If you have been keeping up with my blog you should already know that I have suffer from anxiety and panic attacks. I experienced my first panic attack when I was in around 10 years old and and I had them on an off throughout my teens. Then, in late 2014 I was going through a stressful time at work and instead of taking care of myself, it all festered and resulted in the worst anxiety and panic experience of my life. For about 2 years I struggled through panic attacks at least 4 times per week, I felt awful almost all the time, I wasn’t sleeping, I felt ill all the time, I was so scared that another attack was going to hit that I was bordering on depression. Mental illness can be a dark, lonely place and my heart goes out to anyone else who is fighting this battle.
As of today I’m not where I was a couple of years ago, but I’m definitely not the same person that I was before. Anxiety and panic has definitely changed who I am, and that period of my life was so tough with it that I don’t think I will ever totally recover from it. I am, however, doing much better and I have found some ways to cope and not let the anxiety take over.
In hindsight I probably should have just taken medication, but I was too hesitant. I had convinced myself that it wasn’t just anxiety and there was something else physically wrong with me, so how would anxiety medication help?! I was also scared that medication would have negative side effects and change who I am. The latter is actually laughable now because the anxiety alone changed who I am. I have made the promise to myself that if I go through another time like this again, I will take medication. There’s no shame in it and it’s available for a reason.
Other than generally practicing self care, I found the following three things are the major contributing factors to helping myself feel better and finally finding a way to the light at the end of a very dark tunnel:
1. Changing the situation: while mental illness is not something you can remove yourself from, sometimes the situations that are exacerbating it can be removed from your life. I am an anxious person and always will be, but after a lot of soul searching and sleepless nights, I was able to realize and admit to myself (sometimes that can be the hardest part), that certain situations were making my anxiety a thousand times worse and I need to make a change. I have made those changes and they have helped tremendously! If I didn’t change the situation I was in, I would still be in that nightmare cloud of anxiety, guaranteed. It’s tough to make changes but sometimes you just have no choice. If something is detrimental to your mental (or physical) health, it is never worth it.
2. Sleep: Everyone knows how important sleep is for everyone, but for someone with anxiety sleep can be your worst enemy. My panic attacks started during the night so I reached a point where I was scared to go to sleep because I didn’t want an attack. This resulted in many, many nights of little sleep (like, 1-2 hours if I was lucky). I definitely still struggle with sleep but it’s become more of a 4-6 hour night instead of 1-2 hours. It’s amazing how much a few extra hours have done for my mental (and physical) health! I have been able to create a “sleep routine”, which has worked great for me. I will create a blog post on this very soon!
And last, but definitely not least, the one thing that has not only absolutely helped my mental health in the middle of a panic attack, but has also been able to improve my overall mental health in general;
3. Exercise: I cannot stress this enough, exercise has changed my life! Whenever I find myself feeling overly anxious or start having attacks, I can usually trace it back to me not exercising. I always thought that it was so cheesy when people talked about exercise helping mental health, but I take all of that back. Exercise has helped me to a point where I almost feel like my old self! I try to get in at least 30 minutes 4 times per week, that’s really all that I need! My go-to’s are hot yoga and workout videos at home, and nothing beats a brisk walk with the dog and some good music. Seriously, if nothing else works for you, try exercising!
Does anyone else have any tried and true anxiety/panic attack/mental health tricks that they want to share?