Anxiety sucks. It’s been my constant companion for most of my life.
If you’re like me and deal with anxiety, it may present itself differently for you. Each person has unique triggers and experiences. Nonetheless, it is unpleasant, sometimes leads to an all-out panic attack, and can be debilitating and embarrassing in public. But if you have anti-anxiety tools, it is possible to regulate yourself to a calm state.
Please note: I am not a doctor, psychotherapist, or medical professional. These are tips that I’ve learned through therapy, research, and experience in the anxiety trenches. Please get in touch with your doctor or other mental health professionals if you need immediate help or think you may harm yourself.
My anxiety started in my early teens with overthinking situations. Living in an unpredictable, emotionally charged home with a bipolar mother coupled with typical teen pressures, I’d chew my nails or retreat into playing music to ease the discomfort of repetitive thoughts of how to prepare for situations or get myself out of them.
Anxiety escalated in my twenties, but I’d quell it with alcohol (not recommended), intermittent anti-anxiety medication, exercise, and talk therapy. But even those “helpers” never solved high-voltage anxiety attacks that came with intense, invasive negative thinking. If they happened in public, they left me exhausted, mentally tortured, and on the run from social situations. I knew I needed more tools, but it was also a time when society would not openly discuss mental illness. And there was no Google to get community answers. I felt alone and isolated, which is not great for someone already stuck in their head.
My anxiety went full-blown epic in my thirties when I became a parent. Terrifying, distorted visions of something tragic happening to my child overtook my mind. Hormone changes and post-partum depression would leave me in a state of fear. Negative invasive thoughts would be on repeat. If I were in public with my child, I’d get a tightness in my chest and shoulders and sometimes dizzy. My way to cope was to remove myself from situations I knew could be triggered. But there were times it seemed like life itself was a trigger. As I state in my memoir Somewhere in the Music, I’ll Find Me, which tackles mental illness head-on, “My anxiety was like walking on my own eggshells. My brain was a loaded gun, and I didn’t know my triggers.”
As the years progressed, and recently after a breast cancer diagnosis, I realized the time had come to find tools to pause or stop the anxiety. I couldn’t heal cancer in a constant state of fear. If I could discover tools for in-the-moment anxiety attacks, I could use these actions to quell the swirling thoughts, stomach unease, dizziness, and the urge to run. Especially if I were in cancer centers facing treatments, surgeries, and tests.
So here we go. Here are my TOP 5 way to stop an anxiety attack!
- GROUNDING – Touch a wall or a chair with your hands and focus on the sensation. Observe the room and internally describe the color of the walls, furniture, etc., in detail to yourself. Take your shoes and socks off, and feel the ground beneath you. This grounding tool of focus and presence will get you out of a panicked feeling. As well, get up and move your body. Body movement helps! Shake things out.
- DEEP BREATHING – Put one hand on your chest and one on your belly, and take at least ten deep breaths. In through your nose and out your mouth. The kind you feel down to your stomach. There are many anti-anxiety breathing techniques out there. Google for more!
- ACCEPTANCE – Accept where you are and what is happening (unless the situation is harmful to you – leave!), but for example, if you’re at a concert and crowds trigger your anxiety, look around and accept that it’s simply a concert. And you’re okay! It is what it is!
- GO WITH THE FLOW – Don’t fight it. For example, if you’re leaving that concert and the crowd is frustrating (typical feeling even for those without anxiety), go with the flow of the situation. Don’t amp yourself up by stressing about the number of people and the time it will take to get to your car. Chill!
- GOD and FAITH that EVERYTHING will be okay – I say mantras and prayers to still myself, which greatly helps. As well, be gentle and kind to yourself. Treat yourself like you’d treat someone else struggling. Don’t be saying to yourself: “What is wrong with you? Pull your sh*t together!” Instead, be like: “Uh-oh, we’re not feeling so good, and that’s okay. Time to use our tools.”
So, there it is…ground, deep breathe, accept, go with the flow, and faith. When I apply all five, I can reduce my anxiety attack significantly.
Lastly, if you’re in public and an anxiety attack hits, go to the nearest restroom stall for privacy (maybe not take your shoes off). Or go to your car. Anywhere that is private and calm. Believe me; I’ve found restrooms in the middle of Time Square, the Hollywood Bowl, Heathrow Airport, and even a music festival Porta Potty (during this one, I only used numbers three to five). And most of all, if you can have a laugh at the situation, that’ll help the most.
Just remember, you’re not alone.
You can find the video of my Top Five here: https://www.instagram.com/reel/CnDl7eahp-D/?igshid=Zjc2ZTc4Nzk=
Somewhere in the Music, I’ll Find Me: A Memoir can be found on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and ordered through any bookstore: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B0B6RWLV2T?ref_=cm_sw_p_kb_dp&tag=kpembed-20&linkCode=kpe
© 2023 Laurie Markvart