It’s always the hardest to wake up and realize that nothing in your life is going the way you had planned, that your goals are farther away from you than they ever have been, but it’s those days I am learning to appreciate the most. I struggle with anxiety with an awesome case of panic attacks on the side, so these thoughts can get the best of me and send me into a frenzy of depression and self-loathing, not healthy.
If you have ever had a panic attack then you must know it’s just about one of the worst things a person can experience. You never know when its coming, you never know how long it will last or how it will manifest itself in your body. For me, I usually get a lot of adrenaline (not in a ‘oh my God I can take on the world’ way) start shaking, my vision gets cloudy and I can’t think of anything that is not the anxiety and panic taking over my body, goosebumps, hyperventilating and still feel like you’re drowning.
I read somewhere a pretty accurate description for those of you who have been lucky enough to never experience it, it was something like this..
You know when you jump into a pool, lake, or ocean and you’re holding your breath under water, after a bit you prepare to push yourself up kicking the floor with your feet only, the floor is nowhere near your feet and you get a tiny heart attack because you didn’t expect it? well, its like that only for long periods of time. Horrible, I know.
Anyway, I thought I had finally gotten over my anxiety because I hadn’t had any in about ten or eleven months. Boy was I wrong! I had an episode about a month ago, to paint you a picture…
It was the first day of the music part of SXSW here in Austin, and I had friends coming in from out-of-town. I had the whole weekend planned with shows we were going to check out, parties we would attend and all that fun stuff. The day they got here I worked a long shift at work and lets face it its Austin and its SXSW, there was a LOT of weed smoke at work and I got second-hand high, along with the exhaustion and the fact that I didn’t eat much that day. Now, don’t get me wrong I have absolutely nothing against people who smoke, been there, done that. Since my anxiety started I realized that it was sometimes a trigger (yeah, I know its supposed to be the other way around).
By the time I got home I was falling asleep on the couch waiting for my friends. When they finally arrived we got dressed and ready to go meet up some of my friends at Rainey St. (A better 6th St, basically a street with bar next to bar next to bar). After ordering the Lyft I started to feel a bit wobbly and almost fainted, so I laid down and tried to relax, I told myself it was nothing, that I probably just stood up too fast and we left.
The Lyft dropped us off under the freeway where all we had to do was cross it and we would be at the bars, we started walking and -BOOM! Panic attack! I started to freak out and asked my friends if we could chill there for a minute while I calmed down. Of course, they said yes (my buddies are awesome guys). After 10-15 minutes I realized it wasn’t going away and that made me freak out even more.
I had started seeing this guy I had met about a week before this happened and he was waiting for us at the bar, for some reason I felt like I needed a hug from him. I texted him and asked him to come meet me under the freeway (to this day I do not understand why he didn’t head for the hills after my very odd request). Being the amazing person that he is, he left the bar and met us under the freeway, when he hugged me my anxiety definitely calmed down a bit but it was still there.
Long story short, I was stuck under the freeway for an hour and a half. Until, one of my friends realized she had forgotten her I.D. back at my place, which meant we had to go back. I finally was able to breathe a little knowing I would be safely in my bed.
The anxiety lasted all week with many episodes after that, going places especially downtown had become a hassle because I never want to inconvenience friends by having to leave, also it feels horrible so I would go through all sorts of hoops to avoid it. Since then I still get anxious now and then, although I am learning to identify my triggers and practice ways to change my train of thought when I’m headed that way.
The real point of this post though, is that since this happened, every day that I get out of bed or make myself go to a crowded place I can feel my anxiety disappear little by little. It is by far one of the scariest things to deal with, especially when you feel you don’t have a strong enough support system close by (AKA family, friends what would drop anything to help out).
If you are like me and struggle with this, then I’d like to share with you some of my thoughts…
- YOU ARE NOT ALONE! There are a lot of apps, phone numbers you can reach out to. I believe the police have had some training in mental illness matters.
- Try to watch something funny! This always seems to help me get out of my own head.
- If you still feel like you can’t focus on T.V. then play a song you LOVE and look up the lyrics, sing along.. even if you have every word memorized, reading them gives you something to focus on.
- Drink some water or hot tea..NO COFFEE!
- If you’re in a crowded space and you feel out-of-place, leave! Grab someone you trust and take a walk outside. Tell them you need them to walk with you and listen, ask them to please just listen, that you don’t need advice, or solutions you just need to talk, vent and get everything out.. then do it. If you feel like you can go back to where you were, do it. If you don’t then don’t. Remember no one can make you do anything you don’t want to.
- This is your mantra “I am here in ___. I am safe, everything will be ok and I will make it through this.”
- I know it is harder than it seems but DO NOT obsess about what people will think, say, or feel if you leave, or don’t do whatever. The truth is if they care about you they will understand and will encourage you to do what you need to do to feel better. If they don’t then you’re better off without them.
- Try to think of a happy memory and focus on the details of the story, what you were wearing, who was there, or what the weather was like. Distracting your mind will get you out of the spiraling anxious thoughts.
- Tell yourself it will not last forever, and you just have to get through it and soon it will be gone. Don’t be scared of it, it’s only your body telling you that something in your life is not sitting right with you. After it’s gone, spend some time analyzing what your trigger could’ve been, knowing this is the first step to stopping anxiety on its tracks.
If you are one of the lucky people who don’t have anxiety but know someone who does, and don’t really know how to react, read these suggestions and just remember everyone experiences it differently so always ask!
- Ask them if they want a hug. Hugs can be a big help to someone dealing with a panic attack. If they say yes hug them really tight for as long as they’ll let you. Remember to ask before you touch them, others might like to isolate themselves.
- Ask them if they need to vent, or if they would rather listen to you.
- Try to distract them, HAPPY THOUGHTS! Tell them a funny anecdote or tell them a joke.
- If they need to vent, let them. They might repeat themselves and that’s normal sometimes you need to say the same thing 100 times before you can move on.
- Tell them they are not alone, that you are there for them for whatever they need and actually be there.
- If you made plans to go out, make sure they know exactly what the plan is, even if it might change in the future. It gives people like me a timeline and something concrete to not wander about what might happen which is a trigger for some people. A simple “I’ll pick you up at 3 we will go to this place and be there for about an hour then we can either go to this other place or I can take you home.” Knowing that they can leave at any time is a big help, it will keep us from feeling trapped.
- If you know your friend/gf/bf/family member had a panic attack the day before, be aware that they are probably feeling guilty and possibly think they have let someone down. A “Hey, how are you feeling today? Need anything?” text will go a LONG WAY.
- A call or visit is even better. I have a friend who I don’t really talk to everyday but when I have a panic attack she will always show up with my favorite snacks and a movie the next day.
- We know it can get a bit annoying to leave a place before the event is over, or before you wanted to leave, and sometimes that is enough to make us go into panic mode because we don’t want to disappoint or be an inconvenience. Reassuring us that its ok if we need to leave is super helpful.
- Tell them they are great, that they will get through this, that it won’t last forever.
- THE MOST IMPORTANT ONE… Just ask them, “What can I do to make this easier to deal with?” and do it.
I hope I was able to provide some good ideas to help manage anxiety whether you have it yourself or someone you care about. If one person can benefit from this then it makes it all worth it.
Thank you for reading, if you have any tips you would like to share PLEASE leave them in the comment section!