Welcome back to Self-Care Sunday! This week's blog is about dealing with anxiety and panic attacks. Also... it may contain some spoilers from Wine Country, After Earth, and Divergent.
Recently I watched the Netflix film Wine Country, and there was a scene that stuck out to me. For those who haven't seen it, Wine Country is about a group of friends who take girl’s trip to Napa Valley to celebrate one’s birthday. Spoiler Alert: In the scene Amy Poehler plays Abby, the friend that coordinated the trip. She has been slightly obsessive of the group sticking to her schedule and refuses to relax despite all of the friends in the group telling her not to stress out. In this scene Abby snaps.
The part that stuck out to me was how quickly Abby's problem went from something personal to her (being unemployed) to being about things that are out of her control (global warming).
It reminded me of this one panic attack where I went from contemplating a career change to ‘polar bears are drowning’. Similar to Abby worrying about the last rhino, while her friends are confronting her about her bad attitude. When I have thoughts along the lines ‘polar bears are drowning’, It signals that I need to stop and evaluate what is real and is my anxiety.
“Excessive worry, panic, apprehension, nervousness… What is in a name? That which we call ‘Anxiety’ would stress as much.”
Anxiety is characterized by the unpleasant emotions and inner turmoil experienced over anticipated events.
A panic attack is a sudden episode of intense fear that triggers severe physical reactions when there is no real danger or apparent cause. They usually only last about 10 minutes or so.
I don’t have panic attacks often, but I have had them enough to have developed coping mechanisms for when they occur. Sometimes, I don’t realize it’s a panic attack until I have what I call my ‘Divergent moment’. In the movie Divergent the main character, Trix, is put under a simulation to reveal which faction she is best suited for. In the middle of the simulation, Trix realizes that the simulation isn’t real and is no longer scared. Once she realizes that the danger isn’t real she makes lucid decisions to survive the simulation.
My divergent moment is when I have a worry that is ridiculous. It’s a thought that in all rationality, outside of a panic attack, I know that I have little to no control over. A fear whose likelihood of occurring is dismal, but in the middle of my attack I feel like it’s imminent. Once I recognize that I am having a panic attack, I practice some of my stress management techniques to calm myself.
Once I am calm I discern what is real.
Okay so I didn’t plan to have so many movie references but hey…
In the Movie After Earth starring Will and Jaden Smith, Will’s character, Cipher, gives a moving speech. In it he says “Danger is very real, but fear is a choice. We are all telling ourselves a story.” As a creative person, that hit home. Why waste my imagination and creativity on something that makes me feel like crud? I have had to reinforce that reasoning a lot. ‘Cross that bridge when you get there’ has become a mantra of mine when it comes to dealing with anxiety.
Then last year, I watched this TedTalk about ‘How to make stress your friend’. It reinforced my belief in ‘mind over matter’. How you perceive a situation can literally change the body’s response to stimuli. The most interesting take away from the talk is about perception. Sweaty hands, racing heart, quickened breaths— can either describe a scary situation or a thrilling situation.
I recommend watching the full TedTalk but the clip above highlights, some key takeaways.
Surprisingly, I have found that being confident has been most effective in helping me stave off panic attacks. Sometimes you give so much power to the situation that you are dreading, that you forget your own power.
The truth of the matter is that I have the power to change each of the circumstances that I was worried about (even if the only thing I can do is remove my self from it). As I’ve said in previous posts, I am a optimistic person. I found that I had cognitive dissonance when it cam to my anxiety. Why am I worried when I believe that everything will workout in the end? Remember pilgrims, you can’t be faithful and fearful.
Until Next Time,
Although anxiety is on the range of healthy human emotions, if you find yourself in frequent states of anxiety or anxiety is causing you to alter your behavior in order to avoid situations that may cause anxiety you may want to talk to a professional about it. These are signs of an anxiety disorder.
Actual footage of me before, during, and after an anxiety attack.