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The Road To Fort Worth

Read » Chapter 8: Danville


What We Tell Ourselves Reinforces Agoraphobia

Agoraphobia is:

1. The learned fear of having a panic attack in public places, where escape is difficult. The perception of difficult would include the obstacles of physically removing oneself from the situation and/or the obligation of having to explain why one needs to leave.

2. The fear of the embarrassment of having a panic attack in the presence of other people. Embarrassment is feeling self-conscious that we'll look as strange as we feel in a society that still has a bias against mental illness.

Our concern with how others view us is based on several factors: the way that we were raised, the value that society places on self image, our own perception about self-image and society's bias against mental illness.

Remember the deodorant commercial with the tag line that said, "It's alright to sweat, but it's not alright to show it?" The commercial summarizes our collective social consciousness concerning stress. It is alright to show it, but you have to give yourself permission to do so. Having a panic attack in public is not against the law as long as you're not a danger to yourself or others.

Affect, in large part, is a result of our thinking. If physically, we are what we eat, then emotionally, we are what we think. The thoughts that precede the necessity to revisit a place that we fear spiral into obsessive worry.

A person who has experienced several panic attacks in a restaurant avoids going out to dinner because they feel trapped in the situation. Then the day comes when they're required by business or family to dine at a restaurant.

First, the person will try to think up excuses for not attending the function, and failing to do so, may become preoccupied with the event. The internal dialogue goes something like this. "What if I have a panic attack in the restaurant? Then what? I cannot bear to have another panic attack." He or she may become so obsessed with worry that they conclude that "I'm not going, no matter what the consequences. I can't do it. I know that I'm going to freak out." And if this isn't enough circular thinking to drive anyone crazy, the spiraling thoughts continue with the determination that they have to attend the event. Then, the biggest worry of all presents itself. "When I have the panic attack, I'll look like a fool and everyone will think that I'm crazy."

Who wouldn't panic after investing so much time and energy in worrying about some future event? Self-conscious, anxious people tend to give others a kind of empowerment that is unwarranted. After having x number of panic attacks without making a fool of oneself, going crazy or dying, the obsessive thoughts do not reach a logical conclusion.

Part of the solution is to change one's internal dialog to a more positive note. "If I have a panic attack, then I'll excuse myself, get some fresh air, use the facilities, or if it's really bad, I can say that I'm ill and have to leave." People don't require additional information when they think that someone is ill. The other part of the equation is that it doesn't matter if someone approves of your behavior when it's within legal boundaries. Learning to face fearful situations is the process of learning to trust yourself and increasing your self-esteem. The process begins with empowering yourself and divesting the power you entitle to others.

The "what if" clause in a thought has to be countered with positive affirmations. "What if the experience is awful, then I'll handle the situation as it arises. I refuse to waste another second of my life worrying about anything, especially some scenario that I've created in my mind."

This is all a simplified version of the process of changing the way we view events in a stressful, worrisome manner by examining our thinking and countering "what if" thoughts with positive affirmations. It takes time to counter mistaken beliefs. The process begins when one realizes that he's a victim of his own thinking. Anxiety will begin to decrease when he gives himself permission to leave an anxiety producing situation if he needs to do so. Usually, he won't have to leave, and then the process of learning how to deal with panic attacks in place without making them seem like a catastrophic event can begin.

Copyright ©2012 Michael Jackson Smith


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