Decide to Face Your Panic Symptoms
Another common expression in the martial arts is, “Love the mat.” In other words, during the learning process you’ll find yourself, again and again, lying flat out on the mat after your opponent gets the best of you. By embracing challenging experiences as a necessary part of your training, you reduce your resistance to the learning process. “Love the mat” is a winning attitude of the student who knows that she doesn’t always get to be in control.
The only way to get the best of panic is to face the symptoms directly and practice your skills. Many people make the error of designing practice sessions in which they enter the fearful situations until the point that they feel discomfort. Then they retreat. This approach makes their recovery process long, slow and arduous.
This task — of provoking your symptoms — requires courage. Think of courage as “being scared and doing it anyway.” This way, as you face panic, you don’t have to get rid of fear, you need to add courage. In fact, you only need courage in fearful situations!
Provoking your symptoms is exactly what I encourage you to do. Don’t wait until your weekly schedule puts you into a panicky situation. Set up events that will provoke your distress. Some would say that this goes beyond courage to stupidity. It’s like being in the jungle and running toward the lion’s roar. But that is the move, and the expression “run toward the roar” will be a useful reminder.
If your symptoms suddenly end without any effort on your part, that will be a wonderful experience. However, you will still be open to blackmail by panic because you have yet to learn how to respond to the symptoms when they come. If at any point in the future the symptoms return, you’ll be back at ground zero: reacting to panic with many of the eight expected attitudes. Although it is difficult to push yourself into situations that make you anxious, those efforts will help inoculate you against panic’s control of your future.
Your job here is to be proactive, not reactive. Don’t wait for the anxiety-provoking situations to arrive. Look around your world for ways to stir up trouble. Ask yourself, “What can I do to get myself anxious today?”
I can still remember Mary B.’s words: “Come on, panic, give me your best shot.” Here’s how she set the scene. “I was at the library gathering some research for a paper. After about twenty or thirty minutes I suddenly started feeling quite anxious and confined. I really wanted to run out of there. My body started shaking, I felt lightheaded and I lost all concentration on my work. Then, I don’t know how it came to me, but I decided to take the bull by the horns. I walked to the end of the row of shelves and sat down cross-legged on the floor. (I didn’t want to crack my head open if I fainted.) Then I said, ‘Come on, panic, give me your best shot.’ And I just sat there. I sat there and took it. Within two or three minutes all the symptoms stopped. I got up and finished my work, which required about three more hours in the library.”
That was quite a learning experience for Mary B. Before that night she would have left the building immediately upon noticing her symptoms, gone straight home, never finished that research and mentally kicked herself over the next two or three weeks for having failed at her task.
The nature of panic is that it produces involuntary symptoms in your body. By voluntarily seeking out those symptoms you begin to change panic. You take away its involuntary nature, and start to shift the control over to you. So as you accept this challenge of “I want to face the symptoms to gain skills,” remember to love the mat and run toward the roar.