Create Short-Term Tasks to Beat Panic Attacks
In this planning stage, the third step is to identify specific actions that will move you from your abilities today to the abilities needed to reach you goals. Practice this step now by picking one of your Short-term Goals. Think of and write down a list of related tasks, which gradually move you closer to accomplishing that Goal. The first item should be a low-risk experience that you can imagine accomplishing soon. Each successive item should include a little more risk-taking and should move you a little closer to your Goal.
Don’t worry about creating the perfect schedule. Later, as you begin using this schedule, you will revise it based on your experience. Simply outline a stepwise approach to accomplishing your Goal. Here is an example.
Example: Short-term Tasks – Driving
Comfortably drive a two-mile loop on the roads around my house.
- Map out a two-mile loop on the roads around my house.
- With a supportive person driving, ride as a passenger on this loop, noticing all the opportunities to pull over to the side of the road or to turn off on a side road, all the gas stations, stores, driveways, and telephone booths that are accessible to me.
- Drive this loop during a non-rush-hour time with a supportive person as passenger.
- Drive this loop during a rush-hour time with a supportive person as passenger.
- Drive this loop during a non-rush-hour time with a supportive person driving another car directly behind me.
- Drive this loop during a non-rush-hour time with a supportive person driving another car several cars behind me.
- Repeat #5 during rush-hour.
- Repeat #6 during rush-hour.
- Drive alone, with my support person waiting to meet me at a stopping point half-way along the route. Then have my support person leave before me and wait for me at the end of the loop.
- Drive the entire loop alone while my support person waits at the finish.
- Drive the entire loop alone while my support person waits by a telephone at another location.
FUTURE SHORT-TERM GOALS: Repeat all these steps for different loops and for longer distances, until I can confidently drive any distance I desire.
In order to look forward to the adventures of your life without fearing panic, one short-term goal must be to tolerate mild to moderate symptoms of anxiety. If you can accept those symptoms arising on occasion, and if you can trust in your ability to manage them, then your fear of them will diminish.
Once you set this Short-term Goal of learning to tolerate symptoms, you can establish short-term tasks. Practicing the breathing and Calming Response exercises in this book is a good first start. During this same early stage of learning you can begin listening for your Negative Observer comments (worried, self-critical, or hopeless thoughts) . Once you discover how your thoughts consistently reinforce your sense of fear, you can begin to practice Supportive Observer comments or other disruptive techniques. In this way you slowly chip away at panic.
Example: Short-term Tasks – Tolerating Anxiety
Learn to tolerate symptoms of anxiety
In the next five days, I will
- Practice breathing skills 10 times a day
- Listen for and write down Negative Observer comments
- Practice Negative Thought Stopping daily
- Practice Supportive Observer comments whenever anxious
Make Your Tasks Reachable
There is always a step that is within your reach. If you feel incapable of accomplishing any of your tasks, you must create smaller and smaller steps until you find one to which you can say, “I wonder if I can do that? It seems within my reach.” For instance, you don’t begin learning public speaking skills by placing yourself at the podium in front of a thousand people. You learn by talking into a tape recorder and then listening to your voice, by telling more stories to your friends during dinner conversations, or by imagining yourself comfortably addressing a small group of friends.
If you fear panicking while you drive, the thought of taking a cross-country trip might by overwhelming. What can you imagine doing? Can you sit in the driver’s seat of a car, with the ignition off, parked safely in the driveway, while you practice your Calming Response skills? If so, can you start the engine, back the car to the end of the driveway, then return it to its parked position, even if you feel somewhat anxious? Can you do that ten times? Once you feel in control of that step, can you drive around one block, with a supportive friend as a passenger? If not, practice driving to the corner and back. If that is not yet within your reach, let your friend drive the car to the corner, then exchange places and drive back yourself.
Hierarchy of Tasks for Short-term Goal
- Create a list of related tasks that gradually move you closer to accomplishing your long-term goal.
- Review the list to insure that:
- the first item is the lowest-risk item on the list that you can imagine accomplishing soon, and
- each successive item includes a little more risk-taking and moves you a little closer to your goal.
Regardless of what you fear, there is always a step small enough for you to take toward overcoming that fear. Whenever you run into difficulty, simply back up to a smaller step. The size of your step can never be too small. As the Chinese philosopher Lao Tsu wrote in the sixth century BC, “A tree as great as a man’s embrace springs from a small shoot; a terrace nine stories high begins with a pile of earth; a journey of a thousand miles starts under one’s feet.”