Meloncauli is a former nurse and anxiety management therapist. She hopes everyone can take something away from her articles.
Long-standing panic disorder can create a multitude of bad habits. The longer we suffer, the cleverer we become at learning how to live with this disorder as opposed to addressing it and becoming recovered. We often don’t like to disclose this side of our problem as we fear someone will force us to face our fears.
Given the terror that panic disorder can cause, the thought of facing it all can seem so overwhelming that we tend to learn how to adapt so that we may carry on having a modicum of normality. We sometimes realize that our altered behavior isn’t helping us to recover, but the habits grow, and as long as we feel we are comforted by them, we will continue down this path.
I am going to look at four behaviors that help to keep our anxiety and fear alive even though we believe they are helping us. Taking responsibility for your panic or fear problem is a big step towards your recovery.
1. Is This Really Panic Disorder?
To keep thinking the doctor may have got it wrong and you are suffering something worse than an anxiety problem is common. The weird sensations, the alarming thoughts, and the physical symptoms of anxiety and panic all prompt us to disbelieve. Often a new symptom can come out of the blue, and we fall prey to seeking internet diagnosis. We put our symptoms in a Google search, and hey presto, we have a serious illness. Seek, and you shall find!
The physical aspects resulting from anxiety and feeling panic cause so many different symptoms that it will be easy to assume your doctor may have missed something. The symptoms you feel are very real, but only so because your thinking has told your flight or fight response to kick into gear. You initiated the way you feel by thinking fearful thoughts. There are a mere few seconds between that uneasy feeling and an adrenaline rush.
There are some medical problems that can mimic your symptoms, but any good doctor will want to rule out these with tests at the outset. If in doubt, you should see your doctor and then accept his opinion. Completely resist self-diagnosis on the internet as it serves only to add more fear. The mistrust needs to be nipped in the bud as this behavior can lead to a chronic health anxiety disorder.
If you know you are guilty of this behavior, make a pact with yourself today to stop looking for another answer and to totally accept that your symptoms are a result of anxiety and fear. Trust your doctors, as they can't afford to get it wrong.
2. Crutches or Safety Behaviors
You are going into town or out socializing. You already have a lot of apprehension building up and are frantically seeking out all the negative scenarios in your mind. You need to know that you will be ok and be able to escape to the safety of your home if the need arises. You need a mobile phone with you that is charged up. You need telephone numbers for a cab or someone who you might need to call on. You need a bottle of water because sometimes when you have a panic attack, you find it hard to swallow, but most of all, you need your Xanax or Valium.
Recognize this behavior? These are crutches, and your pattern of thinking is seeking out your safety at all costs. Of course, safety behaviors could be taken to the extreme of avoiding going out at all, initiating or worsening an agoraphobia problem, but for those who attempt to carry on with as much normality as possible, these crutches will seem imperative.
Ditch those crutches! I can hear you recoiling in horror but believe me, by doing so, you will begin to face your problems head-on, not avoid them. Crutches and safety behaviors only serve to keep the anxiety and panic disorder alive. Why? Because they remind us that we feel unsafe and that not feeling safe is the main instigator of fear and panic.
We worry if we haven’t got these things at hand, and we are trying to avoid worry in order to recover. What if you forgot one of your crutches, your Xanax, or your phone? When you get to your destination, you will surely panic purely because you have forgotten them; it’s that simple. Resist taking these things out with you. Wean yourself slowly off them. Your benzodiazepines will be the last you will ditch, and this must be done wisely and with the support of a doctor, but you can help yourself enormously by slowly lessening the other crutches.
NOTE: Of course, some of you will be taking SSRI medication, and this should not be stopped abruptly. Always see your doctor before weaning off anti-anxiety medication.
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3. Becoming a Needy Person
Leaning or relying on others is another bad habit that serves to keep your panic disorder a chronic problem. The people that we lean on may not seem to mind most of the time, but believe me, underneath all the nodding of understanding, is an element of frustration and impatience on their part. No one wants to be so needed that their lives are affected by your problem. Marriages can break up because of this, and you may think that awful, but spare a thought for the way your disorder affects those around you. This is said not to make you feel guilty but to make you understand that this is your problem and you must take responsibility for it.
You may rely on someone to drive you everywhere, to do the shopping for you, to refuse those social invitations on your behalf, and so on, but you are simply feeding your problem. It is, of course, a good idea to take your partner along with you to doctor appointments to discuss your problem and treatment. The people around you do need to know why you feel as you do and what to expect but be wary of abusing their kindness and offers of help.
Sometimes a partner or others make the problem worse by offering a lot of help without being asked. It’s easy to accept but also easy to latch on to that help. Be brave; moderation is perhaps key here. Realize that until you take full responsibility for your anxiety and panic problems, they will continue. Needing people to such a large degree serves to remind you that you are incapable!
All of the behaviors above are a way of avoiding your problem. The longer you avoid addressing the problem, the longer you stay in the same place with it. In fact, avoidance causes us to get worse. Maybe it should be called avoidance syndrome. It is easy to avoid. It is easy to look at yourself as ill and easier still to just give in to it all and not face your fears. You may think life seems tough enough as it is without actually encouraging a panic attack, but you are doing that anyway by placating your fear levels. The only sure way to rid you of panic attacks or panic disorder is to do something about it.
For every time you allow your fears to stop you in your tracks, stop you doing things you would normally do, you are effectively saying, I can't do this as I have an illness, or I have a good excuse not to do this because I have a recognized disorder. Taking responsibility is a good start. Total acceptance is a must. The doing is the undoing with panic disorder. Facing your fears can actually be rewarding, and by building on the tiniest of successes, you will gain confidence. Confidence will propel you forwards towards recovery. If you know you are avoiding situations or dealing with the problem, go out and experience the situation head-on.
Take the plunge. Yes, it seems very scary at first, but with constant practice and great determination, you will see things improve. Stop avoiding today. No more self-diagnosing; vow to lessen the burden on others and wean yourself off those crutches.
No one can magic away your anxiety. Make some decisions and take responsibility for your own recovery.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.
Jennifer B from Bolingbrook on December 25, 2017:
very good article. I just got diagnosed in November so this is all very new to me. I took too long to get a therapist and a doctor involved because of the whole stigma of people thinking your crazy.
meloncauli (author) from UK on April 16, 2012:
Thanks for the comment Nordy. Yes, I agree. The sheer numbers of people suffering anxiety disorders means that much of the time it's a half help affair.
Nordy from Canada on April 14, 2012:
Excellent hub. Where I work currently (my "day job"), I see a lot of people encouraging clients to use safety behaviours unwittingly because it's a sort of standard way to manage the crisis, but it unnerves me so much as I know the long term complications of relying on them. Thanks for sharing, it's important people know!
meloncauli (author) from UK on April 08, 2012:
Thanks for the comments Pamela. I learned about panic attacks the hard way!
Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on April 07, 2012:
I'm sure it is scary to have a panic disorder. You made a lot of good points in your hub. Voted up and useful.