Dealing with Anxiety: How I Learned to Cope

**I apologize in advance to my readers who were expecting a blog about writing or publishing. While this is different than my usual blogs, I feel like this is a topic that needs addressing since it’s close to my heart and worth a discussion.**

Anxiety sucks. Period. There’s no reason to sugar-coat it. Anxiety is a disease (yes, a disease) that plagues almost every single person, and while some have easily overcome it  a good workout or a walk in the woods, there are others, such as myself, who have to deal with it everyday. And unfortunately, there are some who have a harder time of coping than others.

Just a little backstory: I’ve dealt with anxiety since I was 17 years old. When I was a senior in high school, I used to get panic attacks almost every single day, and let me tell you, it almost ruined the entire year for me. I’d have “episodes” where I wouldn’t be able to talk or function, and literally just pace back and forth until my heart rate decreased and my anxiety faded.

This went untreated for years. It affected relationships, friendships, work, school, and almost everything going on in my life. Every time I went to the movies, I had to sit in the seat near the exit because I was afraid of having to leave due to anxiety. When I started new classes at school, I chose the seat closest to the door because I knew I had to be able to leave inconspicuously as possible in the event of a panic attack. I once drove two hours for a big event up in Scranton and then had to drive all the way back a half-hour later because of a severe panic attack. When I was 20, I had episodes so bad that I was afraid to even leave the house out of fear. Anxiety had taken over my life.

I was lucky when, the summer before 21, I started taking medication for my anxiety. It was like a miracle. I felt like I could take over the world. It was my lifesaver.

Now, to some people, it may seem like I “chickened out” by taking medicine for my anxiety. But let me tell you: it is 100% worth it. I honestly don’t know how I would have survived these panic attacks over the years without it. It’s a shame there’s such a stigma over medication for anxiety when it’s proven to work. While you may be against taking the medicinal route, I highly recommend asking your doctor about it. Don’t look at it as taking the easy way out; look at it as a way of taking back the control over your life.

Now, for 3-4 years, I didn’t have the benefit of medicine. And I know there are people out there who may not have such easy access to doctors. That’s why I’m writing this blog. I want to help people cope. I want them to avoid suffering from crippling anxiety like I did all those years ago. Just a forewarning: I am not a licensed or experienced psychologist. I’m just a normal guy with more than 10 years of experiencing and coping with anxiety, and I am merely passing on my knowledge so that some other soul may benefit from it.

Breathe

This will seem cliche, but it’s the honest-to-God truth. The first step towards overcoming a panic attack is to not just breathe, but to focus on your breathing. When I briefly saw a psychologist many moons ago, he showed me a technique for getting my anxiety under control. What you do is breathe in through your nose while counting (in your mind) to three. Then you exhale through your mouth, while counting to three again. I forget his exact explanation, but he told me that, by focusing on counting your breaths, you are able to distract your mind from whatever is causing your anxiety. Back then, it sounded crazy to me. After all, I was a 17-year-old who thought he knew everything. But now, it makes sense. Anxiety is mostly over-thinking. Well, if you want to get technical, it’s kind of an evolutionary trait we developed for fighting off predators, but we don’t have to get technical. So the best solution is to distract your mind. Focus on your breathing, and let your body do the rest.

Think

Anxiety stems mostly from us over-thinking. I’ve become the master of over-thinking. I could take one small comment from a friend and completely blow it out of proportion. But if we have the power to ‘think’ ourselves into having a panic attack, then theoretically, don’t we have the power to use over-thinking to get ourselves out? I was told by my psychologist that our body only produces “about 30 minutes-worth of adrenaline” at a time, and that panic attacks shouldn’t last much longer. Yeah, 30 minutes seems like forever to be having an anxiety-induced meltdown, but when you look at the grand-scheme of things, it’s not terrible. When I learned this fun factoid, I found it much easier to endure my panic attacks because I knew they would subside in a few minutes. It gave me comfort. I knew that this wasn’t a permanent state of mind. My body would find a way to regulate itself within the hour. I just had to tough it out.

Wait

You’ve done your breathing exercises, you’ve thought about it, and you’re still having your panic attack. Now what? Well, looks like you’ll have to wait it out. Sorry if that’s not the answer you wanted to hear, but sometimes, the best way to get through Hell is to actually go through it. I hated having to go through the panic attacks, but I knew there wasn’t much I could do except fight through it. My coping method for anxiety attacks was to pace. I’d literally just pace back and forth and not talk at all for about 20 minutes. It must’ve been a sight. But, you know, it worked! I’d feel good as new after the attack subsided. In fact, I’d actually be as happy as ever! There’s a neat article about how anxiety can cause euphoria that you should check out. However, I definitely don’t recommend inducing anxiety JUST to get that episode of euphoria afterwards. Trust me, it’s not worth it.

Whatever your coping method is, go for it. If you need to pace, like I did, then pace. If you need to excuse yourself from a meeting, then do it. If you need to take a quick drive, then drive. Your health is the most important thing, and nothing should get in the way of you taking care of yourself. If you think, “Well, I can’t leave in the middle of an important meeting,” or “I can’t start pacing in the middle of class,” then I recommend you speak to your teacher or your boss. In the past 10 years, I’ve never had a single problem with a teacher or a boss when it came to dealing with my anxiety. It’s not an inconvenience; it’s an actual illness, and you need to take care of it.

Get Help

Sometimes, you can’t do it alone. You need a little bit of help. I’m going to say this over and over again if I have to: There is absolutely nothing wrong with using medication for anxiety. Again: There is absolutely nothing wrong with using medication for anxiety. I abhor the stigma associated with using medicine to treat mental illnesses. Yes, anxiety and depression are an illness. And when you are sick, you take medicine. You should never, EVER feel ashamed for having to turn to medication to help you cope with anxiety. I used to be adamant against using medicine because I was afraid of being dependent and because I was slightly ashamed; but after all these years, I wouldn’t change a thing. Taking medicine for my anxiety was the best decision of my life, and I’ll be damned if I ever let anyone shame me for it. If you think your anxiety has taken control over your life, then please, please, please, don’t let stigma stop you from talking to your doctor about medicinal options.

Anxiety is more than just a bad case of worrying or being nervous. It’s a feeling that can prevent you from living your life to the fullest. If you think anxiety is taking over, then it is time to seek help.

While I am not a trained psychologist, I am always willing to offer advice and guidance on how to deal with anxiety. Please reach out to me if you ever want to talk. But I advise you to speak with a doctor if you feel like your anxiety is severe.

 

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