International Panic Day

Published on June 14, 2016

International Panic Day

International Panic Day on 18th June 2016 serves as a reminder to all of us to step back and relax a bit. The folks who dedicate days to specific causes have actually assigned two official days annually to panic.  This is no doubt due to the fact that panic and stress are a common part of so many people’s lives.

What is it?

When you hear the term panic we may all picture different sorts of things. So for the purposes of this post we will be focusing more on the common garden-variety use of the term panic. Of note there is an actual clinical psychological disorder that is characterised by an individual having a panic attack. There are other diagnostic criteria but you might think of that as a clinical strength “freak out moment”. If one of these hits you it could make you feel like you can’t breath, chest pain, racing heart and a general sense you might die. Though many of us my not have an actual panic attack we may at some point experience it’s slightly mellower cousin acute stress. Many of the tips below have been helpful to my clients who have had the clinical strength panic attacks. Hopefully you will find them useful if you or a loved one are experiencing distress.

Where does panic come from?

Well for many there is a specific situation that seems completely overwhelming. This may be a big sales presentation at work, an end of term exam at university or an unexpected relocation. The tricky part is realizing that these situations are not the actual issue. The problems start when these events are seen through our own interpretative lenses. We see the world from our own unique perspective. We may have an internal dialogue about our interpretation of the situation or our expectations of our abilities etc. that will determine the ultimate outcome. For example, an outsider might have a completely different interpretation of the situation that had paralysed you with fear. Lets take that big sales presentation for example. So you may have your self worked-up into a state where you can’t function because of all the layers of negative assumptions. That stranger you are talking to may on the other hand be thinking that the presentation sounds like a great opportunity and focus on the excitement of being able to do the presentation at all.

I once had a client who referred to this flood of negative thinking as their head trash. And like any kind of rubbish it needs to end up on the curb not pulled closer for a cuddle. Having this sort of visualization may help you distance yourself from these potentially destructive thoughts. 

In addition to the lenses we see the situation through being a factor we also have to consider our individual tolerance for stress. Everyone has a sweet spot if you will. If our activity levels dip below it we start feeling bored and disengaged. On the other end of the spectrum is the panic where we feel completely overwhelmed and stressed out. A situation that is in one person’s sweet spot might push someone else over the edge.  Improving your emotional resilience may allow you to also increase your tolerance for stress in general.


What can you do about it?

Well that is about enough of talking about the problem. Lets move on to what can we do when we do have one of these big hairy situations staring us down. I would suggest attacking it on multiple fronts. The combination of behavioural changes, emotional recalibration and social supports will go a long way towards getting you through this. For specific tips you may also be interested in another post of mine. Anxiety and Worry: Life Hack #101


Behavioural changes may help you be better prepared to cope with this situation.

Yes, some of this is the sort of information your grandmother may have given you about living life. These sorts of recommendations get recycled because they actual help and we need reminders from time to time it is okay to take care of ourselves. Science continues to find ways that our lifestyle choices either help or hurt our ability to face life's challenges.

So consider what you are putting in your body. You want to make sure to have plenty of nutritious foods to assure you have all your necessary vitamins, minerals and nutrients. These allow your body and mind to function to the best of their ability. You will also want to avoid certain things that derail your mind and body. Things like limiting caffeine, nicotine (both stimulants which may actually make you more anxious) sugar and salt may help more than you would expect. It would also be advisable to limit alcohol. Even though alcohol is a depressant, which may seem like an obvious go to potion to help unwind or relax this may backfire. One of the things to consider is once the booze wears off you may find that you are more anxious than before you had those drinks. Your system essentially rebounds as you sober up and it can overcompensate resulting in you being more anxious than you normally are.

Getting plenty of sleep also helps your body be at it’s best. The restorative processes that take place while we sleep may get taken for granted but are essential to our wellbeing. Think back to the last time you had a restless night. You may have found that you were edgy, irritable, hungry etc. the next day. Clearly this is not the state of mind you want to be in if you are facing down a big hairy stressor.

The other gentle reminder for looking after your body is to move it. Exercise has a powerful effect on our ability to manage our emotions. Numerous studies have shown that exercising as little as 3 times a week for 20 minutes can be as effective as prescription antidepressants for folks with mild to moderate depression.  You may get some side effects though like it may be easier for you to fall asleep, a more positive outlook, increased energy etc. so watch out for those.


Emotional changes play a key role in making it through the stressful situation.

You should be really honest with yourself and reflect on what about this situation is so distressing to you. Have you had bad experiences in similar situations? Have you been told you are no good at this either by yourself or someone else? Have you created a disastrous ending to this life chapter where you end up living under the bridge with the trolls? Putting a sharp edge on what specifically makes this hard for you will help.

The next step after stopping all the catastrophising is to counteract the negative thoughts with some positive ones. Think of the old line "I’m good enough, smart enough & people like me". Have you actually done well on previous exams or really nailed a sales presentation like this one before?


Once you are more or less back to a neutral place consider giving yourself a mental kick in the pants to get out there and give it a go. Try thoughts like “you only live once”, “I won’t know if I really have it in me till I try." or  "If I don’t try I certainly won’t achieve my goal”.  If you find you get stuck with this part you may want to have a few sessions with a psychologist who can guide you through some specific techniques customized for you.


Social supports can be key to coping with difficult situations.

So seek out some tea and sympathy. Having a compassionate ear can help you work through some of these difficult situations. They may even be able to offer up observations or a different perspective that you simply couldn’t see while you are immersed in the situation. If you would rather speak to someone outside your immediate group of friends for a truly neutral perspective you could look into joining a support group or seeing a counsellor.


If you are the type that prefers not to share your worries with your friends or family you can still benefit from an extra dose of companionship at these times. Maybe you simply go to see a funny movie together so you can share a good belly laugh and some popcorn. Maybe they become you walking buddy. You get extra credit for combining exercise with socializing if you choose some form of group exercise.

Hopefully some of these tips and tricks help you face that next big hairy stressor and get your head around how to cope with it. 

I hope you enjoy your day however you choose to celebrate Panic Day.


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Image: Flickr 

Category(s):Adjusting to Change / Life Transitions, Anxiety, Fear, Panic issues, Stress Management

Written by:

Dan Martin, MS Psych (Clinical), Registered Psychologist (Australia)

Dan has over 20 years of experience in various parts of the field. The breadth of his clinical experience includes dealing with mental health, addiction, disability, vocational, and relationship issues in a variety of settings.

Dan Martin, MS Psych (Clinical), Registered Psychologist (Australia) belongs to Personal Enrichment Services Pty Ltd in Australia