Have you ever felt the very breath choking out of your body? Or felt like your lungs were on fire, and your heart was trying to beat its way out of your chest!?
Panic attacks can be vicious enough to make a knife piercing your gut look like a friendly option.
When anxiety rears its ugly head and the whispers start, you are willing to do whatever it takes to drown the noise. It gives you a unique understanding of what leads to a person penning down a suicide note.
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Despite the ugliness of the action they are contemplating, their mind is already experiencing the relief on offer.
I have been in the pits of this particular hell, but I fought my way out of it. I had to switch mental gears and build an impenetrable shield of my own to fight my way out of the attack.
Treatment of Anxiety is not a subject I treat lightly. Apart from psychological issues, there is always a physiological element as well. Despite the overwhelming nature of the issue, there are things we can do to manage anxiety.
The three mental shifts that helped me manage anxiety –
1. Seek meaning in the chaos
Instead of being so desperately afraid of anxiety, pay attention to what it’s trying to tell you. Anxiety is simply our mind’s way of drawing attention to that which is unresolved and hovering on the edge of danger.
It’s a wake-up call.
Someone suffering from social anxiety experiences debilitating fear of public humiliation. Relationship anxiety has its root in fear of losing someone we love.
Understand what your anxiety implies about your personality.
Turn the nightmare into a source of self-understanding and self-awareness.
Let me share an example from my own struggle-
In situations that required me to make myself vulnerable, my anxiety would always get uncontrollably bad. If I had to force myself to do something that had too many unknown variables, my hand would develop a noticeable tremor.
Add loud music, drunk people, and big crowds to the mix and a panic attack was inevitable.
At the time, I wasn’t sure about how I’ll ever live a life free of the restrictions placed on me by my own subconscious, but I started by admitting to my problem.
I noticed that my need to hide my anxiety from everyone was making it worse. My childhood issues had a lot to do with my insecurity around relationships.
To my mind, I had little to no hope of being understood as an adult when I failed to find understanding as a child.
Then, there were the bitter memories of years spent as a teenager with a severe case of cystic acne and the consequent mockery and crucifying insults.
I noted the events leading up to panic attack and episodes of compulsive behavior and the issue at the very heart of it.
It was all indicative of insecurities concerning my physical appearance, an inability to see myself as worthy of love, and piled up childhood resentments.
The moment I understood all this, I could see light at the end of the tunnel. I had put a name and a face to the monster. A battle was rumbling and suddenly there was hope that I’ll win.
Once you begin to hear the voice of your own subconscious, the next step is to take charge.
As soon as you recognize that you get to decide how the whole thing plays out – anxiety has lost its power to hurt.
So, give up the victim mindset!
Instead of feeling helpless, ask yourself what you can do to improve the situation.
Take action, even if it’s a small one!
Take responsibility for your own life, emotional state, and mental health. Feel the sense of power coursing through you.
Expanding on the example above –
Once I had identified the issues, I started initiating difficult relationship discussions about my level of importance to the other person.
I would go to parties with the mental assurance that I can leave as and when I please.
My anxiety was a dark secret that those closest to me were unaware of so, I would force myself through confrontations and then I would come home and fall apart.
But one day, after several such instances, I forced myself to let a friend know that I felt neglected in our friendship. My hand, as expected, was shaking and I could feel the sweat sliding down my back.
There was a pounding in my head signaling an impending migraine, but at the end of that conversation, I went home with a feeling of relief.
There was no crying, vomiting, or a migraine. I was shaken up, but I did not fall apart.
The situation did not resolve to my satisfaction.
Even so, I was giddy at my moment of courage and pleasantly surprised at having no after-effects. That particular day marked a change in my struggle.
My anxiety was suddenly not so monstrous. It could even be my path towards growth.
3. Establish your boundaries
Once you embrace your power, let others feel the lash of it. We all have certain non–negotiables. It’s time you get vocal about them.
A lot of your anxiety is simply because you feel the need to constantly do things that are hurtful or downright dangerous to your mental balance.
If public speaking induces fear, why force yourself to brave a large audience?
Instead, start small.
Maybe allow just your immediate family to see you perform, then there’s your extended family, add friends to the mix.
All these baby steps will eventually take you to a place where fear may be replaced by excitement at the idea of a public performance.
I have suffered a lot in the name of love; allowed people to play fast and loose with my boundaries. In my head, I thought myself so unlovable that anybody willing to have a relationship with me was doing me a favor.
The key was to love my own company. Once I started enjoying my alone time, step up or step out became my new mantra!
I no longer allow people to treat me in a way that’s hurtful to my self-esteem.
The day you’ll see yourself as worthy of love, dignity, and happiness – lying on the bathroom floor convulsing with sobs, abusing drugs that hurt your body, or hiding in the darkness will become more difficult than facing the anxiety.
Find your own solution. Treat it like a problem at work, it needs a solution which then needs to be executed with focus and efficiency.
- Admit that you have a problem
- Focus on contributing factors. Figure out the cause, isolate each element. Start with the smallest and the easiest.
- Come up with a strategy. Execute it with care, determination, and optimism.
- Focus on the small wins
- Keep learning and growing.
Next time anxiety attacks, repeatedly tell yourself that you get to decide how it all plays out. Take conscious steps to empower yourself. If possible, build your own support group.
Even if it feels difficult to do so, ask for help. Admit to the anxiety out loud and take away its power to shame and hurt.
There is no cure for anxiety. It is something you learn to manage. From my own experience, I can assure you that anxiety need not keep you from your goals and happiness.
You can live a fulfilled life if you just find the strength and courage to fight.
If you have any advice that might help those struggling with anxiety or depression, add it to the comments below.