Alex Lickerman is a physician and practices Nichiren Buddhism, and he writes a weekly blog titled Happiness in this World. Each post is calm, sane, sensible, well-reasoned, and usually includes those boldface steps on things to do or remember that us blog-readers love to bookmark yet never follow up on.
His post on How to Thwart Panic struck very close to home for me as I experienced that feeling quite a bit this past spring. As he says, the mind cannot always be trusted. It has picked up habits of thought that do not serve us anymore and that we would do well to challenge.
Alex provides good basic info, but a few details to some of his points may help.
- When you feel yourself starting to panic or feel anxious, examine the thought and try to classify it based on this list of cognitive distortions. These distortions, and the idea of mentally challenging these thoughts, was popularized by David Burns’ book Feeling Good. I would say that book, and a later book by Burns, When Panic Attacks, offer terrific advice and dozens of techniques to employ that will help you get over panic, procrastination, and other mental maladies.
- When in the throes of panic, stopping to rate the discomfort on a 1-10 or 1-100 scale is a good way to take a step back and look at yourself objectively. Moving from an all-or-nothing mindset to more of a continuum mindset has been very helpful for me.
- Burns has a very good and easy technique where you draw a line down the middle of a sheet of paper, write the anxiety-producing thought on the left side, and then on the right, identify the type of cognitive distortion you’re using, and then write a logical refutation of the bad thought. The trick to this is that your refutation has to be something your brain will believe. It can’t be a cliché; it needs to make sense. So if the bad thought is, “I’ll never get this project done,” I would identify that as a magnification error (or awfullizing as Albert Ellis would call it), and then write this refutation, “I have gotten many other projects done in the past, and I will certainly get *this* project done. I may not get it done in the next 5 minutes, but I can certainly work on a piece of it right now. I’ve found that in the past, when I start working on a project, and taking action, the anxiety tends to dissipate very quickly.”