You are walking down the street one night, it’s a beautiful night with gorgeous sparkling stars. The weather is that perfect temperature where you can wear pants and a t-shirt and be completely comfortable. Out of nowhere, a leaf blows behind you making noise.
The sole fact that you KNOW in your mind this was nothing but a crinkly fall leaf means nothing; your mind is racing and you instantly are terrified.
“What if I’m just convincing myself it was a leaf?” “Is someone behind me?” “Should I be running?” “What if they catch up and I can’t get in the apartment safely?”
Sounds ridiculous right?
What about this one:
You’re out with friends having a great time, having some drinks and letting loose. The night is going great; celebrating a birthday has never been so fun! All of a sudden, while sitting at the bar, you start panicking. You feel your heart beat rapidly speed up, your breathing getting shorter – you feel it coming and can’t do anything about it.
“Just calm down, what’s even wrong with you? You’re overreacting.”
Meet my very Unwelcome Friend, Anxiety.
In my last post I said “Anxiety often has no validation; it sneaks up on you at the worst possible time, for seemingly no reason.” and this is the best way to describe it. It feels like your world is coming to an end, but you know there is nothing you can do. Deep breathing and comforting words accompanied by warm hugs will not do a thing. Sometimes it lasts for hours at 3 in the morning, and sometimes it’s for 20 seconds when you’re walking inside.
If you Google “anxiety” or “anxious” almost every picture that comes up is someone biting their nails, someone with their head in their hands, or someone screaming/crying. This is probably the most COMMON and UNREALISTIC perception of anxiety; it does not always have to be screaming, panicking, crying fits. Sometimes all it means is a horrible, scary feeling deep in your gut that you know will not go away. Sometimes all it means is a headache that feels like a butcher knife is sticking out of your head. Sometimes all it means is over-analyzing every. little. thing; your mind constantly racing, constantly over thinking and over worrying about everything that crosses your train of thought.
Dealing with anxiety is hard. Dealing with someone who has anxiety can be even harder. From my experience, here is some advice I can give anyone who is impacted by this.
For Those With Anxiety:
1. Be aware and know your triggers. Whether it is alcohol, crowded social events, being alone at night, or something entirely different. Start realizing when the most intense anxiety hits, and start trying to be prepared.
For me, it was alcohol. Every time I drank heavily, the compartments in my brain mushed together and formed utter chaos. So, I stopped drinking for a few months and am now aware that I need to stick to a couple at a time. If it’s being alone at night, find a support system to talk you through it, watch your favorite movie or show, go workout or do something you love to calm you down – for me, its baking and Gilmore Girls.
2. Don’t forget to breathe.
Hyperventilating is the scariest part, remember to take deep breaths – in for three out for three – you might have to tell yourself every second to breathe, but it’ll at least help you feel like you’re not drowning, gasping for air.
3. Change your focus
This is almost impossible to do at the height of the attack. Find something that makes you happy or calm. Count to 10, with your eyes closed and your breathing steady. Focus on something for each sense; find something you can hear, touch, smell, see and even taste if possible. It always helps to check back into reality, realize that you can be in control of your senses and feelings. You’ve been here before, and you can make it through!
4. Get some rest
Recovering from a panic attack takes a very long time. For me, the entire day after is spent mentally recovering; I am quiet, I am lazy, I am a little sad, and that’s okay. Panic attacks take a lot out of you, they are absolutely exhausting, and a day of rest is usually a win-win situation – panic attack or not, everyone needs to take a break sometimes.
For those who know someone with anxiety:
1. Let them know you are there for them
Sometimes, all it takes to feel a teeny bit better is to know that someone is there. Even if you don’t ever want to talk about it, knowing that you can helps. Reassure them that they are able to call you anytime, and that you are always here if they want to talk about it. If they ever do want to talk about it, help them, don’t talk down to them. Try and help them figure out what the causes are, and what you can do to help.
Have I mentioned how great my boyfriend is? He has been absolutely wonderful, helping me through this journey with my Unwelcome Friend. I asked him for any advice he has for people that know someone with anxiety – he said be patient -and I couldn’t agree more. Know that it is not anything that can be stopped immediately or talked out of, know that it is something that takes time. Do not get frustrated because you know there’s no reason to panic, because we know there’s no reason to panic, we just can’t help it.
3. Be that constant reminder to breathe
If you are ever with someone during one of their panic attacks, remind them (very calmly) to keep breathing. At the height of an attack, it is almost impossible to remind yourself of it, so having someone there to guide you through it really helps.
4. Don’t forget to take care of yourself
It is exhausting for you, too, and we get that. Do not feel like you have to cater to us. If you’re the one getting the call in the middle of the night, or waking up next to your partner in the middle of a panic attack at 2 am, take time to recover. Don’t ever be afraid to say you need a few hours to recuperate and get your mind set back where it should be.
Bottom line is:
It’s hard for us all. Sticking together and looking out for each other is really all we can do.
All we have is each other, we’ve got to make it worth it.
God Bless, and Stay Safe.