Big Life Issues:
Switching the "Payoff" from Suffering to Healing

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When I was struggling with panic disorder and agoraphobia (PDA), I used to call my best friend to "rescue" me.  He would talk to me and calm me down, or even drop what he was doing and rush over to be with me.

At a certain point, I realized that this was counter-productive.  It did calm me down, and it felt good that he cared, but there was a payoff each time I called him to rescue me from panic.  This payoff actually reinforced my PDA!

Starting to change this “payoff” was one of the most healing things I did.

First, I developed a list of things that I could do to calm myself down when I felt panicky.  These were things that I could do by myself.  For me, the most effective were the techniques I learned in cognitive-behavioral therapy (see “Mastering Panic”).  Before I learned my cognitive-behavioral techniques, some of my favorites were:

1)  "Belly Breathing"

2)  Aerobic exercise followed by a warm bath

3)  Writing in my journal

4)  Watching a favorite video

5)  Having a favorite snack 

6)  Drinking Chamomile tea.

Once I had a list of things I could do on my own, I started to shift the “payoff” from suffering to healing.  Now, when I felt panicky, instead of calling my friend to "talk me down” or “rescue” me, I chose some items from my list, and took as long as I needed to calm myself down.  

Then, I called my friend.  The conversation was very different.  Instead of it being a frantic cry for help, it was a story of my success in calming myself down.  I got reinforcement for having calmed myself down, not for having the panic.  I still got love and support from my friend, but in a way that reinforced my healing.

Here's how to switch the "payoff" from suffering to healing:  When you feel panic and an intense desire to call someone to "rescue" you, do something on your own to calm yourself down first.  Make a list of things to do ahead of time – it’s a lot easier to think of things when you're not in the middle of the panic.

What are some of the best ways to calm yourself down?  The key is to find things you can do on your own.  On this website, you will find a very powerful cognitive approach called  Mastering Panic”.

Once you have calmed down, then call your support person (your former “rescuer”) and share your success.  When you talk to him or her, don't give the panic “center stage”.  Give center stage to your success in calming yourself down.  The "payoff" is now a very healthy one, and it actually weakens the PDA, little by little.  And your support person will probably enjoy getting a call to hear about a success!

Talk to your support person ahead of time about your new strategy.  Give yourself the time to gradually shift the “payoff” from suffering to healing.  And give yourself credit for each step you take!

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