As I enter a new era of my life I realize more than ever how important it is to manage anxiety and panic attacks. I have been diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Panic Disorder and OCD. Yep, that’s a mouthful. It’s a condition I’ve battled with for several years and one of the toughest parts of my life. I am writing today’s post based solely on my own experiences in hopes that if you also struggle with anxiety or panic attacks that you will find help and create a better environment.
Make sure physical needs are met - This seems obvious but lack of sleep, exercise and poor diet all contribute to my panic attacks. Although I have an affinity for wine, I have found alcohol only temporarily minimizes anxiety and then immediately increases panic attacks the following day or two. Removing alcohol requires me to deal with a situation instead of medicating myself. I feel better when I don’t drink all around and can tackle more situations with a clear mind.
Have a plan - I go through a checklist when I start feeling light headed. I start with making sure I have snacks and water. Then, I find a quiet space. I slow my breathing down and focus on things that bring me positive feelings. It may be a song playlist, it may be a photograph or words of encouragement. I have a list of about ten things that bring me joy so when I feel one coming on, I slow down and go through my checklist.
Take a walk - A ten minute walk can do wonders when I feel anxious. I usually have an exit strategy in place prior to most situations. I will excuse myself to the restroom or take a call if I need to in certain situations, but the best remedy for most of my panic attacks is a short brisk walk around the block. I set a timer and walk in one direction, then turn around and walk back. It takes the guess work out of things and I can just focus on moving my body. Panic attacks usually last 15-30 minutes so I know if I take a walk my mind will settle as my body moves.
Remove things from your plate - Now instead of multi-tasking I try to focus on one thing at a time and only on my top 3 priorities. Once those things are accomplished I work on my next three items. By only worrying about three things it helps my brain to focus instead of feeling like a thousand thoughts are swimming in my head. I also allow breaks throughout the day, naps if needed and a good shower usually helps. I wrote an entire post about Taking Life Slower which you can read here. It’s helped so much and decreases the pressure I put on myself.
Seek guidance - This is probably the best thing I did to help cope with anxiety and panic attacks. For years I only treated the problem but didn’t work on the underlying issues. My body was in a constant fight or flight state with adrenaline rushing through my veins. I found after meeting with counselors and a psychiatrist I was able to get the tools I needed to handle tough situations instead of freaking out. If you are currently experiencing panic attacks, I recommend visiting a reputable psychiatrist and a therapist. They will begin with evaluating your body and mental state to see if your brain chemicals are off balance. I used both medication and behavioral cognitive therapy to put long term strategies in place.
I write this post not from a doctor’s perspective but from a patient’s view. Anxiety and panic attacks haven’t completely gone away but they are more manageable than six months to a year ago. I’ve had to try different things over time to include meditation, journaling and yoga. All of these have aided but at the end of the day it boils down to making sure my body and mind are in a healthy state.