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10 Steps You Can Take When You're Hit Unexpectedly by Anxiety

A month ago, I was blindsided by a bout of anxiety, the likes I hadn’t seen in ages. Like we’re talking white-hot, vibrating-your-body, shaky-hands, heart-palpitating, electrical-buzz kind of anxiety. It wasn’t a panic attack because it stayed this way for a week. Seriously. Racing, spiraling, worried thoughts, no concentration, no appetite.

I was shocked. I’m usually good at managing my generalized anxiety disorder (GAD). I usually see the warnings signs. But this was such a surprise since it came on quickly and I hadn’t experienced it to this degree in such a long time.

What did I do? What I know best how to do when my life feels like it’s spiraling out of control: I reached out. I told my husband, my best friend and I did a Facebook live video.

I know no one can take away or “fix” my life or my anxiety, but when my thinking and body are wonky, I need support so I can get grounded enough and get enough perspective to see what is best for me to do.

However, leaning on people is only good to a point. It can become disempowering. The most effective way I found to use support is by reaching out to get encouragement and ideas for next steps. Then, it’s my responsibility to try them out. I can have people hold my hand if I need to while I take action, but it’s still me who needs to do it.

As someone said once (somewhere and I’m paraphrasing): you can have a coach to teach you how to run, but it’s still you who has to run around the track.

And when I do take action, small sparks of magic happen. I start to see what I do really can and does make a difference in my life. I trust myself a little bit more and feel a little better about myself —feel a little better in general.

In the first video I made, the comments I got were amazingly supportive and helpful. The remarks gave me the hope to hang in there as I did what I needed to do to get through what felt like an awful bout of the “sky-is-falling” syndrome.

I followed up the video with another one about two weeks later when my head was almost completely above the anxiety waterline. The anxiety passed. Phew!

What were the concrete steps I took to move through this much anxiety? The following:

1. I talked to my husband and my best friend about how I was feeling.

I told them I needed help. They listened, gave me reminders I would get through this, that things were OK and this would pass. They made specific suggestions about how to make my life easier for the next couple days. Numbers four through eight were the suggestions they made and helped me do.

2. I did a very informal Facebook live video.

I explained I was in the midst of anxiety and encouraged others to reach out for support, talk to someone and not to wait too long. I read the comments. They became one of my support tools.

3. I saw my therapist.

 We devised a strategy. It included seeing my doctor, not talking about anything triggering or working on anything very deep until this passed. She gave me a grounding tool (palm of hand on forehead) and a focus: nourish myself.

4. I saw my doctor, checked my meds and got a blood test.

I got a beta-blocker (non-addictive) to take in case I had severe performance anxiety before an event and needed to focus.

5. I exercised outside.

I went running to get the excess buzzy and worry energy out. It also helped me get present for at least 30 minutes. It’s hard to ruminate about the demise of my career when making sure I don’t trip on the pavement while jogging. Studies show being outside and in nature has profound healing effects on us.

6. I simplified.

 I took everything that wasn’t absolutely essential off my to-do list.

7. I took the pressure off myself.

Pressure to be any certain way or to do any certain thing until I was back to my centered-self.

8. I got present.

I kept bringing my attention back to what I was doing if my mind wandered into worry and agitation areas.

9. I practiced mindfulness.

I recognized those nasty swirling thoughts were just that: thoughts. I didn’t have to argue with them or engage with them. I could let them come into my mind and let them walk on by. Mindfulness is a well-known evidence-based strategy to reduce stress.

10. I kept touching base with my husband, and he with me.

This helped to ensure I was doing what I needed to do to nourish myself and do what was helpful for me.

These 10 things you can do, too. Tell me which ones work for you. Or, tell me ones I haven’t listed that work to decrease your anxiety.

The support and talking about my anxiety didn’t make it go away, but it made it easier to bear and gave me hope.

In turn, these inspired me to take steps I knew would be helpful instead of harmful. The anxiety did pass. I did reach the light at the end of the tunnel. Now I know if and when it hits again, because it most likely will, there are steps I can take to help myself and I know now it will get better!

A version of this story was originally published on Psychology Today.

You can follow my journey on Victoria Maxwell.

Getty image by Deagreez