~This post contains a trigger warning for covering the topic of anxiety and panic attacks in detail, with allusions, metaphors and other literary devices from ninth grade English~
I’ve been away from reality and have even strayed from the safe, soft confines of this blog for a while, because I’ve been working on a book. It’s been exciting and daunting, because I usually write short fiction and poetry. (And also because saying “I’m working on a novel” sounds a tad pretentious at best.)
In any case, today I wanted to come back and talk about anxiety!
Anxiety has a large role in my life, and I’m sure many people can relate to this. Sometimes, anxiety can be so insidious that it’s hard to realize it’s even present until it balloons up into a full-blown panic attack and explodes.
I’ve dealt with a lot of generalized anxiety. It kind of feels like an allergic reaction to buzzing bees. Why? Well, there’s the buzz-buzz-buzz of racing thoughts, a tightness in the chest that constricts breathing, and an inexplicable feeling of dread. …Which reminds me of a certain Nicolas Cage movie…
Then there are panic attacks, which are more like volcanoes that may or may not be dormant. Everything can be peachy for a week or even a few years, and then suddenly, in a supermarket and for no obvious reason, the volcano erupts and spills over. A lot of people fear their going to die when this happens, because there’s shortness of breath, sweaty palms, and/or a sudden need for water. I tend to be in the camp that believes I am going to go crazy and nothing will be the same. Luckily, neither of this circumstances are what’s really happening. The thing is, the responses triggered in anxiety attacks can be helpful, just not when they happen seemingly at random. Actually, they’re not even great when all the triggering circumstances are in play.
I’d like to share some of the most helpful tools I have for dealing with both generalized anxiety and panic attacks, but before I go on I really need to stress that I’m not a medical professional and that I’m only sharing my personal experiences. Also, I need to say that the amount of resources and wonderful counsellors/psychologists/therapists, etc. that are out there when it comes to dealing with anxiety is pretty sizeable. This is good, because often there’s an underlying issue at the heart of the anxiety that a counsellor can dig up and help deal with. (Such as: “I want to keep reading the A Song of Ice and Fire series, but I’m scared all of my favourite characters are gonna die.”)
All that being said, here are my stop-drop-and-rolls for dealing with anxiety.
Sometimes, the first step is to acknowledge the anxiety is even there. If I’m having trouble focussing, or suddenly everything seems to be taking place in a 90’s alternative rock video, that’s my cue that something is up.
Once that’s established, my favourite things to do are breathing techniques. Specifically, I like my feet to make contact with the ground, and then I like to breathe in whatever positive buzzword I need, and breathe out all the negative junk.
Sometimes I go a step further and visualize myself as a tree taking root. I think the key is to get out of the racing mind, and back into the body. An astute counsellor once called me a walking, talking lollipop. I still prefer to imagine being Treebeard.
If it’s still not working, then making little movements can be helpful. A great counsellor suggested that sometimes the remedy to “flight or fight” can be to mimic the movements your muscles would make, but very slowly and deliberately. So for instance, when I was on a flight at what I felt was at billion meters in altitude, there was no “fight or flight” option for me. (Unless you count that lame pun.) But what I could do, was bide my time by clenching my fists as if I was fighting, and moving my feet and ankles as if I were running.
Finally, little mantras like “This too shall pass” and “Everything is temporary” might seem corny, but they can often do the trick.
Oh, and it’s also nice to have a lifeline; a friend or relative or hotline to reach out to. Sometimes just talking to someone and hearing about their shitty day is all one needs to shift focus away from one’s own anxiety.
Let me know if you have some tips or tricks I haven’t mentioned!