Today is World Mental Health Day. I posted a little blurb about my past panic attacks and anxiety on Instagram and got quite a response. Therefore, I thought it only be fair I share how I got past them. For those of you who suffer with anxiety and panic attacks, you know it can be one of the scariest and debilitating things you've ever had to deal with. The anxiety and fear will never go away, stress is a part of life, but with help you can control it.
Here is my 5 step process.
P.S. before any of these steps, see a doctor! They can help.
(Keep in mind this is what my doctor told me to do. I agree with this plan as it worked for me. I am not saying it will work for everyone and I promise NO cure.... you will deal with anxiety and the fear the rest of your life)
1) Get on some sort of antidepressant; Buspar is a good one!
I was placed on Zoloft 50 mg every day. The doctor had me originally take it in the morning but it made me so sleepy that I started taking it at night. I would honestly say after a month of being on this, I stopped having panic attacks. I still had moments where I would get tense, tighten up, and need to take a moment, but the actual panic attacks went away.
Now let me define: A panic attack for me was heart racing, hot flash, hyperventilation, lightheadedness, an overall feeling of panic, I would get chest pain... all the signs and symptoms of a heart attack. They got so bad one day I had to go to Urgent Care. They did an EKG (monitors your heart) and it was normal. Even though overcoming panic attacks was one of the hardest things I've had to do, and to this day when I feel anxiety coming on I get SO MAD because I don't want to feel this way, I have to remind myself it is all in my head. I could either deal with them head on and hopefully never feel that way again... or I could have panic attacks for the rest of my life.
2) Take vitamin D 5,000 units over-the-counter per day
Vitamin D is the happy vitamin. You get it from sunlight and some of your diet. Most people, especially where I live, have low vitamin D levels. When I had mine checked at my physical this year, my level was 22 (goal is at least 50). So to this day, I still take vitamin D at night.
3) Exercise at least 30 minutes per day; you have to sweat!
Now this was the hardest part for me. When you have anxiety your sympathetic nervous system (which is responsible for your "fright or flight"... think 'a bear is chasing you') is what is reacting. This is why your heart races, you start breathing really fast... etc. The last thing you want to do is something that gets your heart rate up. It makes you feel like you are having a panic attack.
There were plenty of times I was hiking up a mountain, freaking out I was going to have a heart attack right then and there. But the good thing is you aren't... Not matter how much it feels like you are. The scariest part of my anxiety and panic attacks was when it became so bad, I thought "If I'm going to die, then I'm going to die". Again I never did. And that kind of helped me relax. I gave into, if you're dying there is nothing you can do about it, and I was able to move on.
It's great regardless of whether or not you are getting your heart rate up, that you are exercising. Anything is helpful BUT my MD said you have to get your blood pumping, you need to sweat. Any high intensity cardio will work. The goal is, once you hit about the 30 minute mark, you get what many refer to as a runner's high. Exercise will get your natural happy hormones going! I like hiking, biking, taking the dogs for a walk.
4) See a therapist
This is really hard for most people but it’s probably one of the most beneficial things you can do for anxiety, especially in the long term. CBT, or cognitive behavioral therapy, teaches you tricks and tips on dealing with panic attacks and anxiety. They are really good about telling you this is completely normal. The university I went to had some free counseling sessions which was really helpful. If you cannot afford counseling, call the local community health clinic or low-income clinic and they can help you find resources for affordable care. I cannot tell you how helpful it is to talk to someone and have someone who is there for you. All counseling sessions, if done by a registered counselor, are private. There is no judgment. They really only do want success for you.
5) Get a hobby that makes you happy
If you get a hobby that makes you happy, it will help you build self confidence. Self confidence, in turn, makes you happy. I LOVE photography so I turned to that. I recently have been more stressed and unhappy due to my living situation (I move 5 times this school year!) and I’ve turned to blogging. I absolutely love doing it. It makes me happy, gives me a high, and takes my mind off the stress. It doesn’t matter how big or small… Make something you are proud of, play a game, take photos… even if it’s not a “real hobby” whatever that means, if it makes you happy (and is legal! Haha) then do it.
I really hope this helps you. I would love to get some discussion going about this.
What do you guys think??? Do you have any other advice you could share that might help others? Do you have any additional questions?? Share what is on your mind!!!