When Life is Out of Control

“Our anxiety does not come from thinking about the future, but from wanting to control it.”

Kahlil Gibran

The people standing beside me were crowding in, as if they might smother me, it seemed.  My heart was pounding, my skin was tingly, my head felt dizzy, and I thought I might just die right there.  As in a bad dream, I opened my mouth to scream, but unlike the screams in my sleep, this one was audible, and people turned to look at me.  I hurried to my car to avoid any further embarrassment.  I had suffered a panic attack, not my first nor my last.  It is little solace to to a person with uncontrolled panic, but Gibran’s words are useful in calmer moments.  Panic attacks are a reminder that we are in control of very little in our lives, and it is worthwhile to recognize their existence and be prepared for their arrival.

Of the 2.4 million people in America who have had panic attacks, I’ve personally witnessed only a few people unwillingly succumbing to the anxiety that leaves them weak and out of control. With pounding hearts and dizziness, people who have normally felt they could control everything about their lives suddenly find themselves helpless and understandably anxious. Has it happened to you?  Have you ever admitted it to anyone, even yourself? For the life of me, I cannot understand why we humans have to be afraid of sharing our weaknesses.  There isn’t one of us without a fear of some sort, and yet all it takes is one bully to shut us down in our frailty.

Taking power away from anxiety is a good first step to reclaiming power for yourself. Maybe you suffer and still won’t talk about it after reading this, but you’ll have some tools to handle your anxiety the next time an attack strikes, and you’ll have a better understanding of what is happening to you.

Because I don’t enjoy going through panic attacks, I’ve really tried to understand why it happens and how to make it go away.

The most important thing I can tell you is this —  You will not die from the panic attack, even though you might wish you could when it is happening. You will survive.  

Ten minutes into a panic attack is often the worst of it.  You and I can get through ten to twenty minutes of misery, can’t we?  Sure we can, and here’s your tool:  Be AWARE

Acknowledge and Accept your anxiety.    It sounds so simple, but it takes some work to not try to escape what is happening. Running from it is rarely helpful.

Wait. Sit in the moment and be aware of what you’re feeling. Your mind will learn that these feelings will come and they will go.

Anticipate. Once you are in the attack, anticipate what your body needs.  Breathe slowly and deeply for about 45 seconds.  (I actually breathe into a paper bag thanks to some great advice). Talk to yourself as if you were trying to calm someone else down in a similar situation.  

Repeat. As many times as you need to, repeat the first three items.

Expect the best. It’s so easy to let yourself go into that dark place of possible bad scenarios, but don’t do it.  Stay in a positive mindset about how this will end and that it will end quickly.

Maybe, like I do, you’ll find it helpful to remind yourself that whatever has triggered your panic probably isn’t as bad as you’ve allowed it to become in your mind.  Maybe you’ll be able to sit quietly the next time it happens feeling better knowing that you aren’t the only one experiencing it.  Scared? Phone a friend and let them know that you just need them to be a calm voice for a minute.  It really will pass, and you and I will survive.

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