I’m not going to skirt around it, I have been struggling recently. On the heels of being very busy and productive as I had planned to be in August, I found myself reeling from a major anxiety attack. It kept me up for most of the night, I was tossing and turning, shivering and crying. My mind was racing with all the things I had to do both at work and at home and how I just wanted a break from it all. I was completely unable to focus on what I had going on that week and instead was fixated on my entire future. As if that wasn’t enough to worry about, I kept glancing at the clock and counting down the hours of sleep I would have left until it was time to get up and get ready for work. When I finally woke up the next morning, my sleep cycle app told me my sleep quality was at its all-time lowest…60%. I woke up feeling exhausted, irritable, and entirely depressed. This is what my anxiety looks like.
I’ve unfortunately dealt with anxiety for years now, but it was only recently that I’ve built up my anxiety toolkit and learned what helps calm me in the moments during an attack. I’m hoping that by opening up my toolkit and sharing what’s inside, you’ll try some of these out yourself next time you feel your heart racing and palms sweating. I also wanted to write this piece to normalize this mental illness, because anxiety happens to almost everyone, taking shape in different forms and at different times of life. It does not mean you are weak, or sick, or broken. It just means that you are a human who needs a little extra love.
When an anxiety attack hits me, I…
♡ Get underneath my gravity blanket. I bought a twenty pound weighted blanket last year and oh man, has it come in handy. The weight pushing down on my body really grounds me and calms me down. I couldn’t recommend them enough.
♡ Listen to a guided meditation. I am a Calm app subscriber and swear by them. This week, I’ve been using the 7 Days of Calming Anxiety meditation series and it’s helped ease the symptoms a bit as well as understand and listen to what is causing my anxiety.
♡ Use the 5-4-3-2-1 grounding technique. You’ve probably heard of this one, but that’s because it’s tried and trusted. I’ll identify 5 things I can see, 4 things I can touch, 3 things I can hear, 2 things I can smell, and 1 thing I can taste. It’s a great distraction that will help ground you in the present moment.
♡ Watch something distracting and happy. When I’m in the middle of an attack, I sometimes just need to be distracted. I’ll turn on one of a few trusty faves on Netflix to take my mind off of what’s going on inside my brain: Friends, Julie & Julia, About Time, or Parks and Rec. I’ve seen them all countless times but they bring me such happiness and comfort that I turn to them easily.
♡ Talk to someone. My sister and my boyfriend are both really great at handling my anxiety, thankfully. If I feel like I need to reach out and ask for help, they’re the first two I turn to because they know what I need before I even know sometimes. Whether it’s a distraction, talking me through it, or reassurance that everything will be okay, they know what to do.
♡ Listen to a sleep story. Calm provides sleep stories for when you’re having trouble falling asleep, so when this attack hit me in the middle of the night, I grabbed my AirPods and picked one of my favorite sleep stories. It’s very distracting, soothing, and calming. I actually listened to a few that night since I was really struggling to fall asleep, but usually they knock me out within minutes, and now I have a few more I can add into my rotation!
♡ Try EFT tapping. This is a new one for me that I’ve been experimenting with recently since it was so prominently featured on an episode of Jane the Virgin. Emotional freedom technique (EFT) is where you tap your energy hot spots (or meridian points) to create and restore balance to your body’s energy. This article really helped me understand the science behind EFT and how to do it correctly.
♡ Get outside. Seriously, sometimes it’s that simple. I know when you’re in the middle of an attack, the only thing you want to do is cave in on yourself and hide from the world and all of its threats. Don’t listen to this response and instead go for a walk. The sun and fresh air really help to clear your head and slow your breathing, while the movement is a great distraction.
Don’t forget to take care of yourself in the days after too, sometimes that anxiety hangover can be just as terrible as the actual attack. The day after mine, all I wanted to do was go home after work and lie in bed and feel all of my emotions. I knew that would just feed into my anxiety, so I packed up the two books I’m currently reading, my journal, my fav crystal (a beautiful rose quartz that I keep on my nightstand and so feels very safe and reassuring), and some seaweed snacks and headed to the beach. On my way there, I stopped at a local juicery to grab one that promotes relief from anxiety and depression with its ingredients of beets, apples, sweet potatoes, lemon, ginger, and kale. I read on the beach for three hours and was fully able to get out of my head. When I got home, I felt more rested than I would have if I had just gotten in bed when I got out of work.
I hope that this list is something you can turn to during your next attack. Visualize it as an actual toolbox, filled with tools that will help ease your symptoms. Take what you need and what you think will work and leave the rest for another time. Above all else, be gentle with yourself. I know I can get super hard on myself when I have an anxiety attack because I get frustrated that my brain is freaking out over something completely illogical, but I remind myself that sometimes it’s okay to not be okay. We are not perfect, nor were we meant to be…so be kind to yourself!