For more than a dozen years, I have suffered from anxiety. Throughout those 12+ years, I’ve experienced everything from relatively minor anxious concerns to full-on debilitating panic attacks. I have taken medication for several years to control the frequency of the attacks. But in periods of high stress, anxiety rears its ugly head. And these days, stress is one of the only things in the world that doesn’t have a supply chain issue.
From deeply terrifying family health concerns, the constant challenges in the healthcare industry plunging my work into chaos, and the struggle to find enough time in the day to get things done, stress has been an ever-present fixture in my life. However, I am built differently than most humans; I refuse to let stress drag me down into its hole. Luckily, I have discovered some things about my anxiety over the years, making it easier for me to predict and control it.
What Anxiety Looks Like for Me
Controlling anxiety is akin to herding cats…that are drunk or could be dinosaurs.
Recognizing what an anxiety attack looks like for me was the first step in trying to maintain control. When someone is in the midst of an anxiety attack, annoying or scary things (like grating sounds or loud and sudden noises) become amplified.
For me, everything gets very loud, background sounds are deafening, and then suddenly, it manifests into pounding and violent heartbeats. After the physical symptoms comes the paralyzing sense of impending dread. After the attack subsides, I am left feeling clammy, exhausted, and generally ill at ease.
Keep in mind, anxiety attacks may be different for other people; no panic attack is the same.
Fortunately, I experience them much less often since I have taught myself to control them better. And when they do arise, I have tried-and-true ways to recognize what caused them.
What Sparks My Anxiety
Certain things trigger my anxiety attacks. One of my biggest triggers is caffeine, so I’ve eliminated caffeinated products from my life. It’s been four years since I gave them the boot, and I have far fewer jittery days when I feel on edge. Although I don’t consider stress a trigger in and of itself, it makes me a lot more susceptible to anxious thoughts, so I try to keep an even keel. Too many unorganized tasks, uncertainty, and lack of sleep make the edges blur for me, so I try to avoid these anxiety-sparking situations.
How I Keep Anxiety at Bay
Several techniques help me deal with my anxiety and prevent it from overwhelming me.
1. When I had my first anxiety attack, it led to multiple attacks that bombarded me for a week straight. Every single night, I would call my mom and cry to her. When I say “night,” I mean two in the morning, so she probably was sick of my calls after the first night.
Mom gave me advice I will never forget. She told me to watch a movie or TV show I had seen a hundred times, one for which I already knew the ending and wouldn’t feel compelled to stay tuned into until the credits rolled. I tried it, and it worked; I fell asleep within 20 minutes. I still use that tactic to keep my anxiety at bay.
2. Darkness and quiet help tremendously, too.
3. Sound machines with rain, thunder, ocean, or rainforest sounds provide a calming atmosphere when I’m dipped deep in a comforting bath.
4. Cuddles with my dog, June, are second to none.
5. But by far, the most comforting thing is maintaining order. Making my bed with fresh linens, writing out my calendar for the week, folding laundry, and making lists is the highest form of relaxation for me.
Nothing is surefire, though. Nothing works every time. However, these techniques help me calm down eventually and my attacks subside.
A Compassionate Reminder to Everyone
Mental health is no joke, and we never know what other people are dealing with. Be kind, above all else. Be compassionate…because everyone has their own sh*t to contend with every day.
Your turn! How do you cope with anxiety in times of high stress?