Panic Attacks and Fear: Going With Logic and the Odd

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Fear, be it a thought or an emotion, is at the very foundation of panic. And, of course, panic sufferers find all sorts of creative ways to generate fear; and it generally has much to do with overreaction and misinterpretation. Am I right? Well, I propose these self-defeating dynamics can, in time, be reversed with consistent dosages of logic.

That said, let’s take a look at some statistics. How ’bout we call them facts… Your chances of dying on a single airline flight on one of the Top 25 carriers with the best safety records are 1 in 6,300,000 Your chances of matching all five numbers in the Illinois Little Lotto are 1 in 576,000 Your chances of dying from a bee sting are 1 in 86,000 Your chances of dying from being struck by lightning are 1 in 84,000 Your chances of dying in an automobile accident are 1 in 100 Interesting and revealing numbers, aren’t they? And with regard to dying in an airplane crash, air safety in the United States is so good right now that there’s a better chance of a child being elected president than your plane going down. How ’bout this one – if you were to fly only 2,000 miles a year, your chances of death are just about the same as an airplane falling out of the sky and hitting you on the head. Now, how often do you fret about that during a typical day (and don’t start now).

In spite of the fact that it’s been years since I’ve had a panic attack, there’s still no doubt that my levels of anticipatory anxiety and in-the-moment fear would dramatically decrease if I knew I was going to make a trip by car, as opposed to flying. But given the stats we just reviewed that just doesn’t make any sense. I mean, 1 in 6,300,000 as opposed to 1 in 100? Give me a break.

Look, let’s say you had a life-threatening medical condition and there were only two courses of treatment that could save your life. One’s chances of death were 1 in 6,300,000, but involved a horribly painful recovery. The other guaranteed a pain-free recovery; however its chances of death were 1 in 100. Gee, in spite of the pain, for which course of treatment would you opt? Of course, you’d go with the odds. How ’bout this one. The chances of dying from a lightning strike are 1 in 84,000. Again, the chances of dying in a plane crash as described above are 1 in 6,300,000. Hmmm – you won’t fly, yet you’d run to the car (probably with a metal umbrella) during a thunderstorm with intense lightning. You bought that Little Lotto ticket in Illinois knowing you had a very remote chance of matching all five numbers at odds of 1 in 576,000. Did you really expect to win? Of course not, you trusted the odds. Yet, you believe your plane will go down when the odds are 1 in 6,300,000 that it won’t. Again, look at the numbers, as well as your history of suspect interpretation and overreaction.

All of this is very curious, don’t you think? It sounds to me like this fear business is an issue of selective reasoning. By the way, wouldn’t that qualify as misinterpretation and using fear as a defense mechanism? I mean, if we want to use interpretation to justify what we know to be the logical and right decision, we do. But we can also employ misinterpretation to justify what we know to be the illogical and wrong decision. Indeed, fear of flying, or any of our irrational fears, may not be an issue of fear within the context of what we believe to be the fear-generating stimulus. Now, we’ve convinced ourselves it is; however, fear may be misguided as a result of any number of hidden agendas.

As it applies to flying, perhaps the true trigger of fear isn’t the flight itself, but participating in an activity that strips one of all control. In our flying example, your very life is riding on the skills, and physical and mental health, of a hidden, unknown flight crew. And let’s not forget about the gang at the maintenance hangar, the ground crew, and a bunch of nail-biting, caffeine shooting air traffic controllers who operate outdated and malfunctioning equipment in their effort to manage inordinate numbers of flights. Oh, and add to this fear salad the ongoing threat of terrorism. That’s a fairly sizeable number of “uncontrollables” for us to swallow without some degree of objection – possibly in the form of misguided fear and avoidance.

So, all of this is about being in control, or at least being where control is maintained. Think about it, if I was seated as a passenger I’d be highly susceptible to anxiety; however if I was able to sit in the cockpit I’d be calm. Same flight, same aircraft, same flight crew, same gang in the maintenance hangar and on the ground crew, same wired air traffic controllers with lousy equipment and awful flight loads, same terrorist threat – same everything. But in one scenario I’m wound up, in the other I’m not. Hmmm. So that means fear has to be a very manageable phenomenon. I mean, you may not have the insight and skills as yet to manage your fears, but you must at least admit the potential for management exists. And in doing so you’ve convinced yourself that you hold the power to introduce great change to your life.

In the old days I’d ignore facts and logic and run with what afforded me the most control, without any consideration of opportunities for challenge and growth. Well, enough was enough. The time had come to run with logic and the facts — the very truth. These days, I manage fear with courage, reason, and perspective. And I discipline myself to implement any number of management techniques as soon as the first waves of fear rush upon my shores. Then, and only then, am I able to get an accurate fix as to what’s really going on and become equipped to think, feel, and behave appropriately.

How ’bout you?

About the Author

After a winning bout with panic disorder Bill found his life’s passion and work. So he earned his counseling credentials and is doing all he can to lend a hand to those having a tough time.

Bill authored a panic disorder education and recovery eworkbook entitled, “Panic! …and Poetic Justice,” which is available on his website. Some super mentoring packages are available as well. And his blog is up and running. Lots of good stuff going on and much more to come.

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