How I Had the ‘Best Anxiety Attack Ever’
My heart started pounding. I suddenly felt sick to my stomach. This was the beginning of an anxiety attack.
I grabbed a plastic grocery bag from the kitchen in case I needed to vomit and sat down on the couch with my head in my hands. I tried to count as I exhaled and inhaled to slow my breathing. The world got a little fuzzy. The TV played in the background, and oddly enough, the meaningless noise of infomercials was calming. Eventually, I picked up my phone and watched my fingers shake as I tried to type a text to my best friend. I knew she was working. but she would read them as soon as she had time.
“I’m having an anxiety attack…” I began.
I typed and typed. I started with how I was physically feeling. I then described the fear and other emotions running rampant in my head. I sent the message, then another, and another, until my fingers finally stopped shaking and my breathing began to slow.
Three hours later, I received a reply. My friend told me she was so sorry I was anxious and asked for an update.
Looking back, I realized the attack that morning had passed quite smoothly — in comparison to how long anxiety attacks usually last and how debilitating they are for me. I quickly texted back, “I’m better now. That was my best anxiety attack ever.”
As my friend and I laughed at the irony of describing an anxiety attack as the “best ever,” we also dissected what had happened so I could use these tools in the future.
These are the key tools we found were most helpful:
1. Allowing myself the time and space I needed.
Thankfully, the day I had my “best anxiety attack ever” I was working from home, so I had time to sit on the couch until the attack ended. I also made sure I had enough space from others so I was not concerned with what they thought of me; or their confusion, judgment or well-meaning attention. Giving myself space and not putting a time limit on how long I “had permission” to experience the anxiety actually allowed me to process emotions and thoughts more quickly and effectively. Even when we are not able to step away from others for as long as we would like, a few minutes alone in the car, or even the bathroom, can help.
2. Accepting, not fighting, the physical symptoms.
Often, when I encounter the physical symptoms of anxiety (nausea, vomiting, shakiness, hyperventilation etc.), I try as hard as I can to squelch them. However, acknowledging these symptoms were out of my control and focusing on responding to them instead of stopping them relieved some stress. For example, grabbing a bag to vomit in instead of trying to stop feeling nauseous. Although this response did not diminish the symptoms, it did eliminate the anxiety surrounding feeling sick.
3. Reaching out.
This is always the hardest step for me during an anxiety attack. It is also usually the most helpful. It stops the spinning cycle of thoughts in my head and encourages me to form logical sentences to express my thoughts and feelings. Usually this happens through texts, which help me stay focused, since I can’t always get through an entire thought without having to reread the first half of my sentence. Explaining my anxiety through written words, rather than verbal words, also helps me push through the stigma and shame. Generally, I text the same person each time—my best friend who knows I experience anxiety. Texting the same person helps make it more of a routine, and following a routine offers extra comfort in these uncomfortable situations.
4. Taking time to recover.
When the attack started to subside, I decided not to push myself too hard. I still felt a little queasy, so I gave myself mental permission to take it slow. I began resuming activity with small tasks, like checking emails before progressing to more time and energy consuming work. Just like we allow ourselves a recovery period after getting the flu, a recovery period after an anxiety attack can be extremely helpful.
All in all, the one thing that made this anxiety attack “the best ever” can be summed up in one word: permission. Instead of fighting the anxiety or freaking out over the attack, I gave myself permission to feel the experience as it came and went, recognizing and accepting I did not have control over it. Although it seems like a simple principle, it can be very difficult to incorporate on a practical level during an anxiety attack. Ever since my “best anxiety attack ever,” I have been practicing these four steps and have found they consistently make my experience easier than before. They may not stop the attacks from coming, but when they do come, I am a more prepared and less scared — because during an anxiety attack, a little bit of courage can go a long way.
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Thinkstock photo via finwal