In my last article I wrote about defusing from Anxious thoughts. In this article I describe the art of defusing anxiety. For example, a panic attack.
What is defusion?
To remind you: defusion is the art of extracting yourself from an unwanted thought, a feeling, a memory, or a hallucination about some future event. Not resisting, resenting or running away from any of them. For if you do any of those things you give power to the gremlins. Instead, you acknowledge their presence, accept the gremlins are at work in your head, then smilingly turn your attention to a something worthwhile.
Thought distortions trigger bad feelings. A worry triggers anxiety. A helpless thought triggers depression. A craven thought triggers an addictive urge. In our example, let us say that you have thoughts related to social anxiety. Your mind is telling you that the party you are about to join will be a disaster. That you will have nothing to say. That others will conclude you are pathetic. That you will break down and will have to leave. For some reason, you fail to defuse from these thoughts in time. A few seconds later you experience a panic attack.
At this point you will most likely have another bad thought: that the panic is so awful you cannot possibly enter the room. And that thought seems like the clincher: you really have no choice but to go home.
If you do walk away then then you are going into avoidance. In doing so you will make it harder to join the party the next time you try. For each act of avoidance reinforces those bad thoughts, giving them yet more power over you.
Your better option is to first defuse from the anxious state, then go back to defusing from the thoughts that triggered them.
To do that follow these steps:
- Stop calling it ‘a panic attack’. That phrase is misleading because you are not under attack. Call it something harmless like ‘the bojangles‘ instead.
- Remind yourself that what is happening is in fact an adrenalin rush triggered by an alarming thought. That, while uncomfortable, anxiety is not dangerous.
- Watch, wait and accept what is happening as an unfortunate result of fusion with the wrong thoughts. Remind yourself that ‘the bojangles’ is a short-term reaction and, soon (when the body uses up its available adrenalin) things will calm down again.
- Defuse from the thoughts you are having about ‘the bojangles’. E.g. “I can’t breathe”, “I am going to pass out”, “Everybody is looking at me”, “I’m going crazy”, etc. Imagine you are on a train going through a dark tunnel, emerging into the light and coming out into a beautiful mountain scene – leaving those dark thoughts behind you in the tunnel.
- Come back to present moment awareness. You are here, now, a human being having a psychological experience.
- Open yourself up to another helpful thought. For example: “I can have a peaceful thought, or a resilient thought, or a stronger thought.” Let one come to you (perhaps with a memory attached to it) and fuse with that.
- Finally, select something that enables you to refocus. Call a friend, listen to some music, go for a walk in the park, practice a breathing exercise, etc.
Once the state has passed you are ready to take the decision to continue with your social activity. Remind yourself that you are learning how to be the best that you can be. That you have friends you want to meet, new experiences you want to try out. And that nothing is going to deflect you away from that journey.
For podcasts on mindfulness and thought defusion click on the link below: