Towards the end of last year, I had a meeting in the city and did not think I could do it. I was almost paralysed with fear at the thought of being anywhere near the city. Without the help of my therapist giving me perspective and being on the other side of a phone, I doubt I would have made it. As I am now in the city full time these days, that was an important victory.
There are some things that I know can cause me to panic and I have learnt to cope by mostly avoid them. Sometimes, however, I forget or am caught unawares and, next thing I know, I am on the verge of panicking. This happened to me this week.
I arranged to meet up for lunch with a friend who I had not seen for quite a while – in the city! What was I thinking? You know how many people are out and about at lunch time? And we arranged to meet at a food court – duh!! We were meeting early so not too bad getting there and the food court was relatively empty. We found a cosy corner to sit with our food and settled in to chat.
By the time we were done, the food hall was packed and the mall and streets were thronging with people. We parted ways and soon I became aware of the tell-tale signs of impending panic. My therapist had shared the STOP strategy with me for such a time as this. Problem is, I could only remember S – Stop. Think – what does T stand for? Thankfully, trying to remember what the T, O and P were distracted me long enough to get to the office without having a full blown panic attack.
This is the S.T.O.P strategy as explained to me
S – Stop
T – Take three breaths – in through the nose, out through the mouth – out breath longer then in breath
O – Observe – something outside of you – what you see, taste, feel, hear, smell
P – Proceed with purpose
Either bring to mind some image that reminds out of how you want to feel or ‘get rooted’ – bring attention to bottom of your feet then imagine when breathing out you are pushing roots into the ground, and when breathing in image drawing in energy of something that represents calm, peace i.e. a colour or feeling of a place or time when you felt calm, peaceful etc.
I am so thankful for being given strategies such as this that have been helping me to do more than just avoid things; for the tools to conquer the fear and keep moving forward, still afraid at times but more equipped to handle the panic. I am also thankful for the care I have received and continue to receive.