Undercover Panic Attacks...

What people think in their hearts gets out, no matter how hard they try to hide it.

(Munshi Premchand)

Undercover Panic Attacks

Have you ever watched reasonable enough, generally sane people turn into utter control freaks in a crisis? How about this one:

You are getting ready to go to a social event with someone who is typically a fairly reasonable human, but suddenly that person is lost in a… colorful… litany of criticisms of every single driver on the road on the way there?

What about when that generally loving and caring person starts to shoot shame arrows at seemingly random targets when something goes in an unexpected direction?

You might just be looking at an undercover panic attack.

The Lies We Are Told Anxiety and panic are deeply stigmatized in most cultures in the United States. Many people don’t understand that when human brains are anxious, they literally abandon their linear logic centers, (the neocortex.) The line where this is no longer a conscious choice can come fast and furious. The primitive brain floods the body with cortisol and adrenaline, telling all systems to go on overdrive. This forces the neocortex to disconnect. The primitive brain is taking over, and it is exclusively wired for reaction, not reason.

The person is not “in control of their emotions” in that moment. Many people in our American cultures view this as “weakness,” a “deficiency,” a “liability,” or a sign that someone is not “capable” of managing their lives. These accusations are so harsh and so prevalent that many people learn to hide their anxiety, even from themselves!

Where Does It Go? Merely pushing anxiety away is like trying to shove a partially-inflated beachball down into a swimming pool; It’s just going to fly back up somewhere else, likely with more force than ever. The body is still surging with those chemicals, but we aren’t allowing it to show itself as anxiety. So where do they go?

When we don’t have internal permission to feel or express this or that emotion, we tend to settle for the most similar internal chemistry project we can access in that moment.

For example:

Costume 1: Control The driving lie of anxiety is that all kinds of catastrophic things are going to happen, and we won’t be able to deal with them when they do.

Our minds can spin on anxious questions so quickly that we don’t even finish one before three or four others tumble out in our thinking. We don’t answer the anxious questions, so we don’t even realize just how far off the rails we are getting.

It is an extremely common human thing to imagine that controlling what happens is the thing that will make our anxiety stop. The problem with this thinking is that if we can control any part of what happens, we now believe that the only way to be safe is to control all of the things.

Some part of us knows that we don’t actually control most of the things! We are screwed.

This kind of thinking drives some people who aren’t allowed to show anxiety to channel those chemical surges into hyper-drive, trying to control everything and everyone. As they spin on the possible consequences of the current challenge, they bark orders to try to control the growing list of catastrophic things they fully expect to happen …in the unknown future.

You know what works a whole lot better? Understanding that being ok does not and has not ever depended on circumstances going a certain way. We have managed to get through each and every thing that has ever happened in our lives. Every one of them; The good, the horrible, the terrifying, the destructive, the fabulous, the safe… all of them.

That is our superpower; Not controlling the future, but rather, understanding that we will manage whatever happens.

Costume 2: Anger Some people in our cultures are given societal permission to be angry.

Often those people do not

have permission to express much of anything else. Therefore, most

emotions get converted to anger. Anger comes with a surge of adrenaline that is very similar to anxiety, but anger is allowed. Instead of showing unacceptable anxiety, many people, (disproportionately male-identified people,) channel it into anger instead.

No, he’s not feeling off balance because the idea of the social event you are going to is terrifying!

He’s just mad at all of those horrible drivers out there! OoooK.

Costume 3: Projection Some people feel so threatened by the idea of not being in control of their emotions that they revert to the Elementary School playground tactics of blame and shame. It’s as if identifying who’s fault the current situation is, somehow magically solves the situation.

It does often buffer the person from the awful feeling that they could not control or prevent the crisis at hand.

However, that has a very limited shelf-life and unnecessarily harms the people who have been assigned blame.

If you do something stupid and break your foot, does knowing it was your fault make your foot any less broken? You need medical intervention just as much if you did it to yourself as you do if someone came along with a sledgehammer and broke your foot for you.

This tactic does a deeper harm as well: The blame/shame game makes the targeted person the sacrificial lamb for the blamer/shamer’s emotions. “Here – You feel bad so that I don’t have to.” This exchange is merely a topical anesthetic for struggle. Even if it did work, no one pays me enough to do that for them.

Ok, So Now What? The next time you watch someone exhibit these kinds of behaviors, it might be helpful to ask yourself if there isn’t some anxiety hiding underneath. You may or may not be able to share that with the other person. You probably don’t want to try in that moment. (Remember, they are not in their most receptive state in this moment!)

What you can do, however, is to disconnect yourself emotionally from the delusion that you have to buy into that person’s storyline.

You can also manage the anxiety that is likely coming up in you more effectively so that at least one of you is clear thinking.

If you notice that you are exhibiting these behaviors, you’re in luck! I have six tools that can help you get your thinking brain back. Click here. After you are in your thinking brain, you can manage the thoughts that triggered your anxiety much more effectively with this handy dandy tool.

Fight the Powah! Another thing we can do, much more long term, is to stop stigmatizing anxiety in our communities. Anxiety and panic mean only one thing about a person: That they experience anxiety and panic. That’s it. No more, no less. It is body chemistry gone awry, as human body chemistry does a million different ways at different times for each and every one of us.

Let’s stop blaming and shaming when we don’t understand and don’t want to feel uncomfortable. Learning to be ok with being uncomfortable is an essential part of our growth as people. Struggle forward friends! The better, more fulfilling life you will find is well worth the struggle.

If undercover Panic Attacks are getting in your way, contact Tiffany today.

Let’s make a plan for something better!