Planned Panic

Sometimes you have an emotional response to something, and you might describe this as “less than ideal.” During periods of strong, negative emotional response we’re not at our most efficient, not very productive. This can mean we wish we didn’t have these periods at all, and we work hard to avoid or repress them – and we feel bad when we inevitably fail.

You aren’t going to ever be able to totally eliminate your emotional responses. They’re as much a part of you as pooping. Only a fool would try to just stop pooping because it’s smelly and inconvenient. Smart people invented the toilet instead.

Take some inventory about what those responses are like for you. When the emotion takes over, what do you do? Cry on your bed? Hit a pillow? Scream in the shower? Don’t judge yourself, but just write it down. Whatever you do, obviously you don’t do it forever – eventually, you come out the other side and do something to recover. What is that thing? Do you eat comfort food? Listen to a certain playlist? Reset with a workout, or accomplish a chore?

Okay, so now you have a map. You’ve charted the course of your panic attacks. That lets you plan for them, adapt your schedule to them, equip yourself for them.

For instance: imagine that every time you get a piece of really bad news, you cry for an hour on your bed, then take a shower and don’t really feel better until you treat yourself to a chocolate chip cookie. No matter how you try to avoid this, it happens. If you don’t cry for an hour in your bed, you’ll cry for three hours somewhere else. If you don’t shower after, the crying will re-start. If you don’t have the cookie, you’ll feel bad for days after. You can’t change any of this.

You also can’t completely control when you get bad news, so to a certain extent, you are simply “vulnerable” to this happening. You can waste a lot of time trying to block this from happening; making yourself more frustrated and reducing your ability to emotionally cope. Don’t. Instead, effectively give it its own space so that you can allow it to be the emotional repair you need while also getting your life back effectively.

How? Well, in the above example, I’d do a few things. First, I’d pre-program an alarm set into my alarm app – “45 Minutes: Crying. 15 Minutes: Shower. 10 Minutes: Cookie. 20 Minutes: Get changed and back on task.” That 90-minute set becomes my “panic plan,” and if I get bad news, I’m immediately going to hit a single button to start that off. That will help herd me through a tough patch when I may need a gentle nudge – even from myself.

I’ll also make sure that I have ready-planned “away messages” for work or other obligations in case this happens when I otherwise have responsibilities I’d be tending to. And lastly, I’d make sure there were always chocolate chip cookies in the house.

What does this do? For one, it makes it very likely that I can resolve this panic attack in a scheduled amount of time. It also means that during that time, I’m not as worried about guilt on top of everything else – this is what I’m doing now, that’s all. It allows me to focus on the emotion I need to feel.

You can’t avoid being human. And part of being human is unpleasant-seeming waste. But that serves a very crucial purpose; it needs to happen. Don’t avoid it; just be aware of what the process looks like in reality, and invent the appropriate toilet.

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