Coping with Panic: Recognition

On New Years Day we talked a little bit about the big fat cycle.  That 4 step circle that we go around and around every so often or every year or once a month.  The cycle (as I define it) starts with panic (OhmyGod, I’m so fat) moves on to fantasy thinking (I’m going to drop 4 dress sizes by Valentines day) Defeat (I’ve only lost 1/2 a pound.  Forget it, I’m eating cookies.  A LOT of cookies) and despair (I’m so lame.  I can’t even stick to this for one week).

Since we’re still pretty close to that magic January 1, New Years Resolution stage, I figured a lot of us are experiencing step one, panic.  Now this panic is very real for many of us.  We’re talking genuine, stay up all night, hyperventilating, I need a paper bag kind of panic.  For some of us, the jeans are a little tighter after all the Christmas cookies, or we’re heading in to see the doctor for our beginning of the year annual physical.  Or many of us just get caught up in the January insanity where all the newspapers and news stories switch seemingly overnight from recipes for chocolate holiday bliss to screaming about America’s expanding waistline.

It’s easy to succumb.  And for many, many years, I did succumb.  But at some point, I finally realized that it didn’t get me anywhere.  It just got me to drop my money and my common sense and sign up for some lose-weight-quick scam.  The reason for this is simple.  Panic is vastly inappropriate to this situation.

Today, we know panic as “ a discrete period of intense fear or discomfort that is accompanied by at least 4 of 13 somatic or cognitive symptoms… often accompanied by a sense of imminent danger or impending doom and an urge to escape…or desire to flee from wherever the attack is occurring.”
American Psychiatric Association. Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 4th Edition [DSM-IV]. Washington, DC, American Psychiatric Association, 1994, p. 394-403

The symptoms the DSM-IV list are:

  1. palpitations, pounding heart, or accelerated heart rate
  2. sweating
  3. trembling or shaking
  4. sensations of shortness of breath or smothering
  5. feeling of choking
  6. chest pain or discomfort
  7. nausea or abdominal distress
  8. feeling dizzy, unsteady, lightheaded, or faint
  9. derealization (feelings of unreality) or depersonalization (being detached from oneself)
  10. fear of losing control or going crazy
  11. fear of dying
  12. paresthesias (numbness or tingling sensations.
  13. chills or hot flushes 

Panic is the body’s way of guiding us towards immediate unconsious action, i.e. fight or flight.  This is very appropriate if an elephant is running full speed on a direct collision course with us.  We don’t have time to think, evaluate the consequences and so forth.  We have to MOVE.  But panic is an inappropriate response to an issue like body weight.  Who are you going to fight?  Genetics?  Your grandma’s chess pie?  The stupid fashion designers who decided that skinny jeans are “in” this year?

And where are you going to run?  The gym?  The nearest “groupthink” weight loss center?  A surgeon’s office for weight loss surgery?

Panic is bad for a few reasons.  It raises blood pressure and bad cholesterol and heart rate and floods adrenaline into our system.  It shuts down blood flow to some areas of our bodies.  And while this is necessary and useful if a huge pachyderm is thundering down the road towards our location, it is not useful and physically dangerous if experienced over a long period of time.

And what’s more, panic reduces our capacity to reason and to think.  It only offers two choices–smackdown or run away.  Neither of which is very useful in this situation.

However much it may seem like it, you didn’t achieve your current body size, shape and weight in a day.  So it won’t hurt to take a little time to calm down and carefully consider what’s best for you.

So how ’bout it?  Get a cup of tea, love and take a deep breath.  We’ll cover the bases, one by one.  But for now, just breathe.

Love,
The Fat Chick

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