Tips to wrangle the anxiety before it takes over.

Forward: I originally wrote this post on my blog 12 months ago. Since putting the strategies in place — and let’s face it, the bottom line… facing my shit, anxiety has taken a back seat in my life. I know, it’s not going to be so easy (and believe me this was not easy) for everyone, but at the very least, the following tips will not do you wrong. Look after you.

Wrangling anxiety

Another work trip. Another hotel. I’d been doing this for a long, long time and sitting within four walls en route to somewhere should have been a very ordinary occurrence.

This time it was not. On this evening the walls became a prison, a prison which was bereft of the oxygen I needed so desperately in my body to live.

I had fallen asleep easily, perhaps it was the glass of wine. But 1230am was not so friendly. I woke with a shock, the air had been sucked from the room. I needed more, I couldn’t breathe and without my permission the panic overcame me. The wave of anxiety that was just about to wash over me was almost palpable. It was as if I could see the enormous wave high above my head, just about to crash and there was no escape.

And there was no escape. Within moments the wall of wiry, electric panic crashed into me, sweeping me underneath its’ imposing strength and holding me in its’ tight grip. No air. No breath.

I loosened my already loose clothing and my hands automatically reached my chest. Where was the air? I tried to yawn, tried to slow down, tried to get a grip. But I was already lost in the swill of the tsunami.

I felt another wave coming my way and still not prepared again it crashed into my consciousness sweeping me along with its strength. Still. No. Air.

As panic overcame me a thought rose in my mind. I wrestled the thought for what seemed like half an hour, perhaps it was five minutes. I needed to escape the room and get outside for air — all the while remembering to retain the presence of a ‘sane’ woman.

“Hurry, don’t panic”

The outside doors were locked, there was nobody to be seen. My logic chipped in telling me that I could be mugged if I actually did get outside however, in my desperation for the feeling of fresh air in my lungs that didn’t seem to matter. My disappointment and subsequent submission to the recirculated hotel faux air must have been visible and a staff member popped up from behind a secret hotel staff hideout.

Should I tell him? Should I ask to change rooms? Should I ask to be let out, just for a small moment? I grabbed a bag of cough lollies and retreated to my room. I needed to retain the look of a ‘normal’, ‘together’ woman.

On and on it went, no breath, no air, waves and waves crashing.

In desperation I phoned a help line. Something I avoided so vehemently because that line is for people who need help, the people with no resources, no connections, the people that are desperate.

I forced myself through the gruelling hold period telling my inner ney sayer that I was THAT person right now. I needed god damn help and fast.

I imagined the lady at the other end as someone’s nana. She was kind, calm, she knew I needed to talk.

“Get off the line, you’re wasting everyone’s time and somebody else needs help more” that ney sayer kept saying.

But the conversation continued. She suggested a few things I hadn’t considered. A cup of tea, a magazine. She invited me to spill my guts to give me some form of catharsis in having shared my experiences. She confirmed that actually I was justified in my feelings. I started to calm.

Eventually, my eyes closed and I rested for a short while before the big day ahead of me. I considered turning around, packing up and going home. Then I considered just how proud I would have been if I forged on.

At the airport, I grabbed a bottle of natural remedy and a good book with glee. How had I forgotten these sage remedies?

I boarded that plane, I sat calmly through the captain’s notification about the unfavourable weather conditions and I followed through with my commitments.

When I reached my destination another wave consumed me. I opened the local phone book and despite my better judgement (it is a SMALL place and I’m ‘supposed’ to be a strong, together leader) I phoned the number attached to the title ‘counsellor’.

I asked the person at the other end if she was a real practitioner and I rejected her Thursday appointment telling her I needed to see her now. Luckily — so luckily she said yes.

The counsellor gave me tools to use that would turn my life around. She taught me how to step into the wall of anxiety. To notice it, to feel it and to ride the waves that had been crashing on top of me. She took the time to listen to all of the things that had resulted in this time and place and she reminded me that I was not, in fact, superwoman and despite my need to be strong for so many people I am actually made of human parts.

I entered that week a changed person. It was a slower, more gentle week and the results of that week, and the following weeks have been among the most authentic of my entire life.

I still move too quickly. I still catch myself every now and then gasping for air. But these lessons I took from this experience and I hope to carry the for the rest of my life;

  • Life delivers experiences that are often beyond our control. This happens to everyone. The trick is to learn from, and not judge bad personal choices, and to take the time needed for grief, anger, regret — all of the yucky things we’d rather not face.
  • Ride the waves. The best we can do is to ride the waves of anxiety as they come and to remember, always, this is but one moment. It will pass.
  • Breathe — breathe — breathe and make time to breathe. I started singing lessons not long after writing this and will continue through 2020 — the music in my body is intoxicating and I’ve learned some incredibly helpful tricks to bring air into my body. I can breathe.
  • I carry a list of the things I know are good for me and make every attempt to prioritise them — good friends, time with my family, exercise, reading / listening to things that light me up.
  • I also travel with a toolkit that I can lean on if needed. It ranges from that natural remedy to an eyemask so I can sleep, saline nasal spray in case the air conditioning or different climate gets to me and a few other useful bits and pieces to promote good health (for me).
  • Pause when bad energy comes my way, take the time to think before stepping into it and make a conscious decision as to whether that step forward is worthwhile and/or necessary.
  • Reach out for help and do it before it’s an emergency.
  • Make time for fun and things that are enriching.
  • Imagine a protective circle around myself. Honour that and treat it with respect. Even though I have a lot of capacity for the pain of others, some days I just need to do me and that’s OK.
  • There is no shame in expressing weakness. In fact, it’s an enormous strength.

Anxiety impacts so many of us. Take care of you too x

Oh — and those numbers (these are for Australia only, please add any international numbers in the comments). Use them:

Lifeline: 13 11 14

Beyond Blue: 1300 22 4636

Share these with the young people you know

Kids Helpline: 1800 55 1800

Reachout: web link here

Originally published on February 2019.

Economic and community development practitioner. Useful tips for people who DO.

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