My biggest fear in elementary school was having to stand up in front of the class and recite a speech by heart. None of the other kids in the class cared because they were bored out of their minds, but it still felt like all eyes were on me. They could have been writing love notes to each other for all I cared, but it still appeared like they were writing down what I was doing wrong.
Did they notice me falter over that last sentence? Did they realize that I just repeated a word three times, wait did I stutter? Oh no, now I’ve forgotten everything.
Thoughts like these dominated my childhood life and even up until I graduated from university. Although the situation changed, I would always get the same feeling. The feeling that all of the blood would drain from your face and hands, everything going cold and suddenly it felt like you were shriveling up from the inside out. Your heart starts to pound like a butterfly flapping its wings and it feels like the whole world is about to crash down onto you. Anxiety. That’s what it is.
Quite recently I was told that I had the hallmarks of childhood anxiety. Besides feeling like people were judging me all the time, I’d wake up in the middle of the night from vivid nightmares. I’d go to sleep at night dealing with macro and micropia (the feeling of things growing big and small in your vision) and wake up to vivid nightmares. Basically I hallucinated the hell out of myself before going to sleep, and then carried those hallucinations into my dreams. They were bad enough that I would spend nights pacing in circles around the house trying to put myself back to sleep.
I never once told anyone about my problems. My biggest fear was that people would judge me more and make me feel like I was crazy.
I went through years of this. Coupled with the nightmare and macro/micropia, my anxiety was also triggered by different textures. Anything overly soft (for me it was ultra soft suede – to the point where it felt wet) or fuzzy would put me into a micro panic attack.
But what does an anxiety attack feel like?
If you’ve never had a panic attack, it’s a little hard to explain. Sort of like the whole world is caving inside of your mind, pushing it inwards while your head is trying to explode outwards. At the same time you’re breaking out in sweats but shivering like crazy. I’d be rocking back and forth in a fetal position, repeating the same words over and over to myself “I want to die. I want to die. I want to die.” No, I’m not suicidal, don’t dial 911 just yet. It was more of a want for the panic attacks to stop, and in that moment you feel helpless. Like the world is caving in on you and you have no idea how to stop it from happening. But soon it goes away. Maybe in 5 minutes, maybe 10 but it does fade.
Now the question remains, how do I cope with anxiety in everyday life? How do I deal with it at work, in front of friends and family, or when I’m alone? I’ve found ways.
1. Take a deep breathe
Usually your brain is going into hyper drive and all you really have to do is to calm down. Take a couple deep breathes, take a look around you and take in your surroundings. Giving your mind that extra oxygen can help to process the situation.
2. Think forward
If it isn’t your first anxiety/panic attack, then you know that it will end eventually, and that things will be okay. Remind yourself of the other times that you came out unscathed to calm yourself down. If you know that you’ll be okay in the long run, the chances of your anxiety attack being shorter is much greater.
3. Remove yourself from the situation
Pinpointing what triggers anxiety attacks is crucial. To me it was sometimes touching certain textures. So if I saw something, I would avoid coming in contact with it. Sure, it may sound annoying having to always be on the lookout for triggers, but it will definitely decrease the frequency of your panic attacks.
4. Tell people about it
Your friends, family and co-workers can help you. Really, they can. If they don’t know why you’re suddenly freaking out out of nowhere, they may not know how to respond. But if you can, guide them to do things that help, like turning off the lights, being quiet, or walking you outside. Telling others can help ease the situation and make it more manageable.
Do you have anxiety? And how do you deal with it?
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