Anxiety is a beast and it has no manners.
It never waited for me to get dressed or have my breakfast before it pounced.
It sat on the end of my bed waiting for me to open my eyes, dictating to me how the day would start.
As I lay in bed, adrenalin surged and I was instantly catapulted from peaceful sleep straight to panic-central.
I awoke, heart-racing in terror.
Before I had even begun, the day had slid out of control.
This was my reality for a number of years. This fight defined most mornings.
I was slowly changing my life from the inside out. I was putting in place good habits and challenging mindsets. But for a long time I could not control how I woke.
Gradually, over the months and years, I developed a strategy for dealing with morning panic.
This was not a one-pronged attack, but an arsenal of approaches. If one didn’t work, or wasn’t practically possible, I had other options.
Last week, after a long spell of calm mornings, I woke up anxious.
It wasn’t terrible – not like it used to be – but it reminded me of those days when my first thought was: fight or flight. When I staggered to the shower my head and stomach whirring wondering how I would cope with the school run. When breakfast with the people I love most was an ordeal. When I could barely hear the words my children were speaking to me over the narration of terror and catastrophe on loud speaker in my mind.
Last week as I was reminded of how it used to be, I grabbed a pen and wrote down all the ‘in the moment’ strategies I had found useful to repel panic. I am sharing them in the hope they might help someone else in the struggle. They are all tried and tested, and have at one time or another all worked for me.
I have written this from the perspective of the ‘morning panic’, but many of them will work at any time of day.
Eight simple ways to stop panic in it’s tracks.
- Get up. Don’t think that by staying completely still, lying in your bed you will be able to work down the rising panic. If it is possible, get out of bed. Confront the reality of how you are feeling. Move.
- Loud music. A good dose of singing along to loud music can provide an excellent tonic. This is not about singing well, it is about asserting yourself, disturbing the routine, releasing some endorphins, maybe even making yourself laugh.
- Talking endorphins, the obvious and most popular way to manage anxiety is to go for a run. I used to run (badly and slowly) but now I have found the gym suits me better. (I have old-lady knees). Whatever it is, work hard enough to get the blood moving, the heart pumping, the sweat flowing and the surplus adrenalin burnt off. Ten or fifteen minutes will do it. Heck, if you are as unfit as me, five minutes will do it. (And there is the added bonus of the smug feeling of knowing you started the day with exercise.)
- But I have kids/ a job/ a comfy bed, I can’t possibly get out for a run first thing, what can I do? Here is a trick I learnt from my awesome therapist. If you are at home and can’t (or won’t) leave the house, burn off some nervous energy by running up and down the stairs. Five times. Seriously, don’t just think about it – do it. I have used this on numerous occasions, much to the surprise and consternation of my children. It totally works. As your heart gets pumping and you deal with your adrenaline, you will start to feel in control.
- On which note: dance. Car dancing is good, but I find a kitchen disco a particularly effective way to activate my energy against terror. Children are useful here, but most people (if they are worth knowing) will sing into a wooden spoon or spatula if they are offered one. You want to go for something classic and uplifting: think 80’s disco, see also Rap.
- Go outside. If you are a smug runner you will have already achieved this but, even if exercise is not your thing, much can be calmed by breathing fresh air and looking at the sky. There is something wonderfully grounding about being outdoors, experiencing the weather, hearing the birds, feeling the breeze on your face. I have found fresh air to be hugely healing and calming. (If possible, walk around the block)
- Share. Tell someone. When panic is rising I know this is the last thing you want to do. Shame and guilt piggyback on your anxiety and lie to you. They say you will be rejected and no one will understand. Telling someone is a powerful way of staving off isolation and making sure you feel loved. Choose the right person. I have a friend who has agreed to be my ‘person’ in these moments. I can text her and she will know what is going on. This connection is comfort in itself but often she will then text me back with something encouraging. This message is not to fix me or tell me what to do, but to remind me of the truth – that I am loved, that she is there. Simple things, but essential in the moment when the floor is sliding out from beneath you and you feel all alone.
- Don’t forget to breathe. Whatever you are doing, and even if you cannot put into action any of the above suggestions, even if you are reading this from the comfort of your bed hiding under your duvet unable to face the world: learn to regulate your breathing. Even with no practice it is possible in almost all situations to slow your breathing down. Try breathing in for seven beats and out for eleven (the 7/11 method). Or just slow down your breath. Try and fully empty your lungs and make sure you exhale longer than your inhale. As you slow down your body is sending your mind messages. These messages tell your brain you are okay, you are not under attack, you do not need to panic.
Anxiety is a beast and a liar.
It is for this reason I have created The Seven Days Of Hope to provide you with courage in the battle against anxiety and depression. Sign up and you will receive a daily email for the next week, from me.
Think of these emails as moments of encouragement and help, parachuting in to provide a moment of respite and a reminder of truth.
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And please, please don’t forget:
If you are not able to dial down the terror today, if a panic attack still hits and leaves you shaken, disappointed and ashamed, let yourself off the hook. Don’t beat yourself up for not managing to control it. Be kind to yourself. Remember you are not alone, what you are experiencing is really hard, and you are doing great.