Panic is an essential survival emotion that arises in response to a direct threat to your physical life.
Panic is related to fear, but while fear is an instinctual and intuitive emotion that arises in response to change, novelty, and possible physical hazards, panic arises when you actually need to save your own life.
The ingenious actions you can take in response to your fear number in the thousands, but with panic, there are four basic responses: Fight, Flee, Freeze, or Flock to Safety. And if you can drop into your instincts and listen to your body, your panic will choose the right response pretty much every time.
Immediate Panic: The Powerful Protector
GIFTS: Sudden energy ~ Fixed attention ~ Absolute stillness ~ Survival instincts
WHAT YOUR IMMEDIATE PANIC DOES: Immediate panic arises when your physical life is directly and immediately threatened.
WHAT NEEDS TO BE DONE: You have four main choices during immediate emergencies: Fight, flee, freeze, or flock to safety. Listen to your body – don’t think, just react. Your instinctual body is a survival expert, and it will keep you safe.
THE INTERNAL QUESTIONS (during the emergency): What is currently a threat? Please help me fight, flee, freeze, or flock to safety.
If any of these panic responses save you from harm or save your life, then they’re the perfect, genius responses. If you’ve survived, you’re a survival expert. Thank you, panic!
Some people add other responses to long-term panic-inducing situations, or to panic responses that occur in the presence of bigger or stronger others: fawn (or friend) — or learning how to please an abuser person as a form of self-protection.
There is also a flooding response, which is kind of freezing and fleeing at the same time — you may be completely immobilized, but you’re filled with intense emotions that may make you go blank from overwhelm.
Panic is what I call a “raging rapids” emotion, and it can be a doozy, but it has to be! Panic arises when your physical life is in actual danger. It’s powerful because its power is required.
You need your panic. Immediate panic is crucial for your survival.
Luckily, your panic is always available
Here’s an important thing to know: You need panic – life is hazardous, and there will continue to be times when your panic will need to come forward to help you to fight, flee, freeze, flock to safety, dissociate, flood, fawn, or go numb.
Panic isn’t the problem; it comes to help you with the problem! Long tern difficulties only arise when this powerful emotion gets caught in a feedback loop, but those problems exist in all emotions – even joy!
You’re not supposed to erase your powerful emotions; you’re supposed to become skilled at working with them. Your healing tasks in the territory of panic are to restore your flow so that panic can move through you when it needs to – during emergencies and potential traumas – and to restore your resilience after your panic has risen up to save your life. Panic is your ally.
If your panic lingers, bodily movement can help you heal and reintegrate yourself. Dance, free-form movement, yoga, dao in, and tai chi, swimming, hiking, biking, and sports can help you restore your flexibility, your flow, your strength, and your playfulness.
Martial arts and self-defense classes are also wonderfully supportive, because they teach you the honorable rules of engagement for physical conflicts.
Model mugging workshops are also an excellent idea – but be sure to tell the instructor you’re working with your panic responses. The model mugger needs to know that when you fight back, your panic may give you superhuman strength! Model muggers are heavily padded and expertly trained, but a word to the wise is never wasted!
You need your panic to protect yourself
Remember that no type of practice will erase panic; healing practices simply restore your flow. When your flow is restored, you’ll be able to connect healthfully to all of your emotions, and if necessary, to flee, fight, freeze, flock to safety, fawn, flood, or dissociate in the future if those are your best survival options.
Then, when the emergency has passed and you’ve survived, you’ll be able to use your skills to integrate your experience and restore your resilience once again.
If, however, your panic stays active, increases, or begins to cycle, go to the next post on frozen panic.
Thank you, panic!
Related post: Embracing the healing genius of frozen panic