Iwent to the ER during my first panic attack. Yep, picked the sleeping baby up out of his crib, strapped him into his 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.
To simplify something that is anything but simple, 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.
Whenever I get back to this place, I ask myself, “How do I do this again? What do I do to get the adrenaline out of my system?” Consistently, the answer is:the passage of time with no new damage
For starters, it’s time to get into what I call “SNAIL MODE”:
- Walk around at a snail’s pace ALL day, no matter what you are doing, for however long it takes – this means you walk very slowly, you talk slowly and quietly, you even laugh softly.
- Ditch anything that you absolutely do not have to do – especially anything that will create even the slightest amount of stress in your system.
- 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 (much more on this below).
- Retreat entirely into your shell, find a quiet spot with a minimum of stimuli and rest.
- If you feel like you can’t be alone, don’t be alone. Call a friend, a family member, a vague acquantance, 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. Or just be with them so you feel safe, and then rest.
**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.”
You CAN do this. You are the only one who can. You WILL get better. Along with snail mode, 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 first heard of self-talk on tape 3 of the anxiety program that I was listening to when I was in the thick of my first real giant anxiety episode. It was an absolute life changer for me, and I literally could not possibly ever be the same after that. I’ve said before, I wore that tape out. It was absolute truth for me AND an awakening. Up until then, I never had a single idea that I was not my thoughts. I believed that my thoughts defined me, that they were real. If I thought them, then they must be? And yet, I had come to a place where my troublesome thoughts were incessant, battling it out to a point where I knew that all I wanted was for them to . . . be quiet.
If you’re feeling like there’s just absolutely no way that you can say these things, period, and that your mind has taken on a complete life of its own, that you’re unable to sit still and that you can’t possibly get yourself to read your self-talk out loud, I’d call that crisis mode. You can get through crisis mode. Since you are at a point where you can not even stand the sound of your own voice and your thoughts are constantly, loudly arguing with each other, it is absolutely time to bring in a different voice than your own. I love the Oprah/Deepak Chopra meditations for times like these. Or find any soothing voice you can listen to, anything that tells the TRUTH rather than the lies you have mistakenly been listening to. Listen to these more intentional voices again and again, and constantly if need be, until you start to notice a bit of a difference in how you’re starting to feel or think. Even the tiniest difference is a huge relief at this point.
What I learned from Deepak Chopra is that our cells want to create more of what they’re creating at this time. So what this means is that if you roll over and let your mind continue from where it is, you’re going to get more of the same. There are practices that you won’t feel like you are even capable of bringing yourself to do at this time, but you must start somewhere. You MUST start HERE, and this will get the momentum to begin shifting. You must stand up for yourself now and say enough. My mind got me here, and so it follows that – my mind can also get me to the other side. It feels hard. It feels impossible. You must be proactive now and not be willing to let your mind run all over you anymore. In this case, it starts with hearing a new voice. Are you capable of listening to someone else’s voice saying the right things? Of course. That is something that you CAN do. You will experience a shift, I promise you. And this will be the beginning of 1-realizing how powerful your mind is and that 2-you have more power than you ever realized and 3-you’re going to get to the other side of what feels like misery. You’re going to come out on the other side of this.
The first step, and maybe the only one you can muster right now, is listening to the right words and if you are capable, saying the right words. We’re not talking about reaching for the moon here, all we’re looking for is any improvement for how we’re feeling. We’re not looking right now to be happy, we are looking right now to be neutral. Neutral is good.
We’re also not talking about doing this for the rest of your life. We are talking about shifting the momentum away from this spiral-y, miserable feeling place. Your physiology begins to change very quickly. It’s a beautiful thing to feel relief, and that’s all we’re going for right now. As much as we can totally traumatize ourselves with our minds, we can also heal ourselves. It’s hard to believe, but I know from experience that it is just as powerful going one way as it is the other, and that YOU are the one that can get yourself there. You just might not have known it before.
My favorite voices to start with 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. Then I’d create a self-talk script and record it so you can listen to your own voice saying affirmative words. You can go on line and look up positive self talk scripts, mantras, affirmations and scriptures. Perhaps get some 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.
That’s what I’ve got for this section on self-talk, lengthy because of the impact I know it has on recovery.
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 some sort of self talk with you, whether it’s someone else’s voice or your own.
The combination of snail mode, self talk and walking has saved me more times than I care to remember.
Hang in there, walk your way through and after some time, 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 some time, you will even be able to tell yourself, “I am okay.”
The very beginning of my recovery, pulling myself up and out of anxiety, 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.