In my introduction blog, I briefly touched on my experiences with my anxiety.
I want to share my coping mechanisms with you, and hopefully you can find a couple of methods or resources to help you if you also experience anxiety attacks. Full disclaimer, I am on medication to help me with my anxiety. Medication doesn't make it stop, it just lessens the blow, if you will. Finding the right medication is also not easy. My doctor had me try 4 different medications and dosages before I found the right fit. Consult your doctor about medication if you feel like it could help you. It's not for everyone. Also, please don't think that taking medication will make it stop or it is the easy way out. You have to work on yourself to help the medication work even better. Whether that means, taking up a new hobby, practicing meditation, exercising, etc. Help the medication help you to it's full potential, it won't be the easy fix people think it is.
I was 18 years old when I experienced my first anxiety attack. I remember talking to a friend about
something he had did in his past that really upset and scared me. I had this overwhelming feeling of panic and fear. I felt like the ceiling was coming down on me, my breathing had become very rapid, and I was starting to sweat. I had no idea what was going on since I had never had that feeling before. I didn't know how to handle it. Eventually it passed, as they always do.
Since that first experience, my anxiety attacks were always situational. I knew that if I was really stressed out or upset about something, it would result in an anxiety attack. I decided to start seeing a therapist around 19 years old to see if that would help me control the attacks and also to get a better understanding of why they were happening.
** Finding the right therapist is extremely hard. I went through 5 therapists before I was able to find the right one. It is extremely frustrating to put time and energy into your sessions and feel like you're just not getting anywhere. I think that some people may try therapy for one or two sessions and feel like it is useless. In my opinion, it's probably because you haven't found your person yet. When I say person, I mean, the therapist that you feel most comfortable with. You have to allow yourself to completely open up to them in order for them to be able to properly help you. Doing that alone, isn't easy. **
I found my therapist at the Family Counselling Centre Niagara. The good thing about FCC is that they go through a questionnaire with you about yourself. They take the time to match your personality and situation up with the best counsellor they can. Another bonus is that they base your hourly rate on your income. When I found FCC, I was on sick leave from work, due to my anxiety. I paid next to nothing to get what seemed to be the best help I've ever found. I still go for therapy there to this day.
Another good resource I came across is CMHA, Canadian Mental Health Association. They have multiple locations across the country. They have on-site therapists for anyone who is in crisis. You can literally walk in and ask to talk to someone. They helped me find FCC for a more long term therapy option. They also offer beds for people to stay the night if you find yourself in a bad situation. They are honestly so patient and kind there. They helped me start the process of digging myself out of the big black hole I was in.
Some of the coping mechanisms that I find help me are pretty simple.
Whenever I felt an anxiety attack coming on, I used to get nervous or scared that it was about to happen. I would do everything in my power to prevent it from happening, which in the end, made it that much worse. Something that my cousin told me really stuck in my head and it made a lot of sense. I hope that it will help you ease the attacks as well.
"Picture yourself falling down a well. You are falling faster and faster getting lower into the ground. Naturally, you do everything you can to stop yourself from hitting the bottom. What you don't realize is all of the damage you are doing to your body on the way down. Your legs and arms become all scraped up from the walls of the well from trying to stop yourself. Once you hit the bottom, which you will, you will be all beaten up and it will become that much harder to climb back out. If you let yourself just fall, hit the bottom without trying to fight it by damaging your body, you will make it that much easier for yourself to climb back out."
The next time I could feel an anxiety attack about to happen, I remembered what she told me. I decided to say to myself, "Okay Emily, you're about to have an attack, don't fight it. Let it happen, it will only be a couple of minutes. Then it is over". I swear to you, that was the best advice anyone had ever given me. When you try to prevent your attacks from happening, you are actually working yourself up even more which will result in an even more severe attack.
Next time you feel one coming on, try telling yourself, "Self, let it happen, it will be over before you know it".
Another way I help myself get through them is by grounding myself. I try to find the nearest chair, couch, bed or even a spot on the floor. I try to make myself as comfortable as possible and I grab onto the arms of the chair, grip the sheets, or I might put my hand on the wall. Touching something and feeling your body up against something helps ground yourself which helps you not feel like you're spinning out of control.
Next, think about something that makes you smile. My go to is always my niece. As I am taking deep breaths, I think about all of the funny and cute things she does. By doing that, it takes me away from what I am physically feeling in that moment. It's a good distraction.
Breathing is crucial. Try your hardest to slow your breath down. If you need to rock back and forth, do it. If you need to stand up, do it. Just remember, deep slow breaths.
Anxiety is your brain telling you something is wrong, so your body gets into either fight or flight mode. That's why we feel like we are trapped and can't get out when we have attacks. Just remember, keep telling yourself, it will be over soon, I can do this... and you can!
Anxiety tries to control us, but we have the power to say, "No. You are not controlling me, I am controlling you". Unfortunately, we can't choose whether we get anxiety attacks or not, but we can choose how we cope with them. If you are like me, I have accepted the fact that I will have anxiety and anxiety attacks for the rest of my life. I spent over a year and a half letting it take over my life.
Around 26 years old, my anxiety had gone from being situational to "generalized anxiety disorder" (GAD). There is a difference. Situational anxiety occurs when you are experiencing a specific moment/situation that causes you distress, which then leads to the feeling of anxiety or an anxiety attack. Generalized anxiety disorder is the constant state of general worry/anxiety. I stopped working, I didn't see or talk to anyone, I couldn't leave the house with out my mom or dad. I was having at least 1-2 anxiety attacks per day. They were debilitating. They got so severe that I became so exhausted afterwards, I would have to take a nap, meditate or find some sort of relaxing activity to do to come back from the attack.
** A good free meditation app that I use is called "Insight Timer". There are all kinds of different types of meditations available. I always like to use them to help me fall asleep as well. **
There was also no cause for these attacks. I had no idea what my triggers were, they would just happen out of nowhere.
Once I realized and had be diagnosed with GAD, it was that moment that I decided my anxiety was beyond my control. I needed more help, which is why I made the decision to try medication. Again, it isn't for everyone and I truly believe that many people can and do manage their anxiety without medication. That is my end goal, I don't want to be reliant on medication for the rest of my life. For now, it is helping me get back on my feet and stabilize my life. It is helping me work on myself to become the best version of myself.
I wish that I could tell you that all you need to do is "breathe". That's simply just not true. It takes time and patience to get in control of anxiety. One thing that you do need to know is, you have to be willing and ready to kick its ass. You can't be scared of it anymore. You need to pull your pants up and say, "hey, I am done with you!".
Like I said, it took me over a year and a half to get to that point, but eventually you reach a point where enough is enough. We don't choose to live with it, we choose how we live with it and still be able to live.
I hope this helps someone, even if it's one person. I realize that everyone is different and some things may or may not work for you. These are just the coping skills that I find help me. I had to figure out these coping mechanisms on my own, and wish I had someone to help guide me.
Feel free to share your tips and tricks in the comment section below. You may think it's not worth sharing, but you may make someone's life a lot easier, just like my cousin did for me. Thank you, Jen :)