Anxiety and the Dreaded In-Crisis ModeIwent to the ER during my first panic attack. Yep, picked the sleeping baby up out of his crib, strapped him into the car seat and my husband drove us there. Because, of course, I thought I was dying. It might be nice to say that I haven’t been there for a panic attack since, but I have. Several times. And then for me, panic ended up looking like countless appointments, tests, doctors, xrays, a surgery even. Because – panic doesn’t always look the same. And it moves around, the bugger, so it’s sneaky and it’s hard to figure out – always, always to figure out what’s real and what isn’t.
Since I’m not a psychotherapist or a doctor and don’t know anything at all about chemical imbalance type anxiety or what that even is, I’ll be speaking to what I do know, which is your average every-day, run-of-the-mill and not at all fun, plain old anxiety – basically, the stress response run amok. I simply want to share what I’ve been through so that it can help someone else.
With that being said, my theory has long been that there are three different modes of anxiety:
- In crisis.
- Managed. Able to work with it.
- Barely even there, and yet, you know it’s there as a possibility.
It’s not at all hard to identify which mode of anxiety you are in. Depending on which it is, your recovery will be completely different. When in crisis – basically feeling panic at all times, the tools are completely different than the ideal maintaining way of life.
I’m writing this as a starting point for you if you are spiraling out of control and feel yourself to be in crisis. This is a time when you probably would like, pretty much, to just get out of Dodge. Everything in you is pretty much saying that if the choice is between fight or flight, let’s get out of here. This THING feels too big, too insurmountable to be able to tackle, certainly on your own.
If this is your first time around with this, I’m so sorry. In the beginning it feels like you’ve been completely blindsided. If it’s a recurring theme for you, then you know full well what it’s like to see it again. When I used to come back to being in crisis again after a hiatus, I would somehow be astonished: I’m back here again? Crap! I used to say repeatedly, “I just cannot believe that I am here again!” Now I don’t bother with that. So what, I’m here again. What do I do again? I can’t remember. How do I get the adrenalyn out of my system? And Fast. Oh, right. I don’t. Not unless I change things up.
The things that get panic out are: time and no new damage. For starters:
- Ditch anything that you absolutely do not have to do – especially anything that will create even the slightest amount of stress in your system.
- Walk around like a snail all day for however many days it takes.
- Know that you are in recovery and you MUST do nothing but be exceedingly gentle with yourself right now.
- If anyone tries to pick a fight or ramp up a conversation in any way, either walk away or say calmly, “I am not allowed to have any tension in my life right now. Maybe we can do this in a few days or find a different way to do it.”
- Do not watch TV, do not read the paper or magazines or books that are not 100% safe, and do not listen to music unless you KNOW it is a type of music that will not create any adrenalyn in your system – this all means anything that creates tension/stress or excitement; your body experiences these in the exact same way.
- If that little voice in your head won’t stop, find a different voice to listen to, even if that means for the entire day and as you are going to sleep.
- If you feel like you can’t be alone, don’t be alone. Call a friend, your mother-in-law, a stranger, call anyone and make them do something with you, even if it’s just sitting on their couch rather than your own and listening to THEIR words besides the whackanoodle conversation going on in your own head.
**Most importantly – Know that YOU ARE OKAY.**
Right now, know that I am holding your face in my hands, and I am telling you, “You are okay.”
Here are the two main things that have saved my life and gotten me out of crisis time and time again and that I would start STAT if you’re in panic, like this very moment:
- Self talk and changing up the voices
I would always, always, always start with self talk as the very first thing. Let that be the very first thing you do. It’s hard until you trust it. You won’t want to say things to yourself that you don’t believe. It doesn’t matter. If you cannot stand the voices in your head, which you cannot stand if you are in panic and also should not stand for, it’s time to get some new voices going, something other than the stories that are spinning around in your own head. It’s absolutely imperative that you start to get this bit under control and that you start to shift the momentum away from the downward spiral. Sometimes the effect will be instantaneous (what a relief). Sometimes it will be more stubborn and take a couple of days to begin to feel a shift. But you will, for sure, feel a shift within three days, so keep at it even if you don’t believe in it yet.
I will keep adding further resources to this section, but as a starting point at least until you have your self-talk script in place, my favorite voices are the Oprah/Deepak 21 day meditations. They have gotten me through quite a few desperate times. I would just listen to one after the next and not even do the actual meditation parts. I needed the voices. For creating your self-talk script, go on line and look up positive self talk scripts, mantras, affirmations, scriptures. Get a sheet of paper or index cards going with words you need to hear – words like I am okay. I’m getting better all the time. I’m getting through this and feeling strong. Start saying these words out loud whenever you can. We MUST get the momentum shifting in a new direction. Ideally, you will either have someone you can trust like Oprah and Deepak or another trusted teacher to listen to, or you will create your own self talk audio, but you MUST be listening to something other than the thoughts you’ve been listening to, which got you here in the first place. Find some relaxations or hypnotherapy to listen to regularly. Lean on them as much as you need to. Once you have some audio to listen to, make sure you have it by your bed at night so that you can grab it for before you fall asleep or in the middle of the night. Bedtime is notoriously hard at this stage.
Now put on your sneakers and go for a walk. Yes, now. I mean pee first, grab a snack and walk out the door. Right. Now. Bring your self talk with you, preferably in the form of something to listen to. Walking will save you. Know that walking will save you. After you’ve walked for a good bit, you will realize that you are not, in fact, going to die, or that you are not, in fact, going to lose it. And this is a really helpful thing to know. It’s a start.
After a time, you will even be able to tell yourself, “I am okay.”
The very beginning of my recovery began with lacing up my sneakers, leashing my dog, putting the baby in the stroller, putting headphones in my ears and walking. I could not stand the voices in my own head, which were only serving to keep me in the exact same spiral I couldn’t get out of, so I read my self talk into a tape recorder and played it to myself as I literally walked for my life. And my recovery began. And yours will too. Right. Now.
(originally written in March 2018)