I picked for today a topic that came across as difficult. My first reflex was avoiding it but thinking it might actually help or comfort some of you turned me back to my initial plan. I chose to talk about anxiety as, somehow, I feel it is becoming more and more common among people coming from my generation and age group. I came across it myself and saw it happening to people I love and are close to me. We might not manage to professionally handle this problem here but talking about it might ease things.
As an Eastern European-expat in a Western society I couldn’t help but notice that we’re one hypochondriac group of people (leaving out a few exceptional individuals). Whereas most of my Dutch friends will happily grab a Paracetamol no matter how serious the pain, us Eastern people – we’ll spend significant time thinking something is terribly wrong with ourselves and Google for all sorts of evil diseases. Also common in that sense is the portable pharmacy that we carry around places in order to rest assured we are prepared for all calamities. :)) Partially, I see these kinds of habits as setting ground for an anxious environment.
Let me just mention here an episode that I can now make fun of, but gave me the spooks when it happened: experiencing a high volume of stress at some point, my body and brain somehow started behaving as if I was having a heart attack. In a vicious circle, this made me panic which made the symptoms even worse. In a moment of great entertainment to those around me, I almost dialed 911 to ask for a ride. Looking back to my own behavior, I realize that once “the diagnose was set”, my brain could not comprehend any other (positive) scenario. And that’s how you get a panic attack. To bring some variety, I also have friends that were under the impression they’re having a stroke or that will just die out of a sudden.
Luckily, I have doctor and psychologist friends that helped me gather some points to try out in case this ever happens again:
- Breathe in deeply and fill up your stomach with air, hold your breath – this will help you regulate your skyrocketing pulse & breathe normally again (even though I know it seems counter intuitive).
- The panic attack will pass, this is a fact – think about that and accept you will be in distress for the time being but that it’s only temporary; trying to run away from your panic attack won’t help while just accepting you are having one might.
- Think that all your symptoms are normal things but in a different context – you have exercised plenty of times and had your pulse just as high, your palms were sweaty when you saw that pretty girl too not to mention all that nausea you had while being on a boat.
- This is a hardcore one – think through and see how far you can get with your negative scenario – so what will happen after the “heart attack”? Will you be taken to the hospital? What will happen there? OK, we all know what the worst case scenario is. There is a special and slightly creepy exercise that psychologists recommend and that is writing something funny for your loved ones to read on your tomb stone. It also makes you think how you would like to be remembered and mentioned by your friends. By the time you get the emotional maturity to think about these things through meditation and mindfulness, you would have long passed the problem of getting anxiety and panic attacks. This is the ultimate goal.
- Experience your symptoms to the max. Is your heart beating really fast? Just let it continue and focus on that feeling alone. The panic attack will pass and the realization will come that even with that crazy heartbeat, you managed to get over it. This is a great exercise for any upcoming anxiety episode. Thanks Catalina for this one! :)
My purpose was mainly to show those of you that are going through such issues that you are definitely not alone, this is actually quite a common condition. We are going through an age interval where a lot is happening – studies finish, we need to set our careers straight, we need to think of a family, we need to find work-life balance, we notice friendships evolve or fade, we need to basically face the world as adults and deal with a lot of change around us. We are expected to perform and this can be tough … so tough we might become vulnerable sometimes. But that’s perfectly fine. Once that anxiety goes away, self-reflect and try out some emotion handling. We’ll solve things easily and one at a time.