When panic attacks, this is how I regain control

My anxiety has this charming habit where it can completely derail my life when it’s in the mood, but, today I wanted to share some pretty neat ways that I calm the Anxiety Monster when it throws a tantrum.

They definitely don’t completely rid me of my panic, but, they do help me regain control over my mind, and that really speeds up the process of recovering from crippling anxiety to being able to get on with my life – because that doesn’t wait for us when our mental illnesses are having a go at us.

These are pretty effective for run-of-the-mill stress, and if you’re a pro-Worrier like me, then these are (I hope) really helpful.

If you decide to try any of these, even when you’re just feeling a little stressed, I would love to know if it helped!

The Can-and-Can’t Controllables

When faced with an immediate and triggering situation, I make lists with two columns: “Things I Cannot Control” and “Things I Can Control”

The root of all stress (a certain trigger for my anxiety) is our perception of control over a the outcome of a situation. We often don’t realize how significant our abject horror is at the fact that we can’t control everything, and how much it can exacerbate our already-prone-to-panic minds.

Today, my panic attacks were triggered by the sudden news that I have to find a new apartment in 2 weeks, so my list looked kind of this:

Things I Cannot Control

  • The price of property
  • The fact that I have to move

Things I Can Control

  • Where I will live
  • How much information I have about my options

I know it seems slightly silly, but when you have a full list of things you CAN control, highlighted with colorful lines and exclamation points reminding you to only focus on those, you also have a list of stuff on the “can’t control” list that you now recognize have no business being worried about, because – well, you can’t control them.

List of stuff you’re allowed to worry about

This is a habitual reminder. Before you label this as way-too-obvious, it’s very powerful for someone with heavy control issues like me. I am a firm believer that we can engrain stuff into our brains and make them part of our lifestyles, and this list is an attempt at just that. It lists the things in the world, my life, and my character that I am responsible for, and is stuck up next to mirror, so that every morning I read the following:

“Stuff I’m Responsible for/Can Control

  • My choices and actions
  • My attitudes and priorities
  • With whom, where, and on what I spend my time, money, labour, and resources

If the thing you’re worrying about is not on THIS list, STOP WORRYING ABOUT IT!”

I love lists – maybe a bit too much. My psychology textbook says people with over controlling, A Type tendencies (like me) are more prone to illness, and even Coronary Heart Disease (yikes).

But, even though I’m trying to lighten up on the whole totally-mortified-at-the-chaotic-consequences-of-losing-total-control thing, I also think my list-making is a way of making affirmations and it’s necessary step to regaining control over my mind when anxiety pushes it off the rails.

Maybe lists and being obsessed with what I can control can be detrimental if overdone, but, in the case of using these controllable vs. uncontrollable lists as a GPS for my brain when Generalized Anxiety throws it into the wild, I think it’s a helpful habit.

If you don’t make lists, are there any other ways that help you regain control over your mind when panic strikes? If so, I’d love to hear them!

– Steph

Celebrating My Son’s Big Step with You

When we try to move beyond something that haunts or hurts us an overnight remedy is simply unrealistic. I know this to be true yet I still search for that quick fix. Time and time again I find there are rarely easy answers. Lessons come with trial and error, as well as age. I guess it’s true: with age comes wisdom.

I recently contributed a post on The Bipolar Writer explaining how my son was suffering from his first panic attack and how anxiety was crippling his desire to go to school or play on his soccer team. It hit us like a ton of bricks. He was normally a bright, happy six-year-old who had no issues going to school. Then he melted down. He physically curled into a ball and cried, telling me “I don’t want to feel this way.” It was heartbreaking. Hearing these words from him stabbed me so deeply. You see, I have said that very verse and felt it inside of me most of my life.

There are common things that cause the general population to be anxious. Maybe it’s the dentist, talking in front of people, going through security at the airport, a job interview. These are all normal stressful situations, though for those of us with anxiety that ball of stress blossoms into a beast that shreds our confidence and turns our body into scrambled eggs. My son has a new teacher who is stricter than his teacher last year. None of his friends from last year followed him to his new class. He was feeling alone, nervous, and scared. After a solid three weeks of tears and fighting me in the morning, his outbursts started to subside.

I never forced him on the bus; I drove him to school for a month. The last week I drove him he seemed cheerier, and I knew it was time for him to get back on the bus. This Monday he did it! He was eager to go to soccer again, and he has not been tearful or combative about attending school. He’s back! Here is what I learned from this:

  • Again, there is no overnight remedied. Patience got us through this.
  • We talked about it every day so he could feel heard and know the door is open to explore his feelings in a safe place.
  • The school and library provided us with books we could read WITH him. One particular I enjoyed is The Anxiety and Phobia Workbook, by Edmund Bourne. It has easy to read content and some activities you can do with your child.
  • I strongly encouraged him but did not push participation in We would sit on the sideline until he was ready to play. I also found Ninja Warrior Training, after one session to test it out, he loved it. I signed him up to get him around peers more.
  • I set up play dates with kids in his school. It helped him connect with a buddy at lunch and recess. Both times in the day he was struggling with socially.
  • Most important! I reached out to his teachers and school counselor as soon as I knew this was a real issue. His teachers became aware of his distress, they worked with him, and we are in constant contact. The counselor also pulled my son into a social group that helps kids learn social cues and proper behavior. The small group work seems to appeal to him.

Sometimes the smallest steps take the most effort. My son rode the bus! Can I celebrate that with you all for a minute?! He got back on the bus with all the noise, jumpy kids, and cranky old bus driver for a three-minute ride to school. He did it without resisting or showing fear or panic. I hope we have turned a corner, but I’m realistic. The lessons we have learned here will stay in a nearby toolbox. We are still working through the workbook with him because I think we need to finish. It will teach him what to do next time he feels “sad” or “nervous” and it teaches us how to talk to him.

What about me? Did my son’s anxiety affect me? Absolutely. I felt powerless and scared. I was hiding my face so he wouldn’t see me cry. I don’t want my anxiety to be projected on him or to know that he has inherited this awful thing from me. My husband and I are in constant communication about this, and when I started to feel anxiety swallowing me along with my son, I pulled myself out. I did this by revisiting some helpful tools I have picked up along the way which include self-therapy through writing, talking to my therapist, honing in on my mantras, staying healthy (food and activity), and reminding myself that this is not the new norm. We will all be okay, and we will all get thru this.

Post brought to you by Fingers to Sky. Today I raise my thumbs to say, “we are okay.”

Photo by Marius Ott on Unsplash