Did you know there’s a right way to freak out? Well, there is. And I’m here to tell you about how to freak out the right way so you can manage your anxiety.
Full disclosure, a blogging course I’m taking (yes, yes I AM binge taking blogging classes) said I have to pick a How To title and fill in the blank. One of them was How To _____ The Right Way.
My second choice title was ‘How To Poop Like A Pro’. I still may pick that one up later because that one is a fucking gem.
Awwwwwww, FREAK OUT
Les Freak. C’est chic! (insert funky guitar music here) Ever had a panic attack? Not sure? It feels like you’re having a heart attack, only you think you’re probably not having a heart attack and you don’t want to embarrass yourself, but what if it is a heart attack and you’re dying RIGHT NOW?
These pictures were from the one time I was SURE it was anxiety and it turned out to be appendicitis. I will eventually upload the story on this blog, but if you just can’t wait, you can find it here.
Your heart is beating so fast and you’re sweating. Is that pain shooting down your arm? Oh! Nausea! Will there be vomiting? Wait, maybe it’s the flu. Oh god, it’s the flu. You’re going to vomit in front of everyone and then pass out and have to be transported by ambulance and the ER doctor will be a George Clooney look alike and you’ll puke all over him….
Wait…is this even really happening? Maybe this is a dream? What if I’m dreaming of an alternate reality and then I don’t notice the actual reality and I die in reality because I was in an alternate reality? How do I tell? Oh god, what if I’m already dead? Or what if I’m not dead and I’ve just lost my ever loving mind.
DIFFERENT STROKES FOR DIFFERENT FOLKS
Panic attacks make some people want to curl up in a ball and sob. For me, it makes me want to run away as fast as I can. A panic attack can sneak up on you like a motherfucking ninja at the most inopportune time. Like in the middle of rush hour traffic on a floating bridge you can’t get off of. At the airport when you’re getting ready to board the plane home. Before every important thing ever. Before something that you didn’t think was important until you had a panic attack in the middle of it.
Have you panicked in a crowd? Have you panicked where it’s loud?
Have you panicked on a plane?Have you panicked in a train?
Have you panicked on a boat? Have you panicked with a goat? No, no you haven’t. Nobody panics around adorable freaking goats. Seriously, animals are anti-anxiety medicine….especially goats.
There are also anxiety attacks, which are like mini panic attacks. Same symptoms – nausea, chills, sweating, diarrhea etc. but just a little less in intensity. Did you know that anxiety and panic attacks often have no rhyme or reason? It’s kind of handy when they only appear in crowds or when you’re on planes, but for some folks it’s generalized anxiety which means there is nothing to point the finger at. This can be maddening for their ‘helper’ people, who just want to find a way to fix things. You can’t change the reality (or the non reality), but you CAN change your thoughts.
Do you remember GIGO? When I googled it, it showed up as a computer term, but I remember it from elementary school before computers were much of a thing. That’s kind of terrifying now that I think about it. Back in the dinosaur age…..
If anyone else remembers this or has a hint why I would know this (as I’m NOT a computer guru) lemme know! I feel like there was even a song about it and it maybe had to do with nutrition and poop??
Anyways, it stand for Garbage In, Garbage Out and according to the internet has something to do with analysis and data. Boring. Let’s make it relevant, for fuck’s sake.
“One man’s trash that’s another man’s come up” – Macklemore, Thrift Shop. I suppose this could be true for anxiety too. Maybe there’s someone out there that needs my anxiety so they could survive. If you do, lemme know. I’d sell it you for reeeeealll cheap.
THE NEW GIGO – GOOD STUFF IN – GARBAGE OUT
If you’re in the middle of freaking the fuck out, your first order of business is breathing. I know, I know. You’re already breathing AND you already know how to do this and shut the fuck up, Mona Sterling. No. No. I won’t. Because I GUARAN-FUCKING-TEE you that you are not breathing correctly if you’re freaking out. When you get the breathing down properly, your body can’t fight against it and you WILL calm down…eventually.
There’s a few good ways to breathe to bring your system back online. One is square breathing. Breathe in. Count 4. Hold. Count 4. Breathe out. Count 4. Hold. Count 4. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. Good air in. Bad air out.
Another great way is to exhale for twice as long as your inhale. If you’re feeling really out of control and square breathing feels like you’re going to pass out, give this one a try. Count your inhale. It’s best if it’s long, but in the beginning it may be short and shallow. That’s okay. Now exhale and make sure to double your count. Breathe in. Count 4 (if you can). Breathe out. Count 8. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.
THE REPEAT IS IMPORTANT. DO THIS AT LEAST FOUR TIMES.
You can’t just do it once or it won’t fucking work.
Pro Panicker Tip: Call a friend to help you count and get you breathing in the right rhythm. My sister and I have a deal where if we need the other person to PICK UP NOW, we leave a message (cause nobody in our family ever answers the fucking phone. How 2005 is that?) and then the other person knows to call back immediately. There are also apps on your phone that can help .
STEP AWAY FROM THE THOUGHTS
Back up slowly and carefully. Thoughts are a dangerous thing. See, it’s our thoughts that make the whole thing unbearable. This is true for everything, but especially true for panic and anxiety. It’s not just the physical discomfort, it’s the thought about what it might mean.
You might be crazy, you might hurt yourself, you might embarrass yourself.
This dude does not appear to be having an anxiety attack, even though he is CLEARLY crazy and could hurt himself. Considering how high up he is, there is also a good chance he will embarrass himself if he falls. I mean, I’d pee my pants too, dude.
And then those thoughts lead to more thoughts.
If you are crazy, who will look after your children. If you hurt yourself, will you recover? If you embarrass yourself, will you get fired from your job?
And then those thoughts beget more thoughts.
If you’re crazy and your mother in law looks after your children, will she spoil them so bad that they end up horrible entitled human beings? If you don’t recover, will you spend the rest of your life in misery? If you get fired from your job, will you be able to get another one or will you die in poverty?
IT’S A JUNGLE IN THERE
Not only are these thoughts extreme but they happen so fast that most of us don’t even notice it. See, every time you think a thought it creates a little groove.
Imagine your brain is the jungle and when you have a new thought “What if xx happens?” then the neurons fire and take a machete and start cutting a path. It’s not easy to get through at this point, but it’s doable. Then you think it again. And again. And again.
The brain jungle before you start your OCD thoughts.
The path that once took four hours to meander down, is now a dirt path that takes one hour. Then it becomes a gravel path that takes 45 minutes. Then it’s paved road that takes half an hour. Then it’s a super highway with lights on it 24 hours a day and it takes half a second to get down it and you don’t even realize you’ve done it.
The brain jungle when you’ve thought the same thought over and over and over and over and over.
Our brains are fucking powerful shit and the anxiety loop turns into a fucking superhighway of panic. Yeehaw!
SAVE THE TREES!
So, how to stop the jungle from turning into a superhighway?
Change your thoughts. Yeah, fucking stupid easy, right? Except we all know that the simpler something is, the harder it is to actually achieve it. I don’t know why that is. The Universe has a sense of humor I guess.
To change your thoughts, start by taking one step away from them. Rather than saying “I’M GOING TO DIE!”, you might say “I’M HAVING A HORRIBLE ANXIETY ATTACK AND IT FEELS LIKE I’M GOING TO DIE!”
And then you might try to step a little further back to “My anxiety is giving me the feeling I’m going to die.” and then back to “This horrible feeling is my anxiety and it doesn’t feel good, but this is just my anxiety.”
The farther away something is, the less threatening it is. This is easy to prove, go hang out with an angry bear. Terrifying at 20 feet away and incredibly dangerous but not so scary if you’re watching through a telescope from inside a cabin with a tranquilizer gun nearby (just in case…just in case).
When I went to find angry bear pictures for free, I couldn’t find any. Probably because the person who took them is dead and pictures taken by dead people cost money. This is probably the safest view of a bear.
TALK IT OUT
This seems like stupid advice, but one of the overwhelmingly crippling things about anxiety is the stupid fucking shame that goes along with it. Dude, there is NO SHAME in having anxiety or panic attacks or really, anything. I mean, we all know I have NO shame, but really there shouldn’t be shame about any of this. We’re all humans just trying to survive. Anxiety, poop, panic. It’s all okay.
The quickest way to find out there is no shame in things, is to share it.
Just not on Facebook. I mean, you could share it on Facebook if you really trust your peeps and yourself, but be ready for someone to tell you that you have anxiety because you need more kale. Or that they know someone who knows someone who fixed their anxiety by taking tranquilizers or getting a lobotomy. If it’s your first time sharing, maybe social media’s not the best bet.
When I say share it, I mean when you are in the throes of the shit, turn to the person next to you and say “Wow, I’m having a panic attack and it sucks.”
JUST YOU WAIT
I went and saw the musical Hamilton this year (fucking amazing, btw and I only had to sell an ovary and my left knuckle to get tickets. Totally worth it) and because of my immune disorder(I know, I haven’t talked about that yet. I’ll get there) and stress, I had a full on panic attack at the theatre. The packed house theater.
A little more packed and a little less fancy of a theater than this one. I would have loved to have my own little private two person box…with a private bathroom, please.
I’m freaking out, which makes my stomach freak out. I’m in a line of like 100 women waiting for the 10 stall bathroom and I’m sweating and cramping and generally losing my mind. The woman in front of me turns around, probably because I’m dancing behind her like a toddler who needs to pee, and smiles at me. And rather than grimacing back, I say “Wow, I’m having a panic attack and I’m not sure I can wait in this line! It really sucks panicking in the middle of something you’re so excited about.”
Honestly, I have no idea what she said after that. I think we made some small talk about the play as the line moved forward and I let her know that if things got out of hand, I would let her know so I could cut ahead. You know, to avoid pooping my pants before the show even started.
SHARING IS CARING
What’s funny is the minute I shared things, the urgency dialed down a notch. Because part of anxiety’s stupid little game is to get you so wrapped up in your head that you think everything is going wrong RIGHT NOW.
Get it out of your head and out of your mouth. EVERY SINGLE TIME I write or speak about anxiety, I have people say “Wow, you’re anxious too? Me too!”
It’s global, people. It’s a language more people than you know will understand and if we’d all stop pretending our shit don’t stink, it would be so much better! Strangers also sometimes have really cool advice, like the time someone showed me accu-pressure points that help with nausea and panic. Somehow this advice felt different from internet advice about kale. This could be my prejudice against kale, but I think it was because it was face to face advice.
I’m sorry, my kale loving friends, but this looks like a weed or part of a bush, not a food I would want to eat. I mean, even the lemons look like they don’t want to be there.
Until next time, breathe deep and exhale long, but not too loudly if you’re sitting next to me. I have issues with mouth breathers….and nose breathers for that matter. Yoga classes are ROUGH for me, as are quiet rooms with people breathing and just forget about eating. Oof, that’s a whole ‘nother post right there. Stay chill, my friends, stay chill.
*p.s. I’m not a fucking doctor or an expert and none of this is medical advice or even fact. It’s the goddamn internet, not a trained professional. If you are having majorly disruptive anxiety and/or panic attacks, please see the doctor of your choice. I’m offering lifestyle tips NOT medical advice. Duh.