The “A” word.
DISCLAIMER: I am not a health professional in any way. I wrote this from some research and personal experience. Read at your own risk…as if.
As an educator (which may already qualify me as crazy!) I’ve noticed a drastic increase in anxiety over the 15 years I’ve been in the classroom, not just in the students, but IN ME! If I take the time to break down exactly what causes it, well, one word stands out. STRESS!
For example, this year I have a female sixth grader who is in tears at least twice a week, and not just in my classroom. She is a very smart, over-achiever, who puts so much stress on herself when completing class work, that she automatically ends in tears.
Immediately, I began to analyze how an 11-year-old sweetheart like her can have THAT much stress in her life. Low self-confidence, unrealistic expectations, perfectionism, and that’s just to name a few. It breaks my heart that a young lady can even HAVE that much stress in their life! I immediately go back to my sixth-grade year and think if I was stressed, or really down on myself, or anything even remotely similar to what my students could be feeling. It’s tragic, really.
My anxiety first surfaced when I began experiencing a serious and quite scary physical symptom of stress called panic attacks, soon followed by Tachycardia. Whenever I experienced a stressful situation in my life, as soon as I felt it wasn’t relieved or solved, my heart rate would leap up to about 200 beats per minute in an instant, and stay there for anywhere from a minute, to 45 minutes!
According to the Mayo Clinic’s website, “A normal resting heart rate for adults ranges from 60 to 100 beats per minute.” Basically, it feels like your heart is about to explode in your chest and it feels as though you just ran a marathon. I tried to count it as exercise, just to find the levity in the situation, but that really did not work.
My panic attacks and tachycardia began the year I got divorced. My heart was healthy enough, but apparently, it was “misfiring” and the final doctor I saw about it, more than 20 years later, called it an electrical problem. A comical way to explain a not-so-funny experience.
As I aged and went through what women look so forward to all their lives (not having to buy sanitary napkins ever again), my stress, apparently, increased to the point where eventually I had experienced more than four Emergency Room visits, so eventually they diagnosed and scheduled me for an ablation.
Over twenty years of suffering with this issue, it took a five hour heart surgery, and my ticker was never to experience that discomfort again. Yes, your body can seriously react to any type of stress.
Next came the anxiety that CAN’T be controlled with surgery. The feeling of panic that comes from merely standing OUTSIDE an Apple Store. Knowing I have to enter to do my business, but unable to take the first step. When I finally do, I’m accosted by immediate sensory overload, to which my body reacts in a manner easily described as total panic.
I employ deep breathing, I look down at the floor, hoping the cacophony will stop and I can just do what I need to, and quickly leave. I catch myself holding my breath, only to barely be able to force my needed breath in and out. It’s real, and it’s more common than we realize.
It literally took me years to realize that I wasn’t crazy, and that as people were pointing their own behaviors out to me, I began to seriously consider that no, it wasn’t something I was making up. It wasn’t a feeling that really wasn’t there, and that I should try to ignore. Just like everything else in our lives, we need to pay extremely close attention to what our body, and mind, is telling us.
It took one major issue at Denver International Airport, to push me almost literally over the edge. “He said” and I were taking a trip and had just checked in. We were making our way to the security line as this feeling began to inundate me. Here I go. My hands, and legs, were shaking, the room was closing in on me, and my senses were blaring out at me, “GET ME OUT OF HERE!”
By the time we completed our security check, I was nearly jumping out of my skin. The answer, at the time, as my poor husband had no idea how to console me, was a nice Bloody Mary, or three, prior to getting on the plane. No, I don’t recommend trying to control your anxiety with alcohol, but in that situation, YOU USE WHAT’S READILY AVAILABLE!
HOW DID WE GET SO STRESSED?
Perhaps someone should have realized the growing trend of people suffering from anxiety and the increase of prescriptions written for anxiety. It would be very interesting to track who is taking meds, what they do for a living, and what age they are when they begin. Perhaps then we could map it all back to a specific time period that our lives became so damned busy or stressful.
When did our lives become more about getting things done quickly, rather than getting things done? When did our lives change so significantly that no one has the time to sit and write out 50 Christmas cards anymore, or handwrite a thank you note, or ANY note for that matter?
Perhaps it was when suddenly more women went into the workforce and it became a juggling of home and work, leaving no time for ourselves. Maybe it was when kids became not only responsible for having a successful academic life, but an extracurricular life as well.
Perhaps it was when we stopped caring about being passionate about what we choose for a career and found ourselves forced into a high paying, boring, and unfulfilling job. Suddenly we are reading books about how to take care of ourselves, as though we haven’t already been raised, and additionally raised kids. Mom stress is real.
What about Dad stress? Imagine carrying around the burden of having to be the bread winner. In my childhood, both parents worked. My sister and I spent a ton of time at Nanna’s and Pappy’s house, just up the street, and ALWAYS had dinner at the table, sometimes doing a lot of the preparation ourselves, until our parents got home.
That was back in the 50s! Dad’s stress is also very real, but I’ll let “He said” address that one. Gender roles have changed so very much. Is that fact accompanied by equal stress? I do believe so.
IS THERE HOPE FOR ME?
As I sit and peruse the school’s daily schedule, especially over the past few years, I notice one thing. WE ARE WORKING OUR CHILDREN TO DEATH, or at least to the point of needing medication to handle this ridiculous thing we call formal education. Seriously, students at the school I’m in, have a whopping total of 30 MINUTES for lunch.
They arrive at 8:30 a.m. and are here until 4:00 p.m. most days. Some of them even stay after for additional help. Can you remember what your school day was like? Did you ever freak out about juggling your schedule for school and trying to figure out when to do your homework?
Oh, and when you got home, was it restaurant night every night, because both parents were working full time and no one had time to cook a REAL dinner?
As I began to look at this world we live in now, and after a few discussions with fellow educators, I came to realize it wasn’t all about Menopause, or getting older, or losing control of my thoughts and feelings. It was about this life, and not taking time for me and a plethora of other things.
I wasn’t in this alone, but I, alone, had to figure out how I was going to surpass this, especially since retirement was still MANY years away! Suddenly, there was hope. There were tools, ideas, and yes, medication.
Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not pushing meds here at all. I’m saying that even after years of counseling, panic attacks, and tachycardia episodes, it was my ultimate relief when I found the med that helped. Not only that, but I had to double it one year when my tools were failing me in every other way.
However, there are other ways to figure out what’s happening to you and ways in which you can alleviate those symptoms. However, when you are in the midst of a panic attack, your entire body is caught up in the moment and it is sometimes nearly impossible to stop and STOP!
According to Web MD, there are many reasons we suffer from anxiety. Some are actually physical reasons, based on different types of medications, such as side effects. Mental conditions cause anxiety in many individuals, such as panic disorder and thyroid issues.
Phobias are also big stress causers. It appears as though mental conditions are at least a reasonable cause for anxiety, or, is the anxiety causing the mental issues? Hmmm…
The one thing that was even more impactful, when it came to seeing the origination of anxiety, was the list of EXTERNAL FACTORS that can cause anxiety.
- Stress at work
- Stress from school
- Stress in a personal relationship such as marriage <https://www.webmd.com/sex-relationships/default.htm>
- Financial stress
- Stress from an emotional trauma such as the death of a loved one
- Stress from a serious medical illness
- Side effect of medication <https://www.webmd.com/drugs/index-drugs.aspx>
- Use of an illicit drug, such as cocaine <https://www.webmd.com/drugs/2/drug-1383/cocaine+topical/details>
- Symptom of a medical illness, such as heart attack <https://www.webmd.com/heart-disease/guide/heart-disease-heart-attacks>, or heat stroke <https://www.webmd.com/a-to-z-guides/heat-stroke-symptoms-and-treatment>, https://www.webmd.com/diabetes/guide/diabetes-hypoglycemia)
- Lack of oxygen in circumstances as diverse as high altitude sickness, https://www.webmd.com/lung/copd/what-is-emphysema, or pulmonary embolism <https://www.webmd.com/webmd/consumer_assets/controlled_content/healthwise/major/pulmonary_embolism-topic_overview_major_ue4085.xml>, a blood clot <https://www.webmd.com/dvt/blood-clots> in the vessels of the lung <https://www.webmd.com/lung/picture-of-the-lungs>)
Notice a pattern? A common thread? Wow. In this world of stress, stress, stress, what can I do? More importantly, what can ANYONE do? The fact is, until you can identify the cause, you really are going to remain a captive to your emotions and feel that lack of self-control.
Me? I refuse to find myself standing outside the Apple Store for hours, just getting up the nerve to face my fear and walk in. Now, don’t get me wrong, anxiety is NOT always a mind over matter situation. Trust me, I’ve tried. However, there are things you can do to alleviate your anxiety that I have found extremely valuable time and time again, even being on meds!
SHE SAID’S MAGICAL IDEAS (NOT REALLY) FOR ANXIETY
The hardest part of anxiety is to actually STOP WHAT YOU ARE DOING AT THE TIME YOUR ANXIETY IS AT IT’S HIGHEST POINT, OR JUST BEGINNING, AND ABORT! ABORT! Once again, I am NOT a medical professional, but I can tell you what works for me, and perhaps, it will help you, too!
First, identifying when your anxiety is beginning is the key. I begin with small things to actually keep that “beginning” from ever getting started. So, each and every day I listen to a Christian Music Station during my morning and afternoon commute.
If you are not into that kind of thing, religion I mean, you may decide that jazz, or classical music fits the positive thought goal. Whatever works for YOU! Just be sure it’s something soft, slow, and calming. Maybe listening to a motivational book (which I’ve also done) will help.
Keep your focus on driving slower (for me that would be THE speed limit), being a considerate driver, leaving enough space for another car to “fit in” if necessary, and a LOT more waves of appreciation for people, even if they didn’t INTENTIONALLY allow you to slide into their lane.
Second, be good to YOU! It’s terribly sad that we have to be TOLD to take care of ourselves, but from my personal experience, as a mom, we decided that all our time HAS to be for the children until… High school? College? Never? Start making massage appointments, start a new morning routine of beauty, or an evening bath with the bomb of your choice.
Additionally, be sure that you schedule a slice of time for silence. Yes, I’m serious. For me, that’s easy. Sometimes on my way to school, I simply turn off the “noise”. Even if it’s GOOD noise. And I, personally, like to talk to God.
Being faith based feels like I have Someone to fall back on, and it’s very peaceful for me. I focus on what it will take to have me walk into school, each and every day, feeling blessed, as I very well am.
You can also begin journaling. The great part about that is that you write it all down, focus on what you are writing (I prefer to write so my brain slows down to actually absorb my thoughts).
I actually, after journaling for months, decided that my entries were filled with questions and that wasn’t beneficial for me, so for every question I wrote, I was sure to at least GUESS an answer. It was all about MY benefit, not that I was going to sell my journal for a million dollars, although boy, wouldn’t that be nice. I still have them all, a full stack of steno notebooks, and they are even dated.
What you SHOULD NOT do is perseverate on things. When you find yourself freaking out about an incident, and you can feel your anxiety rising, think of the blessings or positives in your life. PUSH THOSE NEGATIVE THOUGHTS OUT! Put out the trash, is what I call it.
I will never forget the wonderfully “new start” feeling I got when I took the entire box of a former “He said’s” belongings and put it into the trash. I was so exhilarated by that one act that suddenly I realized holding on to memories of the past, that are painful, are not worth my time.
I am not talking about trashing everything from your past, but you KNOW which memories are going to always be there, and you don’t need that physical reminder to keep it.
Do NOT feel as though you are ever alone. The biggest wake up call I received was when I had a personal conversation with a colleague, only to find out that not only she, but her partner, was on anti-anxiety meds. Suddenly, what I was battling was not just a private matter.
HIPPA SCHMIPPA! I felt in such great company, only to find out many others were also taking anxiety meds and were actually able to live a fulfilled life as a result. The biggest battle I had to fight was molding my mind around the fact that I actually EXHAUSTED all other tools in my extensive toolbox, before I went on meds, and suddenly I didn’t feel like I was weak, or choosing the “easy way out”.
Be confident that you KNOW what will work for you, and when it’s not working anymore, MOVE ON.
Anxiety is a horribly crippling condition that affects so many more people than we can even imagine. Ask yourself this…how long are you willing to wait to be happy? Yes, exactly my point. Blessings and love to you all!
20 thoughts on “How I Stopped Anxiety and Panic Attacks”
Hello and thank you fot his wonderful article. It was such a pleasure reading it. So thorough and informative. Your story is really moving and helpful. It is not easy to deal with anxiety and panic but once we learn how to help ourselves in that situation, it is like achieving new way of freedom.
Reading your article, i think the most important thing for me is trashing the past. Many people like me have baggage from the past that slows them and does not give them new opportunites.
Thank you for your kind advice in this article. I will apply them in my everyday life.
In retrospect, Strahinja, I feel like “trashing” isn’t the right word. All our life experiences are vital. Our lives are meant to grow and learn. If we DON’T learn, I don’t believe we grow. The difficulty is to appreciate the past for our growth and the fact that we learned from it, makes our progression all the sweeter. Always remember your baggage, is part of you and will never disappear. It’s more in acceptace that we thrive. Thank you for your thought-filled words!
Wow! What a great read from top to finish. I was really taken away by your writing tone, and just the way you explained all the incidents you came across in life. It’s never easy to speak about them but you blew it out of the water with confidence. I do to get anxiety, but it happens from time to time, and I feel like my heartbeat races, and it’s that feeling like it’s about to pop out of my chest, and it gets hard to breathe at times, and forget about breathing regularly and accurately. The sixth grade intro was something I can relate to. I was the “star studded” student in my classrooms, and I likedTo work my but off, and if nothing was the way I wanted it to be, or if I didn’t get thing prioritized to look the right way, it felt like the world was over. It’s never easy, but like you said, whenever anxiety hits it is easy to think negative but the best thing is to think about the happy thoughts/happy times and overcome the stress and anxiety this way. I really enjoyed your article, and now I have more to add and apply, as well as look forward to. Thank you for sharing a great story!
Thank you for your incredible real-life comment, Michael. I truly believe that only those of us who suffer from anxiety can help each other. I believe that we are here to help each other. The meds, for me, are great, but it only takes one thing to spark the questioning and the “am I really doing this right” part of our acceptance of anxiety. I do believe that some of us, yours truly included, do need the help from pharmaceutical, however, we are probably the better off of that group, as we have accepted that and still find ourselves seeing those who feel they can defeat this without meds. I often wonder, where did our society go so wrong that a large percentage of us do NOT know how to handle stress? Has this existed all along, or was there something in our lifetime that triggered this? So…many…questions. Blessings to you, Michael.
Thank you for sharing your personal story about your anxiety. It really helps puts things in perspective as my husband can be quite anxious. Your tips are great, and I’m trying to encourage my husband to start journalling and focusing on the positive things in life before taking the step to taking medication.
You are very welcome! Seriously, I had to discover a few different things to help me through it. It appears he is very lucky to have you on this journey, but keep in mind, while you are his angel, HE is the one who has to discover…Remember, I thought medication was the “easy way out”. It turns out, so many are frightened of taking that step. It feels like a failure, like “why couldn’t I handle this myself” but, at some point, I (THEY) will realize that it’s NOT a weakness! IT’S TAKING CARE OF YOU, SO YOU CAN ACCOMPLISH IN LIFE WHAT IS MEANT TO BE!
Oh I wanted to book a massage for myself months ago! You have reminded me that I have not been taking care of myself. Since my newborn’s arrival, I’m staying at home full time, and slowly I have unknown stress when meeting people! I got heart beating during talking with people, even though I did a run through what I can talk to them in my mind beforehand. Do you think this is also kind of anxiety? it’s hard to have quite time when the only quite time is at night, but playing phone is more important thing to do..:(
Oh, no. First, I remember feeling like suddenly I was saying “choo choo” rather than train. Honestly, I thought I was reverting to my childhood and my brain screamed WHOA! That’s when I knew that, although I was a mom, I was also an ADULT! Truly, I wish I had taken my own time before I got to the point where I was selfish. After having FOUR c-sections, I totally get the whole motherhood thing. Honestly. HOWEVER, don’t get to a later age in life and suddenly realize you want to take care of yourself, feeling guilty and selfish, when, in fact, you deserve EVERY MOMENT OF YOUR YOU TIME!
Thank you for this article, this really hit home for me as I am going through some anxiety issues currently with my 9 and 10 year old. We recently completed an 8 week anxiety program led by a team of anxiety specialists and child psychologists. The information they provided us was exactly the same as what you listed above. I myself suffer from anxiety and I have certain (sometimes little) things that trigger uncontrollable anxiety due to the stresses of work, raising kids with ADHD and just life in general. Keeping it together all the time and then all of a sudden my anxiety will rear its ugly head suddenly.
My kids are both sweet, kind and well behaved. I noticed occasionally leading to more frequently they would shut off from me. Wouldn’t talk at all, just withdraw and shut down. I couldn’t figure out for the life of me what was happening. So I took one of my kids in to see a therapist and she said “he has anxiety”. Shocked, I listened and started to understand. Driven from the fact that he has ADHD and learning is completely different for him then it is for other kids in class. He puts on a tough, I’m still smart attitude at school and tries to stay with the class but since Kindergarten he has been the kid in class who can’t sit still and gets distracted easily. My daughter is the same way and we learned that because it is so stressful all day long trying to make their brains work in a way that is not natural, they are emotional exhausted and stressed out.
As a family we attended this workshop and during the training, we all learned ways to cope with the anxieties that we have. We are not always going to be right, we will make mistakes and that is ok! We learned to work on our breathing techniques and how I am supposed to help manage when they are having severe anxiety and are withdrawing. I was an eye opening experience for the whole family and everything you talked about it this article was spot on. I really enjoyed reading, Thank you!
Oh, Elizabeth! Girl, I am totally in tune with what you have experienced. My heart goes out to you, having two boys with ADD (did you know they started classifying ADD and ADHD both as ADD? Stupid in my opinion since they are TOTALLY NOT THE SAME!). One of my sons has ADD and one has ADHD. I truly thought that time would ERASE this, well, whatever it is. I don’t see it as a disease, but what the heck is it? The saddeat part is that BOTH of my boys (and both my girls) are now adults. I have one ADD, one ADHD, one with anxiety/OCD tendencies and the other with some sort of social disorder where she (much like her momma now) doesn’t like crowds, has my SAME reaction to The Apple Store, and, well, is cursed with all my issues. I want to let you know, even if you are not a Christian, I will absolutely keep you in my prayers. Parents, nowadays, have far too much happening to really feel successful. But, YOU ARE!
Like you, I am not a medical professional. But the way I found an inner peace and a way out of my anxiety attacks was to focus on finding a way to help others. Not so much with their problems. More in a physical way. I would (and still do) look and listen for any sign of need in others around me. Someone walking toward a door I am close to, I’ll open and hold it for them. Someone mentions being cold, I’ll offer my coat if I have one. Someone standing and I’m sitting, I’ll offer my seat. Someone fumbling to find change to pay at the grocery store, I’ll pull out my wallet. Even just picking up a candy wrapper off the sidewalk helps me. None of what I do is memorable or world changing, but the simple fact that I’m focused on what is going on outside my body and not on what’s going on inside my mind seems to help in ways you can’t imagine. In a way, it’s really very selfish. I do it for me. I don’t expect even so much as a thank you. My reward is an inner peace. An escape from the chaos of my inner world.
So that’s what works for me. Your mileage may vary.
As for the exponential increases in stress? Information overload. We’re bombarded with more than we can handle and there’s almost no way to get away from it. (Headphones and good music helps but then you’re rude or anti-social. lol) I long for the days when I was blissfully ignorant of the darkness that surrounded me. But there it is, in your face. So I just do what I can to manage it the best way I know how. (see above)
My mileage is going quickly, but thanks for asking. haha Thank you for your incredible comment. You hit the nail on the head with your comment and realistic viewpoint. I had a counselor once who, when I kept saying I have no control, stated “stop trying to control and just MANAGE your life.” It was like a “holy crap” moment, and can’t even TELL you how many times I’ve quoted her advice! Thanks again!
I did not know that they started classifying them the same! Very different in my opinion as well. Focus abilities vs focus and the need to move, very different. I agree, not a disease just a learning challenge. Our school has been phenomenal with providing the kids additional ways to learn that have helped them be more successful in class. What I think was the most frustrating part was when they were little, before they could technically diagnose them, I had many people tell me that they were mentally challenged. Needless to say mama bear came out with that one. It is a challenge for sure but we just need to make sure that we provide them with the correct way to receive the information because they are actually quite intelligent, just process information differently then most. Amen to everyone out there who deals with ADHD in one way or another! Thank you my dear have a wonderful day!
Hi! I totally agree! I just narrow it down to realize that at least they are getting what they need in schools, but those two are absolutely different in my two sons!
Thank you for your comment! C
Hello there. I read through this post and found out that you have gone through a lot of struggle with stress and anxiety and that wasn’t a good experience for you at all. I’m glad you were able to figure ways to come out of it. Yeah! Aborting the reasons and thoughts that cause anxiety is what really worked well for me too. It’s very important to let go…
YES, IT IS, Barry! You get it! Just like everything else, stress takes many forms. Always good to identify the cause, first. By the way, my life is GREAT now, no matter what. Thanks for your comment! C
I really enjoyed reading this post. I always wondered what an anxiety attack actually is. After reading this post, I have a clear understanding on what they are. This has really helped. As I can actually relate to some of the pointers in this article. I believe I get anxiety from time to time. Which is something that I would have never realized. If I never read this article. So, thank you for sharing this. I definitely beat myself up. If I feel like I did not do something right or in time. I understand you are not a medical professional. However, I am sure you will help many people with your website.
Thank you so much for your comment, La’Kisha. I started with anxiety attacks back in 1996. I thought I was going crazy, as it is such an “outside yourself” experience. It is, unfortunately, more prevalent now than ever before. How awful that we have to go through this. Where did it start? How did we now know what it was then? I will say that it’s unfortunate that it took me years to realize I was experiencing anxiety, however it’s still better than thinking I’m losing my mind. Blessings to you!
Thank you for this article, I always conjecture what an anxiety attack actually is, now i get a clear understanding about anxiety attack.
I really enjoyed your article, and now I have to dig more and more, as well as look forward to.
Thank you for sharing a great story.
Thank you for your comment, TSeada. I hoped that sharing my battle would allow others to feel a sense of peace if they are going through something similar. Not to say all anxiety manifests the same way, but I really hoped if anyone reads this who was experiencing it, it might allow them to get help way before I did. Thanks again!