Understanding The Paradox of Panic in Order to Overcome It

overcome panic

For some reason, I used to think paradoxes were hard to understand, and that they were somehow confusing and complex.  Hearing the word would make my brain freeze up.

I used to confuse a paradox with an oxymoron, until I learned one day that “jumbo shrimp” was an oxymoron.  That one stuck.

I eventually learned that paradoxes are so simple and easy to understand – and fun to play with, too.

So on one cold winter day I went outside without a jacket.  After imagining my Mom yelling, “put your coat on or you’ll get sick, Alex”, I soon discovered that it wasn’t so cold when I offered no resistance to the cold.

I can still remember standing on my balcony in jeans and a tee shirt, completely relaxed and letting the cold in. When I allowed the cold in, it wasn’t so cold anymore.

I got excited so I started playing with paradoxes, like a scientist in a laboratory.  For example, when I tried to enjoy myself at my sister’s 40th birthday party, I soon found that real enjoyment was just out of my reach.

It was as if I was trying to catch my own shadow on a warm summer day.  As much as I tried, it just wasn’t going to happen.

By making my own enjoyment the priority, real enjoyment was always elusive.

Yet I noticed when I dropped the demand to enjoy myself, I began to have fun. I noticed that when I simply showed up without any need to enjoy myself, enjoyment naturally happened.

Then I applied it to my anxiety, the anxiety that crippled me for over five years.

Instead of wishing my anxiety wasn’t there, I let it be there.  Instead of pushing my anxiety away through a variety of distraction strategies, I welcomed it as I would a long lost friend.

And wouldn’t you know it, anxiety didn’t control me anymore.

It wasn’t until I looked back on the way I met my anxiety, did I see that I was giving energy to the very thing I so desperately wanted to be free from.

There was something wonderfully consistent and true, and it was this:  Only when I hoisted the white flag of surrender on my anxiety and acknowledged my situation without running away from it, did I arm myself with the power to once and for all overcome it.

Paradoxically, only when I recognized and accepted my present situation did I render myself both power-ful and response-able.

Anxiety sufferers are powerless over their condition in the sense that willpower alone isn’t enough. In fact, willpower often has a reinforcing effect.

Whenever I didn’t understand the liberating paradox of a particular situation I was faced with, I was bound to continue to approach (or relate to) that situation in a way that further ensured being in bondage to it.

It was simple and straightforward, and there was nothing mystical or confusing about it.

Surrendering to that which caused me pain and suffering was the paradoxical (and magical key) that ultimately unlocked the power to cure my anxiety and eliminate my panic attacks – permanently.

And so, you wield that power only when you stop fighting against your anxiety.  You wield that power when you allow a panic attack to be in your experience.

The wise Sufi poet Rumi once said:

“Learn the alchemy true beings know. The moment you accept what troubles you’ve been given, the door will be opened. Welcome difficulty as a familiar comrade. Joke with torment brought by the friend. Sorrows are the rags of old clothes and jackets that serve to cover, and then are taken off. That undressing, and the naked body underneath, is the sweetness that comes after grief.”

We’ve actually been conditioned not to see the wonderful opportunity present within any struggle we experience. We’re told to fight against the thing we struggle with, and we wonder why we just can’t seem to rise above it.

All along, the healing and ‘the answer’ is right smack in the middle of the panic and anxiety we suffer from. We just don’t see it because we’re not looking for it there.

I was unaware that the opposites arise together – and that the peace I was seeking was entirely within the panic I was suffering from.

Only when I fully allowed the panic and anxiety to be as it is, did I actually experience the underlying peace that was always present.

I mistakenly assumed that the panic, anxiety and phobias was all that was present, and that it was something that I should resist if I wanted it gone from my experience.

And while it may certainly feel that it was all that was present, it’s simply not true. In fact, it was never true.

Right in the midst of all that unpleasant stuff is a peace so sublime your head would spin. Granted, it isn’t logical and it doesn’t seem rational, but who ever said this is about what the mind deems logical and rational?

We can only truly ‘know’ a thing when we know it in our gut. Not our head with all its concepts and opinions, but in our gut, experientially.

We can conceptually understand the saying, ‘what we resist persists,’ but only when we confirm its truth in our being, in our experience, do we really know it.

And that’s when real and lasting change begins to happen, when understanding travels from the head to the heart.  Sometimes this can be a long and arduous journey, but it doesn’t have to be that way.

The Heart already knows the way. It’s already in harmony with what is true. You just need the courage to follow it – and the mind will follow. The heart knows the transcending power in paradoxes and waits for you to put the mind aside and follow its wisdom.

As William Wallace’s father lay dying in the movie Braveheart, he told young William, “Your heart is free, have the courage to follow it.”

Do you have the courage to follow your heart?

In Conclusion

Whether we recognize them or not, liberating paradoxes are operating in our moment-to-moment experience. If we wish to overcome anything that ails us, we are wise to see and understand how they work. Work with them and free yourself, or work against them and suffer.

Curing anxiety and conquering panic attacks isn’t so daunting when we first allow them to be present in our experience. Welcome difficulty as a familiar comrade, joke with torment brought by the friend and uncover the sweetness that comes after grief, the sweetness that was present in the midst of the grief.

Photo by Will Foster

27 thoughts on “Understanding The Paradox of Panic in Order to Overcome It”

  1. That’s right, just as courage is proceeding despite fear (not without it), overcoming panic is proceeding despite anxiety (not without it). Lovely post.

    The title’s white text, though?

    1. Glad you liked the post. And you’re right, we really can’t afford the luxury of waiting to feel just right to move in the direction we want. It would be nice if it worked that way, but apparently it doesn’t!

  2. What a brave and insightful man you are, Alex. I really enjoyed your post. Surrender is usually the answer to all our problems. Thanks for sharing.

    1. Thank you, Marcy. I appreciate the comments. Surrender can be a tough one, huh? Probably because it’s not something we can ‘do’. But when it happens, wow, what a remarkable difference in our experience…

      1. This is cliche of me to say, Alex, but I am constantly striving to be a human BEING and not a human DOING!

  3. Alex,

    This is a lovely post. Thank you for sharing it.

    Anxiety is a real bugger and I’d definitely agree that you have embrace the feeling to understand it and ultimately defeat it. We give strength to our fears when we refuse to confront and understand them. To defeat your enemy, you must love them.

    1. Michael,

      You’re welcome, my friend. And are you spot on. It seems counterintuitive to embrace what we really don’t want, doesn’t it? We’ve literally been conditioned since birth to ‘fight against’ what we don’t want and embrace what we do want. Seldom do we take a close look at the byproducts of this strategy. But when we do, we’re usually inspired to relate in a different way – a way that works.

  4. Alex,
    I agree with every bit of your great insight. Especially with the part of actually experiencing surrender. Rationally we might know fighting worsens the symptoms of our experience, and allowing our emotions and sensations to just be is what brings relief . But to really experience surrender and allow the experience to be is truly liberating. It is as if in that very moment we acquired the wisdom of it all humbly acknowledging it can not be grasped by the human mind.
    To put it in the words of Mr. Jung: The only way out is through.

    I wish all of us as many liberating experiences as there can be. For no one should suffer that which can be cured.


    1. Olga,

      Thanks for your response and kind words. As you say, “allowing our emotions and sensations to just be is what brings relief”… this is key. To the mind, surrender is just a concept. (The mind can’t comprehend that which is beyond the mind.) Surrender, or allowing what is to be as it is, happens below the neck. Wisdom sees the good sense of allowing what is already happening, because in the moment, despite what the mind says, it can’t be happening any different.


  5. Wow.. thanks for sharing. This saved me from giving up. Instantly the anxiety was gone, funny how we are not taught all this in schools or colleges or in official motivational trainings at work. It is just as important as learning science, maths and languages. We dont accept or share sometimes, but a lot of people go through anxiety and panic attacks, some more than the others. But I really want to thank you today, I feel so much better. I bookmarked this to my homescreen.

    1. Shruti,

      Thanks for your words – I appreciate it. And you are most welcome. I’m really glad the article had an impact on you. It’s why I do this. Yes, in school, we’re mostly taught to memorize things that we’ll never need to use later in life! Do you remember the capital of North Dakota or the square root of 21? Who cares? What I care about is how to live a life filled with peace, prosperity and happiness. Can you teach me that, Miss Thompson?

      Never give up. Giving up is a permanent solution to a temporary problem. Never forget this. In fact, consider making it your new mantra. Don’t believe your mind when it tells you, “it’s always going to be like this.” It’s simply not true, and just because it FEELS true, doesn’t mean it’s true. It isn’t, especially when it comes to needless anxiety and panic attacks.

      Remember, anxiety is a pathological liar of the highest order and if it has one goal, it’s simply to live another day. It knows if it can fool you into believing its many lies, it survives. Keep allowing what is already in your experience to be IN your experience. This is the key to your eventual transformation. One day, you’ll look back in gratitude for the anxiety, because the peace and joy you’ll feel will be that much sweeter.

      I wish you the best.


  6. What a brilliant post! It’s so ironic that the moment we finally embrace and accept something is when we discover the only power we have over it.

    When I was stuck in my old job and hating the hell out of it, I kept being mad at having to be there every day and not having any time or energy at night to grow my side business. One day, I decided that I couldn’t keep it up any longer so I started to look for the lesson. I decided my lesson was that I needed to accept where I was, even embrace it as the place where I needed to be, and learn to be happy even if I didn’t like working there.

    It took me a while to shift my mindset completely, but once I did, a funny thing happened – they laid me off about a week after. God works in mysterious ways ;)

  7. Lovely piece, Alex-
    I’ve spent a lot of years trying to work my way through this ‘gift’ of anxiety I’ve had since a child. Most times it seems futile. Today, when I read this, I was given one more reason to keep working.

    1. Karen,

      I’m sorry to hear you’ve been dealing with anxiety that long. No doubt it’s been rough. So glad the article resonated – and I’m happy it sparked some kind of inspiration within you. I know (that you know) you’re greater than anything anxiety can ever throw at you.
      Keep your head up and face what’s facing you. I believe in you. In the end, anxiety can’t stand up to close examination.


    2. Thanks Karen. Sorry to hear it’s been a lifelong battle. I’m glad the article served as a spark of inspiration to continue moving in the direction you really want. You deserve all the peace and happiness your heart can take!


  8. I agree fully in complete resonance. It’s such a beautiful reminder, thank you Alex :)
    And well done on being courageous… Unseen qualities is where our real truth in beauty lie, and our shells sometimes only merely reflect our magnificence and astounding capabilities and potential – ever so subtly – that we tend to forget that ‘be-ing’ is all it is about. A befuddling deception the physical is.
    *Big big hug*

  9. This is awesome, Alex. A mini version of this…when I stub my toe, the pain goes away almost instantly…when I surrender to it instead of gearing myself up to resist it.

    A more profound version happened in helping my wife through childbirth. Surrendering to the pain of the contractions, particularly when they are natural. She said it was a game changer.

    Thanks for a great post!

  10. Hi Alex,

    I find it difficult at times to control anxiety even though I say to myself surrendering is the best option rather than to resist it , but after reading your article I somewhere feel I can do it !!

    Thank you for the beautiful article for motivating a positive hope for anxiety free life .

    Cheers :)

    1. Srinivas,

      I totally agree. It can be very difficult! And yes, you CAN do it. By allowing what is to be as it is.

      Argue with reality and suffer, but only every time. Face and embrace what is already in your experience, and watch it eventually dissolve from your experience.

      You are welcome for the article and I’m more than pleased it gives you hope.


  11. Amazing post, this may be old but this is still a good reminder.

    Are you fully cured now?

    I don’t like talking about anxiety or even hearing that word, should
    I learn to embrace it? Will that help?


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