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Panic Protocols for Life's Worst Case


I was planning to continue my discussion about visualization this week, and I will next week, but I’m coming out of a very hard few weeks and I want to talk about my system for when our worst case actually happens.

A few weeks ago, a little thing popped up that felt and looked markedly similar to my health issues that derailed my life in 2019. When I first noticed it, I mentally went through a list of things it could be other than my health stuff reemerging. At first I was able to be calm and objective about the myriad of things that could be happening. However, my calm and objectivity quickly went out the window when my fear roared to life, hitting me with the force of a freight train. Flattened by my freight train of fear, my physical survival response kicked in I lost neurological access to my higher reasoning functions.

Long story short, I was truly in hysterics about the fact that I might be losing my health again. I wasn’t able to get into see my doctor for two weeks and I knew that in order to emotionally survive those two weeks, I had to fall back onto my system. This is where my panic protocols come in.

Panic protocols are systems or tools we can fall back onto when the ground under our feet is disappearing quicker than we can take a step forward. These are for the true “holy shit” moments of our lives when our absolute worst-case scenario starts to happen. We can have panic protocols that are very tangible for things like escaping our house if there’s a fire or a flood. But my panic protocols are more about managing my life around my emotional state.

It would’ve been unrealistic to think I could suppress the tears and panic arising from potentially facing another health scare. Trying to suppress or resist these very strong emotions would’ve only made things worse.

My panic protocol number one: let the hard things be there. I knew I was going to be emotionally wobbly for two weeks, with bouts of unexpected tears and tremors from intense panic. And I knew to just lean into it and let it happen. Strong emotion comes in waves, and if we let it come in, it will also subside. Trying to resist a wave of strong emotion is like trying to stop the tide from moving in. It’s impossible and the exertion will only crush us more.

The rest of my panic protocols are more specific to who I am. Yours might look different based on your emotional makeup and disposition.

My anxiety will burn right through me if I don’t put in measures to help dampen the flame. I cut things like sugar, alcohol, and caffeine out of my diet as best I can. These things only act as an accelerant for my anxiety. I shrink my world so that I’m doing only the things I must do (like work) and seeing only those who are closest to me and cancelling all other social engagements.

I step up the intensity of my workouts so I can burn through the angst before it burns through me. I ensure I’m getting adequate sleep and maybe even more if I can. I drink lots of water, I snuggle my corgi more, I lean heavily on my mom, sister, and best friends, and I let myself binge watch Netflix. As best I can, I let go of the periphery of my life so I can focus only on the core and making it through.

When we take the time to hone our interoception skills, we can build awareness around what works and what doesn’t to help us through trying times. We can start to create our own systems and have the wherewithal of what to implement and avoid when the time will inevitably come where our world crashes around us.

Having panic protocols saved me during the two weeks I had to wait to see my surgeon. I was a mess, but I was able to keep my life moving forward, out of the ditches, while I anxiously waited.

I’m okay by the way. Weakened scar tissue split open, causing pain and symptoms that were a dead ringer for what I went through in 2019. Life can definitely be something sometimes :)

The body leads the mind.

Cheers to better living -

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