When Anxiety Attacks & What To Do About It

Confession: I closed my eyes and held my breath when I hit publish on this post.

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I’ve been thinking about writing this post for a while. And when I say a while, I should let you know that I’ve been contemplating it for at least two years.

I share a lot on this blog, so why I’ve held back writing about this particular topic is something I’m still trying to figure out. I’ve mentioned it in passing but I’ve never really addressed it head on, and I think it’s because I’m embarrassed. I like to feel like I have it all together, but I’ve finally decided to write about it, because, really? Nobody has it all together all the time, and that’s a fact.

For as long as I can remember, I’ve dealt with anxiety.  I’m not just talking your run-of-the-mill stressed out, everyone-gets-anxious-sometimes anxiety. I’m talking full-blown, can’t breathe, heart-beating-out-of-my-chest anxiety.

The extremity of my anxiety has waxed and waned over the years, but there has never been a time in my life when I haven’t battled it. I get anxious about things that probably seem normal to get anxious about, like deadlines, first-time experiences, rush hour traffic. I also get anxious about not-so-normal things, like writing a blog post, ordering a drink at a coffee shop, brushing my teeth. I know it might seem like I’m exaggerating with that last one, but the thing about anxiety is you don’t get to decide what you’re anxious about or when it will affect you. That’s not to say I am walking around constantly biting my nails and hyperventilating. As I said, my anxiety comes and goes, and in my 26 years of life I’ve found some pretty effective ways of coping with it.

Dealing with anxiety is definitely a process and I’ve come a long way. When I first met Jeff eight years ago, I wasn’t able to order for myself in restaurants or drive to his house. While that may seem silly to some, it was life for me. It’s hard to tell whether my anxiety has lessened over the years or if my methods of dealing have just gotten better. Either way, I’ve gotten to a point in my life where I can recognize anxious thoughts and cope with them before they completely take over.

The tagline of my blog is “Staying Healthy in a World Full of Food,” and while that includes paying attention to nutrition and staying active, it also involves taking care of my mental health. Anxiety is something I struggle with every day, and I’ll be the first to admit that sometimes it makes me feel like a complete freak. Sometimes I find myself asking, why can’t you just be normal? But as soon as those types of thoughts enter my head I remind myself that no one is normal and thousands upon thousands of people deal with anxiety. I am not alone even though it feels that way sometimes.

It’s because of that very feeling that I decided to finally write this post. I want others going through the same thing to know that they’re not alone. And it’s because of my experience with anxiety that I feel confident sharing my tried and true methods for managing it.*

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Six Simple Preventative Measures:

1. Exercise: It’s a fact that staying active reduces stress. It’s also a great distraction when you’re starting to feel anxious. I go to yoga or pilates and ride my bike to keep my anxiety in check.

2. Eat Well (and limit sugar and caffeine): I love drinking coffee, but I know that if I drink too much caffeine I feel more anxious. I also know that my diet affects my mood. When I’m eating well, I feel better. When I’m not, I feel anxious a lot more often.

3. Get Enough Sleep: When you’re tired it’s hard to focus. And when you can’t focus, it’s hard to calm down. Period.

4. Don’t Procrastinate: Leave enough time to get things done. Rushing causes anxiety and leaves little time to deal with it. I always feel better and calmer when I allow myself extra time and don’t put things off.

5. Stay Organized: Clutter is a huge source of stress for me so I try to keep organized so I am able to find things when I need them. This prevents that full-on freak out mode when I can’t find something I need.

6. Concentrate on the Present Moment: Worrying about the past or the future never helps the moment you are in right now. This is something I’m constantly reminding myself of and you should think about that, too!

Five Things To Do When You’re Feeling Anxious:

1. Take Deep Breaths: Seems pretty obvious, but when you’re worried about other things, you’re not concentrating on your breath. It only takes a few minutes of deep breathing and I can usually calm down.

2. Drink Something Warm: When I start to feel anxious, I grab a cup of hot tea (usually chamomile). Just the act of sipping something hot centers me and makes me feel better.

3. Take a Bath or Shower: If I’m home, this always helps. The steam and water have a great calming effect. Also try to use a lavender-scented body wash or bath salts.

4. Stop and Rationalize Your Thoughts: Is what you’re freaking out about really something to fret over? Once I realize that it’s just my anxiety taking over, I can usually talk myself down.

5. Do Something You Love: I don’t know why, but walking around a grocery store (specifically Whole Foods) is like therapy to me. But if I don’t have time for that, writing out my thoughts also really helps.

This topic was hard for me to write about, but I hope that in doing so I’ve helped those of you who struggle with anxiety as well.

What do you do to prevent/manage anxiety?

*Please note: I am not a therapist. I am sharing what has worked for me, but I cannot guarantee that it will work for you,too. If you are reading this and feel like you need serious help, please consult a doctor.

{The title of this post was inspired by the book When Panic Attacks by David B. Burns}

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18 comments

  1. I love all your recommendations, and I completely agree! I take the hottest shower I can handle, with no lights on (just a few candles) and really just breathe in the steam and relax. It does wonders!

  2. I deal with the same stuff! Anxiety is not something to be ashamed of, and I think your coping mechanisms are great. Driving to new places used to cause me major anxiety, but eventually driving to new places became fun. It really is the smallest things that are sometimes the hardest to work through. You are not alone! 🙂

  3. Thank you for being so brave and writing about this topic. You are most definitely not alone. I think I developed a level anxiety issues after the events of last year. There were moments that I felt I couldn’t breathe and just dealing with minor tasks felt overwhelming. I remember reading those tips from somewhere on Google. Staying in the present moments helps a lot. I did not know about the sugar impact but that makes sense as I’ve recently discovered. Thank you for the helpful reminders.

    1. Thanks for your comment, Patty. I know what you mean when you say you had heightened anxiety because of last year’s events. As I said in my post, the extremity of my anxiety has waxed and waned over the years, and it was definitely at its highest after my father passed away in 2011. Outside factors definitely play a role. The Christmas after my father died, my friend gave me a book called “A Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Workbook,” and it definitely helped. I also found reading “You Live By Learning” by Eleanor Roosevelt to be very helpful for some reason.

  4. Phew for you! I’m glad you held your breath and hit post. Do you feel lighter now? I always do after I write about something I’m embarrassed to admit. I wouldn’t even put this in the embarrassing category. You’re a trooper. How else can you explain the part where you claim walking into Whole Foods calms your nerves? I have the exact opposite reaction in grocery stores. 🙂

    1. Heidi, thanks for your comment! I do feel a lot better now that I’ve gotten it all out there! And, yes, walking into Whole Foods is like instant calm for me–even if there are a million other people there. I just go into my own world and walk around and stare at everything!

  5. I am reading this post and sobbing as I realize this is all me. Today I had a major, debilitating, hour long anxiety attack without realizing I ever had an issue with anxiety. In searching for answers, I came upon this post. What I realize now is that this is something I’ve been battling for a very long time (hindsight is always 20/20). Only recently has it begun to consume my life and, at only 22, it is really scary to feel like I am losing control over my own body. Your tips are extremely helpful and I am so grateful for people like you who are brave enough to share their story. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

    1. Hi Carly,

      I am so glad you stumbled upon this post and that it’s helped you–even a little bit. I remember when I first realized that what I was experiencing was anxiety and having the same exact reaction as you. It’s definitely scary, but realizing what’s wrong is the first step in taking action to fix it. I know what it’s like to feel like you’re ‘losing control,’ and, I assure you, once you can grasp the fact that what you’re feeling is only in your head, it is much easier to deal with. Yoga and deep breathing have played a HUGE part in helping me realize this. Please feel free to email me if you’d like to talk more: rebecca[at]roseyrebecca[dot]com. I look forward to addressing this issue more on my blog to help not only people like you, but myself as well!

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