayer, forgive whatever you have against anybody, so that your Father in heaven may forgive your failings too.
“[B]elieve that you have it already, and it will be yours.”
This line appears ad nauseam in almost all self-help/New Age literature.
Very rarely, however, does anyone cite what follows:
“And when you stand in prayer, forgive whatever you have against anybody, so that your Father in heaven may forgive your failings too.”
In other words: if you wish to receive, let go.
Thinking about receiving is well and good, but giving something up makes us uneasy. We associate it with loss, with being and becoming less.
We are all too willing to utter affirmations, visualize fat bank accounts, and adorn pretty vision boards. Very rarely, however, are we willing to free up space.
All wish to receive; none wish to release:
- Release the need to control;
- Release the need to acquire;
- Release personal stories/narratives;
- Release the need for peace/money/comfort/anything and everything we think we need;
- Release perceived slights at the hands of others.
Surrendering is the missing element in Self-Help literature.
To invite more of anything into my life, I must first purge it—purge myself—of all that is unnecessary, burdensome and false.
Nothing new will ever enter my life until the old is left behind for good.