Posted on Sep 6th, 2006

One of the recognized symptoms of stress is waking up in the middle of the night, usually around 3 o’clock, and worrying about your troubles. Why this happens to us isn’t very clear. But lying awake in bed in the middle of the night with only your fears as company is a sure way to make your stress worse and to leave you with a sleepless night. So, for all those who experience panic attacks in the quiet of the night, here is a foolproof way to resolve them, put your mind at complete rest, and send you back to sleep with pleasant dreams.

1. Recognize You’re Panicking. The first thing you must do if you wake up at night in a cold sweat is to recognize what is happening to you. Don’t worry about why. That will just add to your worries. Simply recognize that you are having a panic attack and use this awareness to trigger the steps that follow. Know with absolute certainty that when you do this, your panic will disappear and you will feel right again.

2. Accept Your Panic. Now recognize that you have two choices in what to do with your panic. First, you can… well, panic. In other words, you can trigger the sympathetic branch of your autonomic nervous system and do what your ancestors have done for thousands of years: go into flight or fight mode. This means that you can lie there and grit your teeth against all the anguish going on in your head or you can curl up into a ball and try to hide from it. The trouble with this reaction is that it validates your panic and gives it power over you. The scenario you are creating is: my worries are my tormentors and I am the victim. The alternative reaction is to accept it. Simply say to yourself: ah, there’s that panic attack again. Don’t resist it, don’t run away from it, don’t judge it, and don’t judge yourself. You will find that your surprise tactics will completely bamboozle your panic and put you into a winning position.

3. Notice Your Body Reactions. When we have a panic attack, the thoughts, feelings and reactions are often simultaneous. That means that when you recognize you are panicking, you will often also be reacting in different parts of your body. We now know that our thoughts have a far greater influence on our bodies than we used to believe. Hans Selye’s theory of how stress creates disease is directly based on the idea that our thoughts trigger certain chemical reactions which then appear in different parts of our bodies. Some people get a feeling of drowning or going under, others tremble; some get butterflies or churning sensations in their stomach, others throbbing headaches; some feel as if they’ve been punched in the belly, others get a tightening of their hands and feet. For the moment, just notice where in your body you’re reacting.

4. Breathe Evenly. You’re now going to take the first positive step to resolve your panic and it’s a physical one. You’re going to get rid of all those uncomfortable bodily sensations by practising slow and rhythmical breathing. Simply breathe in to a slow count of 4 or, if you can manage it, 6 or 8. Then breathe out slowly to the same count. Do this rhythmically and consciously and very soon your bodily discomfort will disappear.

5. Kill Your Fear. Now that you have stabilized your physical reactions, you’re going to deal with your mental state. This is the thought or thoughts that caused you to wake up in the first place in panic. When you start to investigate, the thought that’s worrying you will almost certainly be a fear: fear of some harm befalling you, fear of some awful tragedy that you are convinced is going to happen, fear itself. The next thing you must do is very important. You must tell yourself that your fear is not real. You may believe that what you fear is really going to happen; all the evidence tells you it will; all the experts tell you; it is inevitable. However, quietly tell yourself that absolutely nothing on this earth is 100% certain. Don’t take issue with what you’ve been told. Just quietly tell yourself that your F.E.A.R. is False Evidence Appearing Real. It isn’t real at all. If this is a bit tough to do, here’s a way that will really nail it. Check yourself here and now. Almost certainly you will be in no immediate danger. You will probably be safe, warm, comfortable, in no harm, OK. Hold on to this important reality. It is far more real than your imagined fears.

6. Profit From Your Panic. You’ve now dealt with your physical reaction to your panic and the mental cause itself. You now need to take the experience and actually profit from it. Say that again? Did you say, “profit”? Yes, you don’t just want to control your panic, you want to make it a valuable experience. And the way to do that is to move up a notch from the physical and mental reactions and react spiritually. Here are 3 ways you can do that.

• see the panic attack as a problem and all problems as gifts from God. I know that this might be hard when you’ve just woken up in a cold sweat, but if you can see the attack as an experience that will help you grow and become stronger, it will be a valuable experience for you. If you are comfortable with your spiritual side, this will be easier than if you aren’t. For example, one way to do this is to tell yourself that the situation that is worrying you has been sent by God to test your faith. Not to harm you but to make you stronger. You may perceive it to be your worst nightmare, but in the grander scheme of things this could be the greatest thing that has ever happened to you. Since you really don’t know, believe the latter. And when you do that, something really strange will happen to you. You’ll sense yourself thanking God for sending you the problem. Your fear will dissipate and be transformed into gratitude and joy.

• put your situation into context. The chances are that the thing you are worrying about is nothing like the monster you first believed it to be. Instead of focusing on the monster, focus on all the wonderful things in your life. In other words, count your blessings.

• see the joke. Now you might think I’ve really gone over the top. Joke? In the middle of the night just after panicking? Well, yes. Don’t you see the funny trick your mind and body has just played on you? It made you believe one thing when something else was really true. So, just smile at things. If you can, let out a chuckle. And if nobody else is going to mind, let out a roaring laugh.

7. Let Go. There’s one last important thing you have to do before dropping back to sleep. Take all your worries, metaphorically package them into some kind of container and hand them over to God (or whatever higher being you believe in). Simply let go of all your problems and worries and believe with absolute certainty that God wants you to pass them over to him knowing that if you don’t know how to deal with them, he most certainly does. Let go and let God.

There is nothing trivial about waking up at night in a panic. It can be a most terrifying experience. But it can also be managed. Follow these 7 steps and you will find that, not only will you be able to manage your panic, you will actually come out of it an infinitely better person.

© Eric Garner,

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