Anyone who has ever felt panic knows that the advice, “Don’t Panic”, is usually of limited usefulness when the need arises. When rising sensations of anxiety, shortness of breath, and tightness in the chest begin, the ability of your mind to hear and absorb information or advice diminishes rapidly.
You might be aware that the phrase “Don’t Panic”, written in “large, friendly letters” was on the cover of the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, a science fiction comedy of the same name, by Douglas Adams. The first time I heard it I was immediately struck by the power of the words “large” and “friendly”. “Large” evoked memories of words written in a children’s book. Simple, straightforward words. Words that could be easily read and understood. “Friendly” made me feel like I had an ally, someone who was on my side, reassuring me that all would be okay. “Don’t Panic”, when written in large, friendly letters, suddenly seemed far more powerful and far more possible than just the words alone.
Adams was apparently tuned into the brilliant and yet obvious insight that panic responds to the emotional tone of the voice giving advice, far more than to the advice itself. Our higher cognitive functions DO go off line when we get more anxious – but we tend to retain the ability to respond to the feeling of the words. Words spoken slowly, simply, and most importantly, kindly continue to have the ability to reach us when we are frightened. Words spoken unkindly, critically or harshly have just the opposite effect, tending to increase the feeling of panic. The trick here, for most of us, is that the voice that needs to speak kindly to us when we are experiencing panic is the voice in our own heads – our self-talk.
The next time feelings of anxiety or panic start to emerge inside, notice the tone of your self-talk. Is it large and friendly (kind)? Or something else? Can you imagine you have a recording in your head that says (in a large, friendly voice), “Don’t panic. You’re okay. Everything will be all right. I’m on your side.”
I cannot over-emphasize the importance of regular practice to develop a reassuring tone of self-talk, not only for situations where you feel panic but for so many others as well. Try it right now with your inner voice: “Don’t panic, friend, everything is alright.” Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.
It’s the perfect guide to the universe.
Photo credit: soundfromwayout via Flickr