I know of a way to help you make some significant progress in your recovery from chronic panic attacks. I want you to start making a daily deposit in your memory bank of a calm, focused, period of time when you are so fully engaged in an activity or project that anxiety disappears or is forgotten for the moment. When you establish your daily routine of “mindful” activity, I want you to start observing and taking note of what is going on with you during these periods of time so you can get accustomed to the feeling and make it easier to slip back into that space.
Once your memory-making center starts getting a regular dose of calm feelings, you’ll find that new neural pathways are being formed, making it easier and easier to “feel the feeling” whenever you need to. I’ll give you a couple of examples of times when your focus takes away absolutely everything else. Think of looking up a number in a telephone book with that teensy type, or for something in a long list or for something you’ve lost around the house. Anytime you’re engaged in a search for something you need, you mostly tune out everything else. I’m sure you can think of many things you do for a tiny period of time when nothing else is going on in your psyche.
When you get to that zone for an extended period, take note of how things seem around you – and how you fit in. Take note of everything – your breathing rate, your posture, the feel of your hands, arms and shoulders. Do you feel loose and comfortable, or at least more so than usual? What does your mind feel like when it’s not racing away with anxious notions? You don’t have to write these sensations down, just feel them fully and remember them.
Now I want you to discover something you can do every day for an hour or more that will require all your attention while you’re doing it. My book, Un-Agoraphobic, contains a section on learning a new skill to provide a daily session of meditative activity. If you’re already engaged in learning a new skill, you know what’s up. If you’re not, and you don’t have something in your life that takes the kind of focus I’m describing, I want you to start drawing.
Learning to draw saved me during a particularly stressful time in my life. I started doing it as pure diversion, but soon discovered the process of learning to draw was actually healing me. On my very first outing of serious drawing, two hours disappeared…. just like that. I was gone for two peaceful, serene hours during a period in my life of fairly high anxiety. I became pretty good at drawing because it felt so good I did it every day. Drawing is good therapy. It teaches you to see things in an entirely new and engaging way.
Starting tomorrow, set up a little still life of stuff around you – like your shoe and a cup and an apple or a small box or book. Get some copy paper and any old pencil and start at one point in the arrangement of things before you and just let your eye stay right on the line as your pencil and hand and eye work together to re-create exactly what your eye is seeing onto that piece of paper. It doesn’t have to look good at all. That’s not the point. The point is fully engaging your attention on the line of that box as it goes up and then away from you at its topmost and then at a slight angle to your right and on and on. You’ll make straight and curvy and broken lines, but there’s always a line and it’s your job to follow it wherever it goes and tell your hand how to replicate what your eye and brain are doing. Keep the graphite on the paper and keep the line moving in a flowing way. Draw exactly what you see. The process is fascinating.
Tomorrow morning when anxiety starts on a roll, go to your memory bank for a withdrawal of centered feelings like you had yesterday when you were gone to a very specific time and place. You don’t even have to start doing something; all you have to do is recall the feeling you remember so well.