A pounding heart. Tingling in your extremities. Difficulty breathing, swallowing, thinking, functioning. These are just a few symptoms of a panic attack, of anxiety. The fear wraps it’s icy fingers throughout your mind, making you feel, well, not okay. Making you feel as if you are never ever going to be okay.
Feeling like this can make you feel isolated and can make you feel as if something is seriously wrong with you. You may question every symptom you have, convinced that something is off, something is wrong with your body, or that something is wrong with your mind. You may even be embarrassed about your anxiety. I know, because for most of my adult life, I have suffered from anxiety. I have had full blown panic attacks that have caused me to seek medical treatment from an emergency room, because I was convinced that whatever was happening to me was almost certainly going to lead to death. It’s horribly frightening to feel that way.
I just want you to know, that if you suffer from anxiety or panic attacks, that you are not alone, and if you know somebody who is suffering from an anxiety disorder, please do not trivialize it. Try to be understanding, try to offer comfort. Nothing is worse than feeling scared and being treated as if you are an inconvenience or a burden. That just makes the problem worse. Honestly, nobody wants to feel this way, and feeling alienated just brings on depression. A lot of people have some sort of anxiety disorder, and just talking about it with a nonjudgmental person can be a big help.
I used to suffer from panic attacks quite severely. I can honestly say that I have not had one in over 5 years, even though they used to be a regular occurrence for me. I am not on medication for anxiety, and haven’t been for years. Medication can be a tremendous help, and if you are interested in anxiety medications, I strongly urge you to visit a doctor. I saw many over the years, from family doctors, to a psychiatrist, and even went weekly to visit a therapist. Of all of these, the therapist was the first person who helped me to help myself. He taught me to look for the why of my anxiety, not to just cover it up. Sometimes, just figuring out why you are suffering is enough to stop the suffering. My only wish now is that I could have learned to help myself sooner. Anxiety took a lot of joy from me for a long time. I became depressed, mostly from worrying about having another panic attack. These episodes were so traumatic to me that a lot of my non anxious time then became anxious, because I was always fearful of another attack. It was a vicious cycle.
I mentioned before my use of a therapist. I was extremely lucky, because at the time of these panic attacks, I did not have insurance. They were so debilitating that I sought help from a mental health facility that put me on a sliding scale payment plan, and I was able to receive the help I so desperately needed. I thank God for making that happen. The right people were around me at the right time, and because of that I learned I could get help even without medical health coverage, whereas before, I just suffered and endured.
Which brings me to the why of my anxiety again. My personal why happened to be feeling a lack of control in situations around me. You see, I have issues with control. I desire to have control of everything, and not out of a dominant personality, but as a caretaker. As a mother, a wife, a sister, a daughter, a friend, all of these roles make me want to provide and protect. I tried to manipulate every situation around me to provide the best care possible for all of the people I love, who I felt depended on me for their happiness. Failure was not an option, and the stress of trying to make everything perfectly perfect, all of the time, for every single person in my life, was eating me alive. Nobody can live a happy, calm, relaxed life by trying to be everything, do everything, and solve everything. It’s just not possible. I was holding on to an illusion of control, when in reality I had no control whatsoever.
We’ve all heard the saying, “Let go and let God”. To me this proved to be my saving grace. I could not do everything, nor did I control the world around me. Sometimes bad things happen, and no matter how hard you work, how hard you try, how hard you fight to prevent those bad things, they just happen. The fact of the matter is I have no control at all.
God has control. When I began to acknowledge that with my whole heart, and to trust that He really does know best, little by little my anxiety began to taper off. When I came to grips with the fact that at any time, at any place, things I did not plan could happen, that God chooses what will be, I began to learn to relax. Learning to be cared for instead of being the constant caretaker was the most difficult, but absolutely the most amazing lesson I have ever learned.
I love God. I always have. Unfortunately, I did not always trust Him. Let’s face it. A lot of times He does things totally different than we would have, but in the end it is better. Even the bad things somehow work out for our favor (read Romans 8:28).
Learning my triggers, letting go, and trusting God saved me. Exercising to relieve tension, avoiding too much caffeine, avoiding alcohol, and trying deep breathing excercises can be very beneficial. I find that holding one nostril closed while breathing in and out through my nose, slows my breathing and prevents hyperventilating, which can add to anxiety by causing tingling and other unpleasant feelings. Eat well. The old saying that,” You are what you eat,” seems to ring more and more true. As soon as you feel the slightest bit of anxiety, do not start analyzing your symptoms. Immediately turn your thoughts to something that makes you happy or makes you smile. Practice this when you feel good, so that you have something to quickly focus on when you don’t. Do not give your anxiety a home in your mind. It is not welcome, do not invite it in, and if it has settled in, evict it. Serve that unwelcome intruder an eviction notice, and get it out. I have imagined myself doing this, and even written out a document evicting my anxiety. Whatever you can think of that brings joy and comfort, invite those thoughts in for a cup of decaf and peaceful conversation. Make positivity your friend. There is always something to be positive about, even if it is just new purple toenail polish or your favorite sports team finally winning. Find your positivity and focus on it!
In the end, whatever God decides is best, even if we never see it coming beforehand. Do not try to control everything, realize that some things are just out of your control. Do your best, be your best, and pray your best. Ask the Lord to guide you to what works best for you, and if you need to see a doctor, please find a way to do so. You do not have to suffer in silence. Talk to God, talk to a friend or family member, talk to a professional. You deserve to be happy.
Nothing in the affairs of men is worthy of great anxiety. – Plato