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Trying to cope with panic disorder can be extremely demoralizing and demotivating. Face facts, it’s just plain hard. You don’t know when the next attack is coming, and you don’t know whether it will be at home or in public. You might be afraid to go out in case it does happen in a public place, where everyone can see you and you can’t get help. And having a panic attack is terrifying no matter where you are.
Just thinking about these things can be frightening. When you have panic disorder, you have that fear to contend with, but you also have the guilt and shame that often goes along with it. The feeling of hopelessness that maybe you’ll never be able to recover. All of those negative feelings can be absolutely crushing.
The typical motivational tricks are often worthless when it comes to living with panic disorder, or any type of mental illness for that matter. If you’re trying to cope with mental illness, attempting to think positively just doesn’t work consistently. So, how to stay motivated with panic disorder?
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Having a Panic Attack doesn’t count as Failure
There’s more to panic disorder than having panic attacks. There’s also the physical and mental state that causes the attacks to happen in the first place, as well as your own physical and mental response to having the disorder. It’s a complex relationship that only makes living with and treating panic disorder more difficult.
It’s also a very good reason not to berate yourself every time you have a panic attack. Absolutely, you should feel good if you manage to stop yourself having one—but equally so, if you do have a panic attack, it’s not due to any failure on your part.
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Don’t be too Hard on Yourself
The negative feelings that you have as a result of panic disorder can act in many ways to make you feel as though there’s no hope for you, and that you’ll never get better. When you start feeling this way, it’s easy to go one step further and start berating yourself because you’re not better yet. You might tell yourself that you “should” have been cured by now, or that having a panic disorder makes you weak. It's not easy to remember this on bad days, but whenever possible, keep in mind that those things simply aren't true.
It can be hard to eliminate this negative self-talk, but it’s important for keeping your motivation levels high. Instead of negative talk, try reminding yourself of everything that you’ve achieved. Don’t forget that you absolutely deserve to cut yourself some slack if you don’t meet all of your goals, whether at work, at home, or when having treatment.
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Value every Victory
Part of not being hard on yourself is learning to celebrate all your achievements, no matter how small they might seem. On a day where you’re feeling scared and anxious, and unwilling to face the world outside, going to the store for milk might be an achievement—and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with giving yourself credit where it’s due. If you achieve something that’s hard for you, it’s a victory, and you deserve to feel a sense of accomplishment for it.
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Tips on Staying Motivated if you Have Panic Disorder
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Forget about Progress: Set Easy, Achievable Goals
Sometimes, people get too focused on making concrete progress with the goals they set. For example, if you are receiving treatment for panic disorder, your goals might be related to that. There's nothing wrong with having these kinds of goals, but it's easy to let them become so important that set-backs and lack of progress destroy your motivation.
One way to combat this is to set fun goals that you know without a doubt you can achieve, and to make them completely unrelated to any aspects of life such as work or treatment. For example, set a goal that you will spend thirty minutes on one of your favorite activities. This might seem a bit ridiculous—after all, how can you not achieve this goal? But surprisingly enough, it works. Setting these kinds of easily achievable goals can really help lift your mood.
It’s easy to try this out. Next time you eat, for example, set yourself a goal that you will eat some of your favorite food—then once you’re done eating, you’ve achieved your goal. This is a rather arbitrary method of goal-setting, but it’s almost guaranteed to lift your spirits temporarily.
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Coping with Family and Friends
Friends and family members often want to help but just don’t know how. They mean well, but in some ways, they can be equally demoralizing—it’s hard to explain to someone why, after months of treatment or medication, you’re still not “cured”, and it can feel like other people have unrealistic expectations of you. That can easily lead to you having unrealistic expectations of yourself, not to mention feeling ashamed or guilty that you haven’t met other people’s expectations.
There are lots of different ways to handle this, but it can be tough, because it might feel uncomfortable to try and negotiate personal boundaries.
One way is to tell friends and family that discussion of your treatment progress is off-limits unless you yourself bring the subject up. That way, you gain some control over how those conversations proceed, and if necessary, you also have the opportunity to rehearse what you want to say.
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Another difficulty with family and friends is the feeling that they just don’t understand what you’re going through. And chances are, they simply don’t—not through any fault of their own, but just because it’s so difficult to comprehend the terror of a panic attack if you haven’t had one. You can try to explain it, but it’s likely you’ll come away feeling like the other person just didn’t get it.
That can easily lead to feelings of loneliness and isolation, and it’s hard to stay motivated when you’re feeling that way. A support group can definitely help with this, and thanks to the Internet it’s not necessarily a problem if there isn't one in your area. There are plenty of online forums and support groups where you can interact with people who are having similar experiences to you.
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The author of this article has written about her own personal experiences with depression, anxiety disorder, and panic attacks. The tips here are intended to provide advice on how to stay motivated with panic disorder, but it's definitely not an alternative to treatment. Just as important, if these strategies don't work for you, don't worry! There is plenty of scope for modifying this advice and trying new things to help improve your motivation levels.