Having tools at your disposal is vital when going up against frequent panic attacks. Without them, you feel defenseless and not at all prepared for the monster that is the primal fear that takes over your being when you’re either building up to an attack, or are in the throes of one.
Finding the right tools has taken years, and I’m still always on the lookout for new ones,
I’ve found some conventional ones, and some kind of off-the-wall methods of coping that have been helpful, so I thought I would share.
Did you see that coming? Who knows. I figured I’d start with the most taboo thing on my list to get it out of the way.I know it sounds weird, but corsetting really helped me. I haven’t been able to corset in a number of months because, well, still pregnant… but I fully intend on corsetting again after I give birth.
Also, I’m talking about steel boned underbust corsets. No plastic boning, and not the ones that cover your chest. I always felt like I couldn’t breathe in the ones that go over your chest. I’m also not talking about tight lacing so much to the point where you feel pain. I would never corset so tight that it was uncomfortable. I started with one that was two inches smaller than my natural waist, and because I ended up corsetting 10+ hours every day, I continued downsizing. I started with a 30″ corset, and when I found out I was pregnant had just gotten a beautiful 22″ custom corset (I can’t wait until I get into that thing. It’ll happen… eventually).
Anyway, the reason that it helps me, is it makes me feel grounded and balanced. Everyone’s anxiety is different, but mine is usually accompanied with a feeling of being totally unbalanced, dizzy, and like I’m going to fall over at any time. Corsets helped curve that feeling in a big way. Also, I’ve suffered from back pain most of my life and my back pain completely disappeared with a corset.
They also make me feel as though I’m constantly being hugged and comforted when one is on me. When I would put a corset on I would get this comforting feeling. It feels like armor. It feels like you can take on anything in a corset.
I tried to get into meditation for a long time. Really, I did. It just didn’t stick. I’d sit there and feel like I was doing it wrong. I’d sit there, and then I’d just wait for my timer to go off. In an attempt to make myself meditate more, I got a muse headset. It’s like this EKG headset that you put on, and calibrate the sensors via an app on your phone or tablet. Then it measures your brainwaves while you meditate. For a while I meditated daily with this, but then the novelty wore off and it became more annoying to have to fiddle with the thing and get it to calibrate correctly. So I gave that up. I began to think that I was too impatient for meditation, or that I just wasn’t good at it.
But then I discovered mindfulness meditation, and began doing it throughout my day without even thinking about it. And then I found an app on my phone called Insight Timer, and began setting it for 2 minutes throughout the day. Seriously, two minutes. I’d do that several times throughout the day, and over time it became a habit. Over time, I ended up getting excited about the time I got to spend meditating, because it made me feel so wonderful. I found that with regular meditation, I was a lot calmer throughout the rest of the day, and just in general.
I started doing a Metta Bhavana meditation practice as well, and let me tell you, it’s some powerful stuff. Basically what you do, is you think to yourself, “may I be well, may I be happy, may I be free from suffering.” Then you think of someone you love or care about very much, and think the same thing for them. Then someone you feel utterly neutral about. And then someone who you have negative feelings toward. And then you think of everyone all at once, and try to send those feelings out as evenly to each person at once, without focusing on any one person more than another. And then you bring that out to your entire household, then your block, then your town, etc.. expanding that feeling so it’s shooting out all from you.
And damn, it feels powerful. I felt high, but not in a bad way, because I really hate feeling high. It’s such a powerful feeling, and difficult to explain, so you should just try it.
Gratitude has changed my life in so many ways. I truly believe that we are the products of our thoughts, and shifting your consciousness into one of gratitude and thanks is so powerful. Perception changes reality, you know?
I guess it’s hard for me to talk about this one and tell you how it started for me without bringing up another one of the things in my toolbox, which is my positivity journal. Basically, I’d only allow myself to write good things in it.
My initial gratitude practice was really awkward. I’d be in the full blown middle of a panic attack, and would shakily take my pen to my notebook and try to think of something I was grateful for. On one occasion it came out like this:
“I am grateful for cat. Cat is fluffy. Cat is soft. I am grateful for cat.”
I may or may not have felt more like a crazy person after writing that, but I also felt better, because it opened up the part of my brain that searches for the good stuff as opposed to being hyper-aware of all of the negative shit.
So then I kept writing. Scouring my brain for good things. Happy things. Things that are not bad and terrifying and make me want to hide in a ball, or disappear for a while.
Every day I started doing this. I’d try to start writing what I was grateful for early in the morning, as it tended to set a a nice tone for the rest of the day. I’d have my journal on hand with me at all times, and would occasionally write down more things I was grateful for as I thought of them. Sometimes I’d write the same things that I was grateful for every morning (friends, family, food, creature comforts, etc.). Occasionally I’d think of some really deep shit that made me feel profound, and might have been feeding my ego, but it’s kind of nice to have a boost like that when you feel so down and out all the time.
After a while of basically forcing myself to think of things that I was grateful for, it turned into an automatic habit. I witnessed my brain literally shift its perspective on a daily basis. I went from always wallowing in my own self-pity about how damn awful everything was, to being able to see the good in things for the first time in so long. I still write down the things I’m grateful for, but I also find that so often during the day, I have a thought accompanied by a smile and think, “I am SO grateful for this!” And these feelings of gratitude are nearly always accompanied by, well, happiness. And happiness is something I think that we’re all after.
The more I practice gratitude, the happier I feel over all. I’m not 100% happy, but I find moments of happiness that sometimes permeate throughout the rest of the day, and make life feel a lot better, brighter, sparklier.
So, if you haven’t tried it, I highly recommend starting to try to practice gratitude. Even if the only damn thing you can think of that you’re grateful for is that cats are soft and fluffy. That’s okay. It’s still a gateway to all the other things that you are grateful for.
4. Smile Breathing
This is one I only discovered recently. It’s kind of a breathing/meditation technique, but you don’t really need to meditate while you’re doing it.
It goes like this: take deep breaths and smile on every out breath.
This helps for those moments you’re feels apathetic, despondent, or generally depressed… but it’s also powerful no matter how you’re feeling.
5. Positivity Journal
I have gone through many of these. They’re basic notebooks that you carry around with you and you write good stuff in them. I’ll usually start my morning by writing the things I’m grateful for, coupled with positive affirmations and any good thoughts I’m having.
I like to write in it throughout the day, usually writing the date and time. I’ll write good things that happen throughout the day. When I think of something I’m grateful for I write it down. It’s pretty much for anything and everything good going on in your brain and life.
I found that using this really helped to keep me focused on positive thoughts. With any anxiety disorder, it’s like you’re constantly seeing every bad possible outcome. You’re hyper-focused on all the crappy stuff that you wish would just disappear. This can help make that stuff kind of disappear sometimes. Or at least, the bad stuff is balanced with the good. And sometimes you become so focused on the good stuff that the bad stuff fades away a little bit more. And with continued use, it keeps fading. And it keeps getting better, and you find yourself experiencing more and more of those happy moments. And when you’re having a really bad time, you can open up your journal and look through it. When you are feeling hopeless, you have a tool that you can use to remind yourself that it will get better. That it won’t always be like this. That there is hope. And hope is an extremely powerful thing when all you feel is fear and despair.
6. Curbing What-If Thoughts
I’ve read in various places that depression is focused on the past, and anxiety is projecting fear into the future. I definitely agree with the anxiety part. Nearly all of my anxiety is made up of obsessing over horrible things that may happen in the future. Mostly, I get terrified of future panic attacks, and have a good amount of really weird and irrational phobias.
Basically, I’m plagued with “what if” thoughts all the time. My brain does something like this:
What if I have a panic attack?
What if I get stranded?
What if I suddenly fall down unconscious?
So, to curb these nasty what-if thoughts, I’ve started saying, “then I’ll deal with it.”
I try not to get upset with myself for having them. Instead if they come up now, it goes like this:
“What if I have a panic attack? Then I’ll deal with it then.”
“What if I get stranded? As unlikely as that is, if it happens I’ll deal with it.”
“What if I suddenly fall down unconscious? Then I’ll deal with it, but I don’t need to worry about it right now.”
I’ve found that by adding the, “then I’ll deal with it,” helps because I’m reassuring myself that even if the worst things happen, I’ll deal with it, and I’m telling my brain that there’s no reason for me to be worrying about it, because if it happens I’ve got it under control.
Since I’ve been doing this, my what-if thoughts have reduced dramatically. I still have them, and sure, sometimes I forget to tell myself that I’ll deal with it – but more often than not, I do remind myself that if something happens, I’m capable of dealing with it.
There are so many other tools that I use, but this is already nearing 2,000 words, and I’ll save more for a future post. Hell, I’ve spent over five years compiling these tools and putting them into practice as much as possible. I’ve read every freaking self-help book under the sun, which is definitely going to be a post at some point. I’ve read every panic/anxiety workbook, inspirational self-help books, books on meditation, mindfulness, and more. I devour them, and there are so many to wade through that it can be overwhelming.
If you’re struggling with anxiety and panic, I hope that some of this helped. Please feel free to share anything that has helped you with your own struggles in the comments section! I’m always looking for new techniques and tools to be a happier and more functional human being. And if you have any questions about anything I mentioned, feel free to ask and I’ll get back to you as best I can!