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4 Key Lessons I Learned When I Relinquished 'Control' of My Anxiety

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I’d had panic attacks before, but not like this.

Around January 2014, panic attacks started waking me up on a daily basis. My heart would race, thoughts would flood by mind, and I would feel completely out of control of my body.

So, like any person with control issues, I white-knuckled my way through it.

I felt more and more “off” as the days went on. It was common I would wake up with one of my arms numb from losing circulation. I became more anxious and went to the worse-case scenario, or what my wife and I call, “the WCS.” I was convinced I had a clogged artery or something. I was going to die.

This did not help.

Finally, my wife asked, “Why don’t you go see a doctor?”

Why? Because I can control this! I can “beat this!” Seeing a doctor seemed like giving up. Today, I’m grateful I can laugh at my state of denial. What control?

Growing tired of these constant feelings of pins and needles, I soon found out that to “beat this” involved relinquishing control. If, as for me, your anxiety arises when you feel the need to control your seemingly out-of-control surroundings, the paradox to trust is this: To gain control of your anxiety, you must give up control of it. This relinquishing of control is not at all a sign a weakness. No, it is wise to trust this paradox of our anxiety.

So, I did: I went to a doctor.

There, and the subsequent weeks that followed, I learned four key lessons that began to redeem this anxious period of my life:

1. Medication that used to work can stop working. One thing you must know about me is I inherited high blood-pressure from my grandfather. Into my senior year of college, I started taking daily medication to help gain control of it (which has its own story of relinquishing control). What I found out when I went to this doctor is that some medication stops working. This doctor also has high blood-pressure and said my medication is from the ’70s. This new one will help in my symptoms. He explained some medication just stops working. It just does.

2. Additional medication is not a sign of weakness but helpful in finding your “new normal.” The panic attacks didn’t stop. I saw my family physician and he said the earlier medication was better at curbing anxiety than this new medication. He prescribed me a low anxiety medication that helps me relax before bed. He said, “We’re just finding your new normal.”

3. Sometimes it’s more than just the medication. Another thing my family physician mentioned was that personal issues also play into anxiety. I let him know I had started going to professional counseling just three months prior. It isn’t too surprising now to look back and see all the reasons why my panic attacks started. I was addressing my mental health in ways I had never done before. It was scary and anxiety-inducing. Of course: counseling is a form of giving up control to gain control. I hadn’t gained it yet. I felt out-of-control.

4. Listen to your body: it acts on a subconscious level in accordance with your mind. As I continued down this course of adjusting medication, addressing deep-seated issues through counseling, and inviting safe people into my life to join me in my journey, I started to regain some manageability. The biggest thing is that I have to be honest about my anxiety. Numbing out to my anxiety is to avoid reality. I don’t know how panic attacks work for others because mine are the only ones I can truly draw on from personal experience. For me, panic attacks are warning signs that I’m not completely in-tune to my anxiety and something is not being honestly addressed (a feeling, fear, addiction, etc.). My body and mind want to be in balance, and panic attacks are warning signs that something is out of whack and not being addressed. I need to be on a constant mission of mindfulness and self-discovery.

The blessings of any hard season in your life come from the lessons learned and assign meaning by allowing that season to answer two questions: “Why?” and “Now what?”

For me, Why? Those are outlined above: I had to learn those four lessons. I couldn’t have learned them without giving up control.

So… now what? Counseling and other self-discoveries have pushed me to mine several gold nuggets of wisdom I can’t keep to myself. My “Now what?” took the tangible form of a podcast called, “Your Motivational High 5,” with the tagline: “5-Minute Motivation for Self-Examination.“ At the point of this article, it has been live for 10 months with 150,000 downloads. I’m so grateful the things I am learning are resonating so meaningfully with others all around the world. Maybe the biggest lesson I’m learning is a lesson from my listeners and one I will forever be learning over and over again.

I am not alone.

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Thinkstock photo by Katarzyna Bialasiewicz

Originally published: December 6, 2016
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