Mastering Panic:
5)  Getting specific with scary thoughts


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The more specific you can get with your scary thoughts, the easier it is to respond to  them.   Oftentimes, thoughts are so subtle and rapid that we’re not fully aware of them.  This is so common that psychologists even have a term for these thoughts – they call them “automatic” thoughts.  When you bring these “automatic thoughts” out into the open, it becomes very easy to challenge them. 

Here’s an example of “getting specific with scary thoughts,” using the “Q & A” style:

Situation:  At a social gathering
Scary thought:  “I could panic and totally lose control!”

Challenging the scary thought:

Q:  What specifically could happen?
A:   I wouldn’t be able to stay in the room.  I’d have to run outside and get some fresh air.

Q:   And how would that be losing control?
A:   I would feel this urge to run outside, and I wouldn’t be able to control it.

Q:   So, you might feel an uncontrollable urge to run outside?
A:   Right.

Q:  Is that totally losing control, or giving in to a strong urge?
A:  Well, giving in to a strong urge, because I’d still be in control in every other way.

Q:  So, the scary thought is that you might give in to a strong urge to run outside?
A:  Yes.  But now it’s not as scary.

Now that you’ve identified the scary thought, you can continue to challenge it.  Now that it’s out in the open, it’s pretty defenseless – in fact, downright pathetic!

Q:  If you really wanted to, could you resist the urge to run out of the room?
A:  I’m not sure.

Q:  Have you ever successfully resisted this urge in the past?
A:  Well, yes, a number of times I can remember.  But once I had to leave the room.

Q:  So, a number of times in the past, you successfully resisted an overwhelming urge to run outside.  Were you in control then?
A:  Yes.

Q:  It sounds like, those times, you were exerting pretty extraordinary control, resisting an overwhelming urge.
A:  I guess so.

Q:  And one time, you left the room, even though you didn’t want to.
A:  Right.

Q:  Did you run or walk?
A:  I walked out.

Q:  So, even then, you successfully resisted the urge to run out of the room, and you just walked out.
A:  Right.

Q:  Are there other times you’ve given in to strong urges, even though you didn’t want to – like eating sweets?
A:  Yes.

Q:  Do you think other people do that too?
A:  Yes.

Q:  And is that the same as “totally losing control”?
A:  Of course not!

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