Rose was ecstatic as she signed one final time, and officially purchased her first home. She could not wait to move out of her apartment, where she lived for the past four years, saving to become a homeowner. Rose couldn’t move into her new home for two weeks, but she was in a hurry to get back to her apartment, and start packing. Fourteen days seemed like forty years, but Rose had plenty to do to keep busy. After all, she needed to pack up the items she planned to keep, get rid of the items she wasn’t, and buy new furnishings to turn her house into her dream home. Rose returned to her apartment, and suddenly felt sick. “What’s wrong with me she thought?” She felt dizzy, needed to sit, was having trouble breathing, and her heart felt like it was going to burst out of her chest.
It was on the same day that Rose felt overjoyed about becoming a new homeowner, she experienced her first panic attack. A panic attack, according to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5), is characterized by feelings of nausea or dizziness, sweating, shaking, accelerated heart rate, chest pain, a sense of detachment from oneself, and a fear of losing control or dying. The panic attack Rose endured was not a symptom of Panic disorder, nor was it a coincidence that it occurred on such a significant day. The stress induced panic attack was the result of thoughts which started to overwhelm Rose as she drove to her apartment, and culminated in a full blown panic attack as she stepped foot inside her apartment. Rose was second-guessing her home-buying decision, as she frequently did with many decisions in her life.
Perhaps, you have a story similar to Rose, and you’re wondering, “What can I do about it?” Let’s break down the story about Rose into two parts, and deal with each part separately. In part 1, let’s discuss how to improve your confidence in your decision-making ability. Part 2 will examine panic attacks, and the effect to your mental well-being.
Decisions! Decisions! Decisions!
Nowadays, consumers have no shortage of options. Simply picking out which candy bar sounds best when staring at an aisle with dozens can be frustrating. “Do I want chocolate, do I want nuts, what kind of nuts…Of course I want King size.” As one might expect, the level of stress in making purchases increases with more expensive, and long-term decisions. Especially difficult are home-buying, like in the case of Rose, automobile purchases, or expensive electronics. Expensive items create a lot of discord because you can’t simply replace them if you determine after a short period of time that it’s not really what you want. Frankly, you’re stuck with it. Other decisions that generate similar levels of anxiety, while not always expensive, can be relationships, or as my significant other and I are currently debating, which dog is going to rescue us next. I suggest trying a technique I call, “research, rate, reassurance.”
Research: What do I want, and what products (services, people, etc.) are available to meet my needs. Search online, read reviews, ask people you know if they have any experiences with the items. Don’t limit your search to online research, especially with larger purchases, look for books at the local library, or access a journal database (Tip for OKC residents: Metro Library system offers an outrageous abundance of resources for free, such as Consumer Reports for making purchases.) For home-buying, which I’m frequently reminded is a highly emotional purchase, I would recommend finding a home-buying consultant who knows what to look for and evaluate the structural integrity of a home. If you’re planning to do some remodeling after moving in, your contractor will likely provide this service to you free of charge. Similarly, find a trusted mechanic, and don’t buy a used vehicle until he or she inspects it. Lastly, and most importantly, when it comes to research, ask why? For example, sometimes I read reviews, and realize that one’s opinion has no relevance to me. Often, people have reasons for liking or disliking items which may not be a factor in your decision. Therefore, be sure to ask why someone says he or she would or would not recommend the product.
Rate: This is simple, yet often overlooked. The significance of the purchase, dictates the suitable sophistication for a rating system. The most basic, is the pros and cons checklist, in which the item with the most pros wins. More tasking decisions need a more complex approach, and the best way to achieve this is to rank items based on features. Features should be given weights to determine the features’ importance level, and the items are scored based on the ratings given to the features. The item that ranks the highest would be the top choice.
Reassurance: Remind yourself that you have done your research. You are a knowledgeable consumer, who knows what is in your best interest. Ask others to offer reassurance, and remind you how you arrived at the decision. Nothing is perfect, but forget about the flaws. You have already evaluated them, and they did not outweigh the pros. Focus on the positive, and enjoy your new purchase, relationship, pet, candy bar, etc.
Did I have a Panic Attack?
Panic attacks are not classified as a mental illness, and may result from medical conditions, anxiety, trauma, or other mental health disorders. Reoccurring panic attacks, not better explained by another disorder, may be indicative of Panic Disorder. If you experienced any of the previous mentioned symptoms (pounding heart, trembling, shortness of breath, feeling of detachment, etc.), you likely experienced a panic attack. If like Rose, you only experienced it in the event of a highly stressful situation, you need not worry. If you ever start to feel signs of a panic attack starting again, alert yourself that it is a panic attack, begin to focus on your breathing, and process what thoughts are encouraging the overwhelming feelings. On the other hand, if you noticed in the story about Rose, I stated “…her first panic attack,” indicating that it was possible and likely that others followed. That’s because Rose continued to be trapped in a pattern of thinking errors which escalated the risk for panic attacks. Thoughts are paramount to mental illness, and have a significant influence on how one feels. Panic attacks only occur when you exceed your threshold for stress. However, not having a panic attack does not mean that everything is fine. Constantly battling with yourself over decisions may induce stress levels that do not exceed your threshold, but can still be detrimental to your health or quality of life. I strongly urge you to seek help from a mental health professional to determine if underlying mental health disorders need to be treated, or to learn coping skills that keep thinking errors and stress in check.
Dustin Choate, LPC