"I'm seeing fear to the extent that it's bringing on primitive responses in people who don't have anxiety disorders," said Mark Pfeffer, director for the Panic Anxiety Recovery Center in Chicago. "We can't change the cards that we're dealt but we do have control over how we play the cards."
"Our first inclination is to deny, become angry, and start blaming others for our mishaps, which prevents us from moving ahead," he said. "I just got an email from a 57-year-old woman who had to move home with her mother. Things are tough. But I challenge people by saying, 'If you had to pick a disability, which would you pick?' so they can get a reality check. Then I ask them to picture the worst case scenario, and really see themselves there, so they can do it on their terms. People tend to think they can't handle it but if you really take the inventory, you find you're stronger than you think."
Here are Pfeffer's tips to finding strength and embracing the positive when you're facing chaos.
Make a list of accomplishments and things you're grateful for.
"Just by seeing this in front of you, it can help remind you that some things are going well, and that you have done things right, and will continue to do so," he said.
Reduce your self-deprecation and blame.
"I tell my clients to put five bucks in a bucket every time they are self-deprecating or blaming others, and at the end of the month, they have to give that money to the political party they oppose," he said. "Ask yourself, 'What kind of thinking would I have to have to feel better right now?'"
Do something productive during a panic.
"I was on the phone with a woman who had lost her job, so while we were talking, I asked her to clean out the junk drawer in her kitchen," he said. "By the end of the conversation, she was still out of a job, but her drawer was clean and her anxiety had dropped."
Suit up and show up.
"There are times when you have to huddle up in a fetal position feeling your cheek on the bathroom floor," he said. "…But that misery should be temporary. You can grieve but your life should not stop. Keep a rhythm in life. Accept invitations to luncheons. Go to that dinner you'd rather avoid. You just may meet the person who will show you the next step."
Schedule a self-intervention.
"Ask your three closest friends to tell you cold the things you need to know about yourself," Pfeffer said. "Sometimes you need to get it between the eyes. It's easy to deny who you are, but if you really want help it starts with being honest and asking them what you need to change in your life. Then you can decide the kind of person you want to be and be it."
Seek out uncertainty.
"I ask clients to do something scary every day," he said. "We're doing improvisation classes with Second City because just the thought of that is terrifying to people, but when you improvise, you have a situation being thrown at you that is not in your control—which is a great way to develop the strengths that you have for dealing with adversity. … Hope comes from when you think you aren't strong enough to have what it takes, so by doing something scary everyday you can get there."