Can I Panic Now?
Anxiety attacks never come at convenient times. They never come when I’m alone and have time to panic. They always come when I’m in public, getting ready to leave, or with other people.
However, I’ve had a lot of anxiety attacks and I have a pretty good idea of when they’re going to come now. I try to hold them off and consciously plan to let them happen later. I schedule my anxiety attacks.
It sounds ridiculous, but it’s helped me quite a bit. Several weeks ago, I described anxiety as a bucket. I said certain things fill my bucket and an overflowing bucket results in an anxiety attack. I know when my bucket is almost full and often, I can keep it from overflowing until I have time to deal with the mess.
I can take time to myself before a stressful event. I can leave whatever I’m doing and take a walk or get a drink of water. When all else fails, I can keep taking deep breaths to keep the water in the bucket and promise myself I can lose it the second I get home.
That last part is vital. If I promise myself I can panic in an hour, or I can cry after work, I’m usually able to hold it together until that time. I’m less likely to fall apart in the moment, because I’m aware that I’m not okay and I’m not forcing myself to be okay. I don’t try to be 100% my best self. I don’t try to work as hard as I usually would. I do what I can to make it through the next few minutes or hours. All while promising myself I can fall apart later.
Let me give an example. Earlier this week, it was insanely busy at work. Partway through the rush, it felt like there was a weight pressing on the middle of my sternum and I could feel my heart beating against that weight. But the line was to the door, so I couldn’t leave. I took a few deep breaths and kept going.
Then I noticed my hands were shaking. Not a lot, just enough that I noticed. I took a few more deep breaths and held an ice cube in one hand to give myself a different sensation to focus on. When the rush ended, I immediately went to the back, got a drink of water, and took a few deep breaths in the quiet of the break room. Then I did some stocking and cleaning tasks to get a break from my register.
I was sure I was going to cry in my car after the shift. In fact, I was planning on it. I’d promised myself I could cry in the car as long as I wanted to as soon as my shift was over.
I didn’t need to. By the time I got out, it had slowed down and I’d had enough time to breathe and calm down. But if I hadn't taken those deep breaths, held that ice cube, got a drink, or promised myself I could panic later, I would have completely lost it right there at work.
This is the case more often than not. By the time I get home and I’m alone, I’ve already spent time taking care of myself and keeping the water inside the bucket. And yeah, it’s still pretty full and I might still end up crying or hyperventilating, but not nearly as badly as I would have if I’d forced myself to fake like everything was fine.
I want to note that this doesn’t always work. I can't anticipate everything and sometimes my bucket is fuller than I thought and I end up curled in a ball sobbing in the stockroom at work. That’s obviously not ideal, but it’s okay. It’s not something I have to be ashamed of.
But in general, if I can feel an anxiety attack coming, I can work to keep it away until I’m alone. And by promising myself that I don’t have to hold it together forever, I’m more likely to be able to.