Everyone, at some point in our life, goes through the panic zone. We enter the panic zone when we push our limits too far. When we are dealing with something that seems dangerous to us, both physically and emotionally. When we feel obliged to do something that we perceive as alien and with which we do not identify.
Obviously, each person has their own fear zone. What is acceptable to some and even common to others may be unacceptable and strange. That is why there are countless examples of the panic zone which vary from person to person. While someone may feel in their comfort zone by engaging in extreme sports or constantly changing partners, for another person the mere prospect of these situations can generate a full-blown panic attack.
What is the panic zone?
The panic zone is an unknown territory in which we feel uncomfortable because we have lost the references that normally help us to orient ourselves in the world. Things usually happen in this area that confuse us, collide with our values and expectations, or are very difficult to accept. In this area, the psychological tools we use regularly are no longer needed, so we tend to feel particularly helpless, disoriented and helpless.
The sensations generated by the panic zone
When we enter the panic zone, we experience unpleasant sensations. We may feel like we are losing control because the mental patterns we used to understand the world and make sense of it no longer explain what is happening.
Being without cardinal points generates a strong anxiety that sometimes borders on panic. It is not strange, because the uncertainty that usually this area brings with it can make you fear the worst, generating that feeling of widespread apprehension that accompanies anxiety.
Another common feeling in the panic zone is vulnerability. We feel particularly fragile because the knowledge and skills we have acquired and in which we trust to move forward are no longer so effective in solving the new challenges that are presented to us.
We realize that we do not have the necessary tools or that they cannot guarantee us good results. This makes us insecure. Therefore, in the panic zone we have the sensation of walking on a glass that can break at any moment and hurt us.
The hidden possibilities behind what scares us
In an ideal world, we would move from our comfort zone to the growth zone or magic zone, completely avoiding the panic zone. But we don't live in an ideal world and things don't always go according to plan. Sometimes, due to our wrong decision or by chance, we find ourselves immersed in the panic zone.
Most psychologists warn that terrible things can happen in the panic zone, but it doesn't always have to be. In this area we can also learn. In fact, the panic zone can become a kind of "accelerated learning zone". As can be seen in the figure below, even in the panic zone high-performance experiences occur that can be comparable - to some extent - with those that occur in the learning zone.
It's true that the panic zone puts us on the ropes, but extreme circumstances can bring out our best version. Cal Newport, a professor at Georgetown University, found that many of his students got better right after they had children. It is paradoxical, because children take a long time, so it must have been more difficult for the new parents to be academically successful.
However, many times the difficulties that new challenges bring with them force us to take some things more seriously and do our best while trying our best. So what may initially be an example of a panic zone becomes a magical or learning zone.
This area also teaches us more about ourselves. When everything is fine and life goes on as it always does, we usually don't do much introspection. But when things go wrong, we are forced to look within. We wonder where we went wrong or what we need to change.
The panic zone, therefore, confronts us with our weak points. It shows us our limitations and teaches us that we are vulnerable and fragile. That teaching is extremely valuable because it is vulnerability that makes us more human, sensitive and empathetic.
How to get out of the panic zone?
Living in a state of panic and anxiety is neither pleasant nor recommendable. Therefore, we must make sure that we move as soon as possible to the magical zone, the one where learning and growth take place. To get out of the panic zone, the most valuable tool at our disposal is radical acceptance.
Rather than denying our problems or difficulties, we need to acknowledge that we have reached a point where we feel overwhelmed. When we fight against something, we usually generate an opposite force that hits us with greater intensity. When we learn to flow, we take advantage of that strength in our favor.
In the panic zone it is normal for us to feel unmotivated or even paralyzed. We need to take advantage of the sudden bursts of energy that fuel anxiety, as psychologist Robert Kriegel explains. In those moments we have to take action to get out of the panic zone, whether it's ending a toxic relationship, getting away from an unhealthy environment for a while, or pausing a project that has overtaken us to develop a new perspective.
The panic zone, like everything in life, is a phase we go through. It is neither good nor bad in itself. It all depends on how long we stay there and the attitude with which we face this phase.