Finding Calm When Your World Seems to be Ending
Anxiety attacks are an irrational feeling of extreme dread like something horrible is about to happen and you’re powerless to stop it. They can happen anywhere and at any time and there is no knowing how long one will last. It could be minutes or hours.
For me, they tended to come on gradually — first the feeling that something is wrong, but I wasn’t sure what. Various possibilities would creep into my thoughts and the panic would grow. If I was away from home my thoughts would be of my family — if they were all right. If I was home, I wondered what was wrong with me. Was I about to die?
A feeling of faintness, followed by numbness and restlessness would settle over me. I would feel detached from what I was doing and like I might die. These feelings were usually followed by a violent case of the shakes like I was freezing to death. I could be wrapped in layers of blankets during the dog days of August and I couldn’t stop shaking.
Other symptoms included an elevated heart rate, dizziness, and nausea. The more severe the attack, the more symptoms I had.
The first time I experienced an anxiety attack I didn’t know what it was. Terrified I was going to die, I did the very worst thing I could — lie down in bed alone. The room was quiet, dark and made me very aware of every single sensation I was going through. My racing heart, panic, and ceaseless body shakes became my sole focus. Being aware of every symptom only made the feeling of panic worsen.
Three hours later, I was back to normal. At my next doctor’s appointment, I made sure to mention what I’d gone through. He explained it was an anxiety attack and it was something I’d have to learn to power through. Not exactly comforting.
I’ve always been a big believer in researching solutions if I have a problem. Like anything else, I wanted to be prepared and know how to act when it happened again.
The most common advice I came across was to close your eyes and breathe deeply from the belly. The abdomen should swell when drawing breath in and shrink down when breathing out — just like a paper bag filling and shriveling.
Another useful tip was to focus on your happy place. Think of the one place you’ve felt happy and at peace. Imagine yourself there. Think of the sounds, smells, and sensations.
My happy place is the lake at a family friend’s cottage. The day I remember best was warm with a light breeze. I was floating on my yellow and blue air mattress. The trees swished and the leaves looked like silver coins. The water would lap over my body, tickling me and somewhere far away a loon wailed. Every now and then, the smell of delicious barbeque would waft around me. That day was one of the most perfect moments I’d ever had.
Everyone has a different happy place, but the key is to imagine it as completely as you can.
Another helpful method of coping with an attack is through aromatherapy. Lavender and vanilla are two very calming scents and do a lot to combat the panic.
Reciting a mantra to yourself also helps. I would tell myself, “Everything is going to be okay,” over and over.
Anything that will distract you from how you’re feeling is a good way of dealing with the attack. Read, watch tv, play a game.
I found that looking at something green helps — whether it’s going out into your backyard or simply looking at a computer wallpaper of a forest or a book with lots of green landscape photos is an effective way to calm the attack.
I find Japanese Gardens to be beautiful and relaxing and have several photos of them saved on my computer to look at when I’m in the throes of an attack.
If I’m at home, the best way to cope with anxiety is physical contact with another living being — whether it’s my husband or my cat, it’s comforting to feel the warmth and love of another. Until recently, my dog was comfort animal. She stayed with me as long as I needed her. Sadly I lost her last fall to a fatal organ infection.
When I’m not experiencing an attack, I do what I can to help avoid them. I cut as much stress out of my life as I possibly can.
I study mindfulness and Zen tenets to bring calm to my everyday life. I make time to meditate at least once a week.
Meditation doesn’t need to be complicated. It can be as simple as sitting in a quiet room and lighting a candle. I like to watch the candle flame, I find it relaxing. A fireplace has a similar effect. I also tend to sip hot green tea while I relax and keeping clutter to a minimum also helps.
I’ve also found through personal experience that reducing or even eliminating most products with aspartame and sugar helps to stave off anxiety. My attacks came far more frequently when I was a diet pop/soda junkie. Cutting back on fizzy drinks cut the frequency of my attacks.
The main thing to remember during an anxiety attack is that this too shall pass. Do whatever you can to distract yourself from the sensations your body and mind are experiencing and don’t be afraid to tell others what you’re going through and ask for comfort.