I experienced my first anxiety attack when I was 10 years old. I can’t even describe how frightening and overwhelming the sensation was. It was my first day of middle school and I had absolutely no idea what to do or how to control it. Over the years, living with anxiety became easier, but it has never quite disappeared. I’ve learned to cope with my anxiety through many ways that go beyond the normal regimen of anti-anxiety medications and conventional therapy.
The worst thing you can do is give your anxiety more power. Over time, when I felt the usual tingly sensations shoot through my body and the sudden whoosh of dizziness, I would choose to briefly acknowledge it. “Okay, you’re having a panic attack. What now?” Just as we all as children found it comforting during a thunder storm to hide behind the covers, I harnessed that notion in a different capacity. Instead of hiding under the covers, I engrossed myself in a book. If you like reading, go ahead and pick out a few of your favorite novels and keep a few handy. Leave one in your car or put one in your purse. Try going for light novels in order to not provoke your anxiety. If you aren’t a reader, try a lighthearted video game or grab a magazine. The key is to take a deep breath and just get into it, immerse yourself in a different world. By doing this, you eliminate the stress outside of yourself and refocus your entire body.
Open Up to Others
The best thing I could have done to take power away from my anxiety was to open up to others about my condition. It started small, as I was still young, I only told one friend… and from there, I began to tell others. I spoke to a guidance counselor at my middle school and eventually enrolled in therapy. But it always takes that first step, for many, that first step is the hardest. I can recall vividly how painful it was for me to open up to my best friend, but once it was out, it seemed like nothing. In the new climate that we live in, people are far more receptive to hearing about your mental illness.
By being up front about your illness, you take away the power it has over you. Don’t be afraid to let your friends or your loved ones know how you are currently feeling. What I’ve found incredible is that as I am having an anxiety attack, it actually helps to describe my physical feelings! If you find the right friend to talk to, they can aid you in getting over a brief attack. Explain that you have tingling sensations, discuss your tunnel vision, your rapid heart beat and other issues. As you talk, you will find yourself calming down. Your friends can also coach you in telling you that you are all right, you are safe, and that everything will be okay.
Intuition Is Key
Personally I find that many of my anxiety attacks have been triggered by a bigger, unrelated issue. For me, my anxiety is a way of manifesting unresolved tension within myself. For people who keep their true feelings hidden or disregard their issues, anxiety is a way that your body releases this tension. It took me awhile, but I’m at a point now where I can identify that my anxiety isn’t a random manifestation. While I may sit there and have recurring thoughts of dying, becoming ill, or simply be afraid that I am having a heart attack due to a rapid pulse, I ask myself What happened today or recently that would cause this? Nine times out of 10, I can find something that would cause me to be unhappy or that would add stress to my life. Talk yourself through that issue, think about what you can do to fix it, talk to others, write down what you’re feeling. Even if you can’t come up with an immediate solution, you will feel better. This will also detract from your initial anxiety attack and allow you to once again gain control over your body.
Talk to Your Doctor
If you do not have a therapist or a psychiatrist, seek one out immediately. It isn’t always easy to find a great match with a therapist, but work at it. Eventually, you will be able to make a connection with one. Simply taking a medication will not solve the underlining issues. You must exercise your brain to relieve what has caused you such a great deal of anxiety. To me, a mental illness is simply a different type of injury that your body can have. When you have a broken leg, do you only take pain killers to fix it? No! You go to rehab to begin walking on it again, you use a splint or a cast in conjunction with anti inflammatory medication. All of these procedures need to be done with your anxiety disorder as well. Talk to your therapist, consider a medication, and remember that healing doesn’t start instantly.
The best thing I could have done for myself was accepting my illness. My anxiety does not define who I am, and I know that now. This is simply another shade of your magnificent personality. Just like diabetes, high blood pressure, or other common illnesses, you can live with this. Don’t be ashamed of yourself for having a panic attack, go with it! You too can survive your anxiety and live a normal life.