My heart is beating so fast, I think it might explode. I feel dizzy. My shoulders are bunched up and I can actually feel the knots forming in my back. I don’t want anyone to see me like this. It will be too embarrassing. I’m acting crazy. I’m fearing the worst possible scenario. My face starts to feel hot. My chest is tight and tingly. It’s another panic attack.
I have battled depression for most of my adult life. But my first panic attack terrified me. It came out of nowhere. It was just an instant realization of being completely overwhelmed and having no control over my thoughts. It was tremendous fear and anxiety. I truly thought I was losing my mind.
When I feel the panic starting, my friends will ask me, “what happened?” or “what triggered it?” and sometimes the answer is just “nothing.” I have been overwhelmed and exhausted and stressed, which has led to an attack. But I’ve also been completely fine and calm and all of a sudden, BOOM. I can’t breathe.
Different things work for different people. Some people need to be held, some people need to be talked to, and some people just want to be left alone. I am that girl. If I’m freaking out, please leave me alone. Because if you come near me and see me at my worst, I will feel embarrassed and that is only going to make the situation worse.
So over time, I have discovered a few things that really work for me, when I’m losing myself.
1) 1. Music. This is my #1 go to “fix” for most of my issues. Not only is music a great distraction, but the right song can bring out whatever it is that needs to come out. Maybe you need to sob, maybe you need to just listen. Make a playlist. Think of the songs that soothe you. Or if you’re like me, you will want to hear the songs that make you cry, so you can let it all out and move on.
2) 2. Yoga. When I’m stressed, my whole body becomes one big ball of tension. So much so, that my back and shoulders hurt. I’ve learned that stretching and yoga is the best remedy for that. Childs pose is my go-to yoga pose. It’s great for stretching out my back and shoulders and also helps regulate my breathing. There’s also something comforting about being in the fetal position. It’s called the “full-body healing pose” for a reason.
3) 3. Meditation. So many people struggle with meditation because they can’t seem to shut their mind off. To that, I say “so what?” Let whatever is going on in your mind, just happen! Feel it, so you can release it. Meditation works best for me if I’m lying on my back with my arms stretched out. It makes me feel as if my heart is wide open. Take deep breaths for as long as it takes for your beautiful heart to calm down. Let the love in.
4) 4. Ask yourself, “Will any of this matter a year from now?” It may seem like a weird question, but it works for me. When a panic attack is triggered by an event, it’s usually because of something that has not gone according to plan. When the plan that you had in your mind doesn’t quite go the way you want it to, sometimes you freak out! So I ask myself “ok, a year from now, is this still going to upset me?” The majority of the time, the answer is no. Focus on that. It will bring your mind back to a more rational place.
5) 5. Remind yourself how far you’ve come. I get so down on myself when I struggle with anxiety because of the stigma that exists around mental illness. But to counter that, I remind myself that I’ve gotten through all of it, I’m still here. Every bad thing that has happened in my life may have left a scar, but it did not defeat me. Those scars are the reason I am able to write this!
6) 6. Give yourself a break. I often need to tell myself that it’s ok to freak out. It’s ok to be vulnerable. It’s ok to be real. Feel your way through it. If you need to cry, cry and feel no shame in that. Love yourself enough to know that what you’re feeling is ok. We’re all in this together. We’re all just trying to make it.
7) 7. And lastly, focus on kindness. When I’m having anxiety issues, the last thing I want to be is kind. In fact, I don’t know how many times I have said “I just hate everybody” even though I don’t. The cloud hovers over us and there’s this darkness, this doom. You’ve heard the expression “kill them with kindness”. Well, you can do the same when you’re spiraling into the dark space. Kill the anxiety! Focus on something you can do for someone. Think of ways to help someone who could use some loving kindness.
That’s the best distraction there is!
When you reach the other side of the darkness and you start to see the light again, find a friend to talk to. Release it. If you can’t talk to someone, start a journal. Maybe you’ll notice a pattern of triggers or maybe you’ll discover what works best for you when you are in the midst of anxiety overload. Don’t be hard on yourself. Life is hard enough. Don’t be afraid to let go of some of the pressure we place on ourselves. And always remember, that black cloud won’t be around forever.