Overcoming the Waves of a Panic Attack
That tight feeling you get in your chest or the pit of your stomach. Heart racing, lungs constricting, and shortness of breath. All the thoughts in your head pointing in one direction, "Am I going crazy? What is wrong with me?" Skin fluctuating between hot and cold, vision going dark, and coming back. Feeling like you could rip your hair out from so much frustration, all due to not knowing what was wrong and why you can't shake the hole of feeling you are in. So, is this a medical emergency you may ask? Nope, just a good ole' panic attack. Don't be mistaken by my humor though, for those of you who have never experienced a panic attack, I hope you never do. But for those of you that have, you are not alone, and no, you are not crazy.
Anxiety was a word I was really unfamiliar with until the summer after my freshman year of college. I started college, like most, excited to explore my new surroundings at the University of Miami. I have always been a really independent person but for some reason throughout my whole first year, I felt like a little fish in a big sea of people and had a hard time finding my place. I was surrounded by people but I still felt alone, even being in a shoebox dorm room with my roommate. Looking back I realize it was because I was never comfortable just being alone with myself.
My mind would always spiral and my thoughts never seemed to know how to be quiet. This went on for months, and I could feel myself changing but I never knew how to fix me. I mostly pushed my thoughts out of my head and just focused on friends or going out because I didn't want to acknowledge how much my anxiety took over and ran my life. But ignoring the thoughts I was having wasn't going to make them any less uncomfortable or make them go away. And eventually, that summer after everyone had left Miami for the summer, everything finally came to head.
That summer, I remember there being a period of four days I didn't leave my room or bed. I was so drained all I could do was cry and binge-watch Netflix while feeling numb. I will always thank my mom for being the person to literally pulling me out of bed into the shower most mornings. That summer, I learned the key to managing anxiety is to be comfortable with yourself and your thoughts.
Reliving Your Thoughts (and Panic)
One of my friends recently hit me with a comparison for anxiety that I'll never forget: Anxiety is like waves in an ocean, some get huge and come crashing down on the shore break while others are calm smaller baby waves. When we get anxious and in the midst of a panic attack we usually tend to focus on the big waves, our feelings crashing over us and we forget those small baby waves exist.
Here are some ideas on how to stay focused on those small baby waves:
- Journaling: I never was a huge fan of journaling until one day I decided to try a mind dump. A huge part of managing anxiety is the ability to sit with your thoughts and recognize them as anxiety. The key is to allow yourself to feel these emotions but also let them go almost just as quickly so they do not affect you. Seeing thoughts on paper and taking 5-15 minutes of out of your day to do a simple mind dump helps you recognize your thoughts like anxiety and let them go just as soon as you jot them down.
- Dance Parties: Dance it out is my motto. As simple as it sounds, throwing on your favorite song and just letting yourself move for a couple of minutes always does the trick. The purpose of the song is to distract the signaling in your brain from your anxious feelings and redirecting your attention to the music.
- Touching a Pet: If you have a pet, stroking its fur would have many of the same effects on the brain as the music. Feeling your pet's breathe and cuddling them up allows sending signals in the brain to slow your heart rate from its faster-paced beating.
- Affirmations: Affirmations changed my life. Every day I repeat the mantra: "I am whole, whatever is meant for me will come. I trust in the universe to present me the best opportunities to grow."
- Breathing/ Meditation: I learned the importance of breathing when trying to get my headstand in yoga. You will never stay in an inverted position if you do not slow your breath and trust your body. Your breath is the sign of your life, it is what keeps you alive. Trust it, use it to slow you down and regroup.
- Movement: Your body is a gift, we are lucky to have the ability to use it when we are in a time that so many others around us simply can't. Build it up in strength every day. Find your passion. Whether it be five minutes a day, 30 minutes or hours do what your body needs. Walk, run, go to yoga, lift weights, rollerskate, dance, pilates, spinning, etc... There are so many ways and as Melissa Wood - Tepperberg always says "any type of movement in your day always makes the shift in energy."
In order for your brain to instinctually do these things in a moment of panic, you want to create those pathways by doing these in your calm state routinely. Bringing these habits to your everyday life will allow you to think of them in moments of panic. Next time the huge waves of panic start crashing over you, use one of these tips to help bring you back down to the baby waves.