Tips for Long Term Periods of Anxiety or Prolonged Panic Attacks
Earlier this year,I took some time to share my personal anxious journey with all of you. I shared the root of my anxiety. I shared my struggle with accepting that it truly was anxiety. I shared how I managed to overcome that; how I managed to finally look in the mirror and acknowledge my anxious energy for what it is. I shared the strategies that I had adopted to help me get through and work through that anxious energy when it fully manifested into a panic attack. I shared my anxious journey with you. And I am here now to share how my anxious journey has evolved yet again.
As I write this, I am working through a particularly intense moment of panic that has been ruminating within me for about a month now. It started as nothing more than a simple expectation- write a research paper for your graduate program. Seems simple enough right? I felt good about it. Writing papers is something I’ve always been good at. I had to write research papers every two weeks when I was in high school. I got very good at it very quickly. Plus it was on a topic that I genuinely love and am passionate about. What could be better?
I was not prepared for this assignment, an assignment that I usually get excited about, to be the trigger of an exhaustive, month long panic attack that would only escalate with the pressure of additional assignments and finals.
One month. That’s a long time. One month of feeling uncomfortable in my own skin. One month of explosive, unpredictable moments of intense emotional response. One month of staring at blank Google docs, blurred lines of text in books on educational philosophy, and my bedroom walls. One month.
I’m in the home stretch of this one month, just as we are all in the home stretch of what has been collectively one of the most challenging, disheartening, and anxiety inducing years of modern history. I am realizing that this month, for me, is the culmination of this year; this particular month as deadlines approach I am feeling the weight of everything that has happened this year, as I know we are all feeling. This weight is suffocating. And if we don’t take care of ourselves, that suffiction can smother us.
So today I want to take a moment to share with you some steps I have started to take this month that I wish I had put into practice ten months ago. Steps that are quite literally saving my life:
Sometimes the easiest way to work through the moment of anxiety is to feel it. Personally, I get to a point where I feel like I need to cry. I spent several years ignoring this feeling. I felt like it was better to push it down and ignore it than to let myself cry. Now, I honestly have found if I give myself a moment and the space to fully feel the emotion I am experiencing, it is easier to think clearly and to move forward from it. So don’t be afraid. Don’t bottle up your feelings. Feel them. Acknowledging and feeling are the first steps in moving forward from them.
I found out during these past ten months how much better I do in all areas when I have some structure. After a few weeks of living without one, I was getting even more anxious about the circumstances. I had no motivation to really try to put a schedule in place, and the lack of one was increasing my worries about the pandemic and when it would all be over. It wasn’t until I went to my parents house to try and get through the quarantine with my family that I was able to set some sort of routine and I saw such change. It was just little things- like setting aside time to walk every day, waking up and starting my day by getting ready as if I had somewhere to go, prepping and eating regular meals…. As simple as these things might seem, it did wonders for my mental health, specifically my long term anxiety.
In a similar fashion to bottling and ignoring our true feelings, I think a lot of us fall down the rabbit hole of forced productivity. Deadlines and the pressure of needing to be constantly active in our work pushes us into anxious frienzies that end up being the opposite of productive. More often than not, when I get in that headspace I end up sitting and staring at the work I need to do, I find I sometimes spend an hour staring at a blank google doc and then end up getting more stressed out because I wasted an hour. Recently, I’ve tried something different. In those moments where I go to start working on a task and I am anxious and cannot get started, I move on to something else. I go for a walk. Take a shower. Work on a passion project that doesn’t induce anxiety. I find another task to do that feels productive in a different way. That “warm up” task usually is enough to clear my head and get me in the mindset to tackle whatever I was struggling to start. If after that first task I feel as though I am still not ready, I take a breath, and look at my schedule. It may be in my best interest to use this day for something else if i feel as though I’ll just end up right back where I started: staring at a blank screen or project and not making any progress. THere is nothing wrong with letting things be until you are mentally ready to tackle them! And it may even be in your best interest to do so!
More often than not, I find it helpful to lose myself in something and allow myself to be “anxiously creative”! When I feel the physical symptoms of my long term anxiety starting to creep up or I have just finished letting myself feel a particularly intense emotion, that’s when I let my creativity out. I will write something (like I am right now), put on some music to sing or dance to, try out a new recipe… anything to keep my hands and mind busy. It’s the perfect way for me to physically take my anxious energy and put it into something meaningful. Let yourself really get lost in it for a while. Anxiety and passion can so quickly be interchanged and having that mindset that I can channel my anxious energy somewhere has been so helpful in managing long term anxiety.
Sometimes, I think it is easy to fall into the trap of bottling up emotions because we do not want to burden others, especially during times like these that are challenging for everyone. But here’s what I’ve found. Because we are all having a difficult time in one way or another, by speaking up about our feelings we may be helping someone else to do the same. It is so important for us to be there for each other while also respecting our boundaries. During this time, I have gotten so much better at speaking up about my anxiety and worry to those closest to me. And I feel so much better. I have found a healthy way to share my feelings with my loved ones and though I still have these worries at times, I am not constantly shying away from expressing myself for fear of being a burden. Each of us has feelings and those feelings are valid. It is important to put them out into the world so that others can better understand you. And it is good to encourage others to do the same! Create relationships based on honest and healthy sharing and communication. Be there for each other when you can and respect when you or others cannot. Look to your people. Trust your people. Let them be there for you.
These five little tips have been so helpful to me and I hope they can be helpful to you as well. These times are hard. In moments they can feel unbearable.And I hope in those moments you can take some comfort in just letting yourself feel it or letting it be. I hope you can lose yourself in something or look to your people. I hope you can find some peace.
Xo, Frankie Ann