When I end up talking to more than 2 or 3 people and I feel their eyes upon me I feel like I'm dying. My palms start to sweat.
I get cold and clammy. My heart thuds in my chest erratically.
I start hearing this strange buzzing sound right before getting faint. Then the sensation of having an out of body experience overcomes me right about the time I think I'm going to lose control of my bladder.
Finally, I have to fight the almost animalistic urge to run away screaming.
I'm not kidding or being hyperbolic. I get cold sweats the night before a meeting. I would get so worked up that I'd have heart arrhythmias in the middle of meetings. Have you ever had to pretend you didn't have a heart arrhythmia while you were talking to other people?
Some people say "just fake it till you make it" until you "get over your fear".
They don't know what the *bleep* they're talking about.
Unless they've actually HAD a panic attack and can understand that it's not some rational fear that can be controlled with an on/off switch they need to shut up.
I've gotten considerably better with my fears as I've gotten older. I still sometimes fall prey to panic during meetings when I get asked a question I don't know the answer to, but at least I don't feel like I'm going to have a heart attack and die anymore.
Here are the top 10 ways I use to handle my stress, anxiety, and panic attacks:
Don't avoid things just because they give you anxiety (unless they're actually dangerous)
The temptation is to completely avoid the things which cause these unpleasant feelings. Unless they can actually hurt you, it's best not to give in to that fear.
If you avoid it you are psychologically reinforcing it on a subconscious level. This can actually have detrimental effects in the long-run because the fear can sometimes grow outside of it's original scope.
What if you got into a car accident where you were ultimately fine, but your car was totaled?
You may wind up avoiding driving in the left lane because it increases your fear of a head-on collision. So, you're driving along in the right lane and someone swerves into your lane ahead of you to avoid an object in the road.
You then start to feel like driving itself is dangerous...So, you start taking public transportation.
Then you read about a bus collision downtown and start having anxiety every morning on your way to work...
When you avoid things because they make you uncomfortable, you eventually end up potentially being afraid of a whole lot more. It's not to say that there shouldn't be a healthy amount of fear in your life.
It's the thing that keeps you alert and vigilant about dangers, but when you are hyper alert and TOO vigilant you can be just as much of a danger to yourself.
Besides, accidents happen. You can't avoid everything and miss a LOT by trying to do so all of the time.
Accept and acknowledge that you have anxiety/panic issues and don't try to ignore it or pretend it doesn't exist.
Acknowledge that the feelings are there, but that doing so doesn't necessarily mean that they're useful (or even true in some cases).
Pretending something doesn't exist doesn't help you much. If you wake up in the middle of the night because of a strange crash downstairs, chances are you aren't going to just lay there and pretend nothing happened.
You might be afraid someone is robbing your house but you're going to get up and investigate it.
You probably won't immediately call 911 because that might be overkill, but you don't want to just close your eyes and go back to sleep and hope it was just the cat...Especially, if you don't even HAVE a cat.
When I'm alone or in a situation where people are not looking directly at me I use the following breathing pattern:
- Inhale for a count of 4
- Hold my breath for a count of 4
- Exhale for a count of 4
- Hold for a count of 4
- Repeat until it feels like the heart attack/aneurism combo has passed
Seriously though, this helps me feel calmer 99% of the time. I honestly can't remember a time I've tried this and it hasn't worked.
I use this method for meditation too.
I set an alarm to notify me when I should stop, but I just focusing on the counting and feeling my breath enter my body.
If I'm not with anyone I do it with my eyes closed, but people tend to frown upon that during a meeting.
If this doesn't work for you try belly breathing/diaphragmatic breathing. This method is what I use in public:
- Notice how your chest doesn't move
- Notice how your belly seems to fill with air like a balloon
- Inhale slowly and try to replicate the feeling
- Focus on the air entering through your nose as you inhale
- Feel your stomach slowly inflate and focus on the sensations
- Focus on the air exiting your nose as you exhale
Mindfulness is focusing on the moment without judgement.
99% of my anxiety or stress comes from imagining future events. People laughing at me because I said something they think is stupid.
Stumbling over my words and sounding like I have no idea what I'm talking about. Being perceived as less than I am worth. Thinking the reason someone is late and hasn't called is because they were involved in some horrible accident.
When I focus on the present - the sensations of my existence RIGHT NOW - these fears can slip away.
They're not happening at this moment in time.
I'm not Nostradamus so I don't have the ability to look into the future and see the next time I'll suffer from public embarrassment; but I do have sentience and the ability to enjoy the earthy, slightly bitter, honey-sweetened tea whose ceramic mug warms my hands as it's contents warm my body on a cold winter's day.
That particular moment in time and it's glorious sensations are precious.
Worrying about something that may or may not happen which you have absolutely no control over, is a complete waste of time.
Don't Make Assumptions
You know the adage "When you assume, you make an ass of U and Me"?
Well, it's a bit presumptuous to think that people are judging you or even that they care about you enough to be bothered with judging you.
You aren't in their heads. You aren't an extra in someone else's movie.
I guarantee you that you'd be surprised how often you're quaking in your boots thinking people are going over your every flaw when in fact they are merely wondering if the person next to them can hear their stomach growling.
Trying to remember if they forgot to take the meat out of the freezer.
You're not the center of their universe.
Yes, some people will pick at your flaws, but the people that do that have enough of their own issues that you really shouldn't be too concerned.
In situations where you ARE being judged like an interview, you can only do what you can do. You aren't friends, and it is their JOB to judge you just like it your job to judge them.
So just be yourself and continue like it was a conversation. Just because you are being judged doesn't mean who know what they are judging you on.
Some people care only about skills, some people care about your personality. All you can do is be the best version of you possible and acknowledge that you're a human being and excel at one pretty amazing thing: Being awesome at being you.
Better than anyone else could ever dream to be.
Do you ever realize how tense you get when you're stressed out?
For me, it's my neck, shoulders and back. If I am stressed out for long enough I need a good massage or a lacrosse ball, a wall, and a solid hour to get the knots out in order to feel human again.
One thing that I do is force myself to tense my entire body up for 4-8 seconds and then completely relax.
If you can't completely relax it will at least give you physical feedback on where you hold your stress. (Trust me, you will feel it.) Pinpoint relaxing these areas.
Even if you have never done a second of yoga in your life, I have one pose you will LOVE: corpse pose.
Though it looks easy on the surface it's actually considered by many to be one of the most challenging yoga poses because it is so hard for us to TRULY relax.
Many people can bend and twist like a pretzel, but laying on the floor and focusing on relaxing one body part at a time is a challenge.
I consider this pose to be a twofer, because once you feel true relaxation and calm you can call upon that feeling when you sense anxiety or a panic attack creeping up on you.
In my opinion if you are constantly giving to other people (your boss, your spouse, your kids, organizations or extracurricular events) and not taking care of yourself...you're being selfish.
In order to be able to truly give to others you have to give to yourself first; and that requires self care.
Self care can be as little as hanging out with the girls on a Friday night gossiping over happy hour drinks.
It can be getting a massage. Having a spa day.
I, personally love naps, practicing art, writing, and listening to my weird iPad hypnosis app that makes me appreciate my inner awesomeness.
When I neglect myself I turn into evil incarnate. It's like a perpetual state of PMS.
My ideal day includes waking up and journaling first thing in the morning (for 30-45 minutes). I then do my stretches for my back before breakfast. Work for a few hours. I take a 2 hour lunch where I do my meditation/hypnosis and take a nap then go for a walk or bike ride.
I try to squeeze in something artistic thing like painting or drawing something. Though, I've realized recently that I've started to work too much and really need to make more effort to incorporate more creativity into my life on a daily basis.
Yes, I know this particular schedule isn't feasible for a lot of people, but hot damn am I ever a powerhouse when I schedule my day this way. When I take care of myself after a long time of neglect, within 3 days I'm a fountain of creativity and vigor.
I wake up at 5am with a smile on my face ready to conquer the day. I'm open and loving and kind. I'm insanely productive too: I can do more in 4 hours than I can in 12 on the days I do not practice self-care.
And the quality of my work is superior to boot.
When I don't practice self care I'm grumpy and end up in physical pain, isolating myself from the outside world.
I can work, and work, and work and at the end of the day it feels like I accomplished very little.
There was no real focus. Every day becomes some kind of weird grey fog and I start thinking a lot of negative thoughts about myself, plus my anxiety goes sky high.
Self care is important. Do something for yourself every day. Whether it's small, like having an appletini or big like going to Vegas with the girls for a long weekend, you need to have YOU time. You deserve it.
There have been some studies that show VISUALIZING something is almost as good as DOING it in a lot of cases.
There have also been studies that show when you're good at something you don't use as much brain power to perform the act.
The exercise I like to do, which has helped me a lot is to visualize myself in a situation that might normally cause anxiety (or an outright panic attack), but see myself controlling it.
Ultimately, enjoying the situation because I've completely forgotten to even THINK about my fears.
Sometimes I'll start thinking of a worst possible case scenario. Then I have to deftly evade or minimize it.
Instead of being paralyzed by fear at calling someone the wrong name and being embarrassed I'll laugh an say, "Next time, remind me to bring the name tags!" or something other witty quip.
I actually AM horrible with names and remembering small details when put on the spot, but I have several things at my disposal to say instead of staring off like a deer in headlights, spouting something awkward, and then spending the entire evening reviewing the moment over and over again in my head.
We're all human.
We all make mistakes, some bigger than others.
People will see those mistakes and they will judge you for them, but that's not on you. Don't let the idea of perfectionism or the fear of failure freeze you in your tracks.
The beauty of failure is that it is a learning experience. Check out this article on 3 Reasons Failure Can Be The Best Thing That's Ever Happened To You
Americans, at least, are taught to fear failure.
Failure's one of the biggest blights you can imagine. But it shouldn't be that way.
How many times have you failed at something you truly loved and it spurred you to be better?
How many times have you failed at something you truly loved and it made you run away?
Always be willing to fail.
And when you do fail, fail spectacularly. No excuses, no embarrassment.
Examine the situation, learn from it, and move on. Your willingness to fail means you're able to achieve bigger and better things. You don't get big results unless you're willing (and able) to fail big.
The payoff is worth it.
Be A.W.A.R.E (for Panic Attacks)
Finally, remember the acronym A.W.A.R.E whenever you are having a panic attack:
- "A": Accept the anxiety. Don't fight it
- "W": Watch the anxiety. Do this as if you are an objective observer
- "A": 'Act Normal'. Continue like everything is normal because the panic will eventually go away. (Aka: Don't run away from it!)
- "R": Repeat the above steps until you can actually manage to relax again
- "E": 'Expect the Best'. The more often you accept, watch, and don't react negatively in stressful panic-inducing situations the quicker your anxiety will go away and the less it will occur over time
Good luck out there!