Written by Michelle Bradley
The very nature of panic and anxiety is that of overwhelm. Your body has a very real and very physical response to a threat, either real or imagined, causing your heart to race, breathing to become shallow, you may feel dizzy, sweaty or sick. Under certain circumstances this response is helpful, for example, it increases your reaction times and speed in case you need to jump out of the way of car, or run away from a tiger!
In certain circumstances though, this flight or flight response becomes over reactive resulting in an anxiety or panic disorder. You may find yourself panicking for absolutely no reason, or small things set of your anxiety. Most people find this experience incredibly frightening, especially as panic attacks can appear to be very similar to heart attacks or other life threatening conditions. Its important to make sure you don't have a serious condition and have a solid diagnosis of anxiety before commencing any treatment.
If you do have a an anxiety disorder, there is a very helpful tool that can help, called Paradoxical Intention (PI). In simple terms, this is basically inviting the symptoms, welcoming them and doing the opposite of what you would normally do in that situation.
For example, you feel a panic rising. Your heart starts to race, it becomes difficult to breathe, you're sweating and feel very dizzy. Normally you would leave the room and go to somewhere you feel safe, lie down so you don't faint and tremble until the symptoms pass, all the while thinking "Please don't let me die."
To use PI you take each symptom in turn and ask for more. Make my heart beat faster, I want it to beat faster than it has before. I want to be dizzier, so dizzy that my legs turn to jelly. You stand up straight, head lifted and body looking strong (imagine the Superman pose) and confront the symptoms.
The premise is that by trying to intentionally worsen your panic attack, you are taking control and thereby reducing it. This is also known to work for conditions such as phobias and OCD. It is important to note that PI should not be used for suicidal thoughts or conditions such as schizophrenia.
The term was first used by Viktor Frankl in his book 'Man's Search for Meaning'. Frankl says, “as soon as the patient stops fighting his obsessions and instead tries to ridicule them by dealing with them in an ironic way- by applying paradoxical intention- the vicious circle is cut, the symptom diminishes and finally atrophies.”
For a full guide on how to employ PI, please click here.