Post No.: 0808
Towards the same challenges/threats, some people panic while others don’t – hence it’s less to do with those challenges/threats and more to do with us as individuals, like our courage, resilience, cognitive capacities to cope with the situation, or level of rational sense (like to understand that something isn’t truly life-or-death).
When we panic, we can fail to do the most basic things because we’re in a hot-headed flap, we can miss things that are right in front of us, make more mistakes than usual, and lack the clarity of mind to make the optimal decisions. Our imagined fears of the worst might mean we’re too quick to judge in the direction of suspicion towards innocent people/things. We might bemoan, criticise or overblow everything, then react unreasonably like blame others for our fiascos – sometimes to the point of being verbally abusive and dispensing threats of violence if whatever we need to do is considered super critical and urgent (according to our perceptions e.g. we can panic to this extent even though all we’re doing is playing a scary videogame!) So anxious people can be too quick to enter into ‘fight-or-flight’ mode and panic, then too quick to blame other people/things for making them panic. It could be down to our unbearable competitiveness that rears its head in competitive contexts.
If they’re not either sympathetic or laughing, our ill behaviour can also rub off onto those around us, which brings the team down if we’re working with others. Anxiousness can be contagious. Those who are more composed can feel that those who are panicking are liabilities, and not very helpful, nice or productive to be around. So others can (negatively(!)) complain about our negativity.
Many when under immense stress will naturally displace their frustrations and anguish onto innocent parties. They turn nasty and push people away. This isn’t deliberate but it still makes it hard for others to want to help them when they most need understanding and support, which can lead to a vicious cycle.
Anxiety attacks are amplified responses to perceived stresses or threats. Panic attacks don’t necessarily require a trigger and are more intense. Neither are pleasant though, and cussing in the ****ing moment can be a coping mechanism – although we shouldn’t aim our roaring tirades at others but the wall or sky. It’s like it’s instinctive to swear if we stub our claw. It really does help to reduce the pain.
We should therefore have more empathy and sympathy for those who experience anxiety, panic attacks or neuroses, even though they may burden, and perhaps be tilting for, some of those around them with their histrionics, demands and intolerance (due to their narrow comfort zones). Many people who have anxieties feel mighty embarrassed about their over-the-top and possibly abusive reactions to things once they’re serene. So if you’re with somebody who’s easily anxious (like those with GAD or panic disorder), it can help to understand that they don’t usually mean what they say and you can immediately forgive them. When in a calmer state, their ability to feel emotions strongly often means they’re the most caring, gentle and empathic people there are – if you’re understanding with them too. Those who are overly harsh on themselves can be incredibly kind to others. We’re all a bit spiteful when stressed, so reduce the stress rather than tell everyone to stop being spiteful. If we’re stoic enough (see Post No.: 0769), we can stay tranquil, as opposed to feed the anxieties of those who feel them; through our compassion, as opposed to judgements.
However, where shall we draw the line? Shall we tolerate those with anger management issues, like ‘let her/him off, she/he feels the need to scream, verbally abuse and shove people around because that’s how she/he copes with pressured situations’?
Regardless, panic is an instinctive yet inappropriate response to even the most pressing and perilous genuine survival scenarios. Anxiety is understandable but the practical outcome nonetheless is that we may avoid or reject so much that would enrich our lives. So we need ways to curb it, in us and others…
Along with practising self-compassion, life is more untroubled if you have the skills to fix things, for little problems will be no problem; and the ability to cook, for one will not go hungry. You’ll feel more confident if you feel fit and able too – not just from the intrinsic benefits of exercising and being healthy but that one-mile run to catch the train or hour-long job to fix the shower will seem relatively effortless and low-fuss. It’s also best to solve problems before they propagate into large ones.
Plan ahead. Foresee problems. This doesn’t mean catastrophising or imagining the worst-case scenarios but what’s realistic. For instance, if you know you regularly use a certain product then stock up a little instead of panicking when you run out, or panic buying when everyone else is. You know in the house you’ll need spare fuses, a well-stocked medicine box, various glues, tapes, nails, screws and other stuff to fix things when they break.
A major difference between those who frequently worry and those who take things in their stride is the planning, organisation and dealing with anticipated problems in a productive manner. Most anxious people intuitively love to plan, research, check and seek reassurances, and a healthy level of conscientiousness is beneficial. Well anxiety evolved to help us survive, even though being cautious can over-fire. So this doesn’t mean going overboard, as some of us mightn’t even try something at all unless we know it has been planned to the nth degree. You need a little worry to care to plan, but you need to know when you’ve done enough.
At other times, we can think that if we simply ignore any negativity then this will soothe our minds. Some who aren’t used to being well-organised and prepared might perceive a sudden call to prepare something as scaremongering or even nannying.
When we think that negative events (of all kinds, from house fires, cancer, mental illness or whatever) will only happen to other people – this is the ‘optimism bias’, which also includes the bias of thinking that positive events are more likely to happen to us than the statistics suggest (e.g. winning the lottery if we play it, being less exposed to losses if we dabble in cryptocurrency trading). Most of us assume we’re at least above average in a range of desirable traits like competence (e.g. ‘when other people drive while a little tipsy they might have accidents, but I’d be fine’).
But if you prep for what’s potentially coming up then you can then get on with your life without further stressing. Indeed, those who stress that something is scaremongering will invariably be amongst those who haven’t yet prepared for what’s coming up!
Social support is vital. Holding hands with someone whilst experiencing a painful event can reduce the perception of pain. Simply knowing that someone is there just in case you need them is a comforting feeling and makes a tough task feel easier. (Times we’d rather not have others watching us though are when something is a private matter or when we feel we’re going to be judged negatively if we fail.) Even orphaned elephants will cope okay, according to the levels of stress hormones in their poop, if they receive social support from their extended family.
If there are dissonant relationships in your life then try to avoid them. If this isn’t possible then try to change them into better ones, or lower your expectations with them. Try forming completely new and positive relationships. Know when to be forthright and when to let something go. Forgive. Create and keep friends, not enemies; for people with enemies have to constantly watch their backs. Whereas having positive social interactions improves well-being – negative ones cause plenty of unhealthy rumination.
Know that you’re far better at adapting to new situations than you may imagine. Most people would think they’d feel endlessly miserable if they had kidney failure, but those who actually have it generally don’t feel miserable all the time at all.
Know also that your harmless and potentially embarrassing mistakes will be far less noticed than you may believe. This is related to the ‘spotlight effect’. They tend to feel worse than they really are. So try not to overreact or cause a fur-ore, or excessively respond, apologise or draw attention to a minor gaffe. Acknowledge it if appropriate then move on. Notice all the things that go right too. And really, everyone who’s lived a life that’s not boring has done and said a few embarrassing things! So you won’t be alone – it’s just that everyone else tries their best to pretend they’ve not done or said cringeworthy things that’s all!
Helping others is good but pleasing others is different – any time you’re doing something that’s more about influencing what others think of you so that they think favourably of you, rather than authentically expressing yourself (e.g. putting on a brave face when you’re not really feeling so, or pretending to be someone you’re not), is stressful. It’s stressful to live a lie and try to uphold a lie.
There are benefits to being true to yourself, and honest to others – lying, keeping up a pretence or hiding certain secrets is stressful. We might subconsciously tiptoe around others in case we leak the truth. We then make excuses for avoiding others or being more quiet towards them than usual. Lying is naturally aversive, and lie detectors chiefly attempt to detect the stress signals our bodies produce as a result of our deceptions or concealments. The longer we’ve kept something hidden, the harder it becomes to finally reveal it – but a weight gets lifted off us when we tell the truth and are more authentic to ourselves. Sometimes it isn’t kind to always speak our minds however. Yet if you cannot avoid giving an answer, then hurtful honest opinions about others can be clarified as present opinions instead of objective or permanent judgements about them.
Let your body guide you to what’s authentic to you. As an experiment, say to yourself, “I love it when people troll me.” See if your brows and jaws tensed or body recoiled or felt heavier from saying it. If so, this is how your unconscious tells you that the sentiment doesn’t actually feel true to you. What feels truthful to you will meanwhile give you an elevating and unshackling sense of feeling.
Mind your own business and sort your own problems and issues out before ever trying to interfere with other people’s lives and what you think they ‘should’ or ‘shouldn’t’ be doing. This doesn’t mean ignoring other people and being uncaring, but if they’re not doing real harm to themselves or to others, even if you think they could be ‘better’ people, then be yourself and let them be themselves. Much of our stress comes from mentally living outside of our own business. In general, don’t be concerned about the things you cannot control. Although this doesn’t mean neglecting your own role in the things you cannot personally totally control, like looking after the environment; and sometimes with greater thought, we can do something about the things we cannot control, like researching better natural disaster warning systems.
Accept the ugly bits of yourself too. This doesn’t mean never seeking to improve ourselves, but we must first accept where we are now and not beat ourselves up about it before we can progress from here. It must be understood that being true to yourself doesn’t mean that being a **** is okay just because that’s the ‘real and honest you’. Just recognise that you’re an imperfect work-in-progress, which means that even if the current ‘real and honest you’ is possibly obnoxious, it can be improved – like literally everybody alive has room for improvement.