My heart started racing.
My husband and I had shut all the lights off and headed upstairs to bed when I realized I had just stepped on my daughter who had fallen asleep on the stairs.
You see, my youngest daughter has mastered the silent sneak up to scare you when you’re least suspecting it.
Years ago when we moved her to a “big girl bed” from her crib we quickly realized that we had to figure out a way to keep her in her room.
It would be 10pm and my hubby and I would be talking or watching a TV show and we would hear a squeak or a sneeze.
Fearing a critter we would investigate the noise only to find our youngest daughter hiding in the curtains or behind a couch or in the hall closet listening to us, avoiding going to bed and proud as a peacock.
Anxiety can be the same thing.
Anxiety sneaks up on you when you least suspect it.
You are going about your day at work or at home and suddenly you feel agitated, distracted, annoyed, restless, or nervous.
It’s difficult to focus.
Jaw and shoulder muscles tighten.
Palms are sweaty and stomach is in knots.
Breathing becomes shallow.
Some people react with anger or frustration either lashing out or shutting down and building walls around them.
Mike, a client of mine, was telling me about his last bout with anxiety.
Although successful in his career, his anxiety had become crippling, preventing him from being effective at work.
During our last session, Mike announced, with shame, that he had a setback. He experienced his first panic attack in months.
He was disappointed in himself.
He had worked hard developing coping techniques and strategies to overcome the anxiety.
“But I guess it didn’t work, I’m failing at getting better too”, he affirmed.
While preparing for a normally enjoyable event, like taking his mother out for her birthday, Mike became agitated, restless and uneasy as the time to leave came.
Pushing through for his family Mike soldiered on with the night.
During the drive, he criticized his wife’s driving.
He was short with his children.
He was not able to overcome this overall negative feeling.
He was confused because celebrating his mother’s birthday should be something he should enjoy.
However, he was sitting in the restaurant.
Heart racing and barely tolerating the physical discomfort.
Eventually, Mike had to step outside for fresh air.
While outside he instinctually did 5 things that allowed him to overcome his panic attack and he was able to return to the birthday celebration.
By the end of the evening, he was laughing and joking with his family genuinely enjoying himself.
Here are the 5 things that Mike did to talk himself out of a panic attack.
- Acknowledge the situation.
Many times when we experience discomfort or negativity we ignore it or try to avoid it. This is a natural reaction and makes sense. It’s not normal to move towards potentially dangerous situations. Even though every character in a scary movie does it! Ha! Our flight, fight, freeze instincts kick in and more often then not we freeze or run away from discomfort.
However, when we acknowledge the situation, (ie. I’m experiencing anxiety), it is only then that we are able to DO something about it. Once in the restaurant, Mike identified that he was experiencing a panic attack then what he did was incredible. If you struggle with identifying emotions check out Blog post #1 here to get your free emotions vocabulary chart.***
- Engage in self-care.
Mike stepped away from the celebration, gave himself a few moments to address the anxiety. Time is precious and rare but it’s important to take some time to address what you’re experiencing. Muscling through it doesn’t help anyone.
Go for a walk, step away from the situation, close the file you’re working on, or set your phone to do-not-disturb for a few moments. Focused time is needed to address what you are feeling and it will prove that it is time well spent.
- Remind yourself you are safe.
That may sound ridiculous and cheesy, but it’s true! Anxiety is a response to feeling threatened. At some level your body is registering that you are unsafe. Are you under a time crunch and worried that you won’t meet the deadline? Is there conflict in a relationship? Is your job at risk? Or is the situation you’re about to enter bring up old childhood insecurities?
While outside the restaurant, Mike repeated to himself he is safe and fought back against the feelings of threat while reassuring himself that his family loves him, that he is at a happy event and that he is safe.
- Deep Breathing
When we are anxious or feel threatened our breathing can change. Adrenaline kicks in and we are ready to fight or run. Therefore, our breathing becomes shallow and our muscles are engaged.
By taking deep breaths; breathing in for 4 counts and exhaling for 6-8 counts, we are countering the instinct to run, slowing our heart rate and telling our body to relax and focus our mind to make logical decisions.
Grounding is a therapy term for gaining focus by observing what is around us. When Mike recounted his experience for me he specifically remembered feeling the cold air on his skin. He stated that this feeling was particularly helpful to help him focus.
Some other tricks to ground yourself — or bring your focus on what is actually happening rather than the threat your body feels it’s experiencing — is by thinking about simple things around your body, for example, what does the chair feel like under you? How do your clothes feel on your skin? Can you hear the hum of the lights or furnace?
By focusing on the simple things your senses pick up from the environment around you, you bring your attention to the present instead of worry and stress of the past or future, which is often the source of threat.
After completing these 5 things Mike was able to return to the party and finish off the night enjoying himself.
But there are 2 remaining things that Mike did to overcome his panic attack that promote long term benefits.
- Talk with someone
This step was especially hard for Mike as he often takes the role of the protector and feels uncomfortable sharing what he feels are weaknesses. However, after sharing what he experienced with his wife, the love and support from her were overwhelming. He was able to apologize for his rude behavior in the car and their relationship was strengthened.
- Speak to an external support
It’s recommended that you speak to a health care professional, ie. doctor, therapist, etc. But sometimes this is not always an option.
When Mike spoke to me about his experience he told me about his “setback”. During our conversation, I listened and then retold him his story in a way that showcased his strengths. I was able to mirror his story but rather than defeat and failure I showed him the growth, strength and incredible overcoming that he had.
The outside perspective brings clarity and offers support and a viewpoint that we often don’t see ourselves.
Click HERE to download the free scripture cards. Put these in your wallet, on your fridge etc. as helpful reminders that God is the giver of hope, strength, and peace.