I remember it was a normal weeknight just like any other. I was a senior in high school, and the school year had just begun. I had just gotten out of the shower, sat down in the living room with my sister and my dad, and I was unwrapping my hair from my perfectly twisted towel. I remember having the strange sensation of not being able to take a full breath. Thinking that this was kind of odd, I stood up and walked back to my bedroom. Everything was normal on the outside: mom was tidying up her room getting ready for bed, my brother was locked away playing video games, my dad and sister having a conversation. Normal night in the Morris household. But to me, it was becoming increasingly hard to breathe. The satisfaction of being able to inhale an entire breath, a sensation I've known my entire life, was becoming increasingly hard to fathom. The walls felt a bit closer. The air felt a bit thinner. My vision was slightly hazy--partly from lack of oxygen and partly from alarm. I barely recollect calling my mother's name--my voice not quite sounding like my own. I told her I couldn't breathe. And it seemed like in that moment, the realization of that fact, opened the flood gates. I started gasping for air--needing desperately to draw a breath, just one. "If I could just get one full breath, it will all be okay," I thought. But it didn't happen. I continued to inhale over and over, now fully hyperventilating. I couldn't really feel my limbs anymore, my arms in particular starting to tingle. As I sat on the bed, with now my entire family surrounding me, I faintly remember my mother saying I needed to go to the emergency room. As I was rushed into the car, we started the 25 mile journey to the hospital and I remember feeling numb and shaken. Upon arrival, I was thrown to the beginning of the line, for lack of oxygen. X-rays. Tests. And 3 hours on oxygen to regulate my breathing later, I was released.
I had just had my first panic attack.
It's been a little over 7 years since that day. I had many panic attacks in the days following that night. Just one wrong thing, and I would be sent off into a tailspin of blurred vision, tight spaces, and oxygen depravity. They eventually got better, with the help of the humble paper bag. I know my doctors were wanting to put me on anti-depressants, but my parents and I just didn't feel right about it. The panic attacks tapered off, and I rarely have them any more, if ever. Until last Sunday night, that is.
I know that some people feel like panic attacks are just a ploy to get attention and sympathy. And that may very well be true for some folks (shame on you), but it is a real thing. I don't really know what it's like for others, but it is definitely not something I want to experience ever. They make you feel weak, useless, and completely vulnerable. I think many more people deal with panic attacks than you think.
Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the US, affecting 40 million adults aged 18 or older, or 18.1% of the population every year (adaa.org). Believe it or not, anxiety disorders are highly treatable, yet only 36.9% of those suffering receive treatment (adaa.org). This is why I love things like Mental Illness Awareness Day. It shines a light on this massive problem in our country that people still seem to think we're making up. It's hard for me to think that anxiety is classified to as "mental illness", but what else could it be? Anxiety messes with your mind. It tears you apart, piece by piece, and has no thought to how you'll come out on the other end. It also can very easily lead to depression, which is a whole other bag of horrors.
Anxiety, stress, feeling overwhelmed. These are, sad to say, common things we deal with in everyday life. So how do we deal with them? How can we stop all of this nonsense on the outset, before it becomes too big? Listed below are a few things I, or others around me, have found to help:
Of course this one is first. Some may roll the eyes upon reading this, but I have to tell you: there is nothing and no one bigger than my God. He is everything. He takes away every fear, every doubt, every insecurity. When I cannot do it anymore, He rushes in. When I fail, He is right there to lead me. He is so undeniably strong even in my weakness. When I literally feel like I cannot lift my arms up to do the work, He comes right along and holds them up. I have to be willing to let Him move in my life, but when I do, it is always the best decision I've ever made. Prayer is my way of talking to Him. It's so simple: I just make known my needs and I don't forget to thank Him for His answers. I praise Him in the harvest, and I praise Him in the drought. Prayer. Changes. Everything. He wants to hear your voice. So go on... speak.
2.) Speaking positive things over yourself, circumstances, and your life
I am a huge believer in "what you say matters". It is one of the truest statements out there. Life and death is in the tongue, right? YES! You can tear someone apart or make them feel like they're flying by what comes out of your mouth. Declaring positive things into the atmosphere has changed so many things in my life. I speak life over myself, my thought life, my dreams, my relationships, my workplace, my home, my mind, and my body. I'm telling you: it will change your life. For example: we are too often caught saying things like, "I'm too fat", "I'm not good enough for that", "Oh I can't do that", "I'm not pretty enough", "I could never pull that off", "I'm not smart enough for this", "I won't ever have a great job", "My marriage will never get better", "I'll never get pregnant", "My relationship with my parents/siblings will never be healthy", "I'll never lose the weight", and on and on. Instead, how about: "I can do this", "I was made to have victory over this", "I will not bow to the enemy and what he thinks of me", "I am a child of God", "With God all things are possible", "No weapon formed against me will prosper", "I can do ALL THINGS through Christ who strengthens me", "I will not be beaten down", "I am enough", "I WILL WIN". COME ON!!! Anyone else want to run right now? Woo!
3.) Take a time out
I was talking to my best friend about this, and she mentioned this is what she tends to do a lot when she is feeling overwhelmed. And I do it, too. It is simple, but it works. When the kids are driving you nuts, the electric bill just came in, you just burned dinner, the husband can't find his keys, and the dog just peed on the floor, it is time to just take a time out. That's enough for anyone to have an all out screaming match with the next person who ticks you off. And God save the cat at this moment, because the poor thing has probably already been sent flying by your powerful, rage-filled kick. Just put everything on pause: sit on the couch or your bed, turn on Netflix, get your glass of sweet tea and breathe. Taking a minute for yourself is a good way to clear the mind and refocus on what is important.
4.) Talk to someone
Anyone else tend to bottle things up? I am a total bottler. It's not healthy, I know. Sometimes I guess I just feel like no one will care, but that is just absolutely not true (I totally hear my mom's voice saying that last part). Call up your best friend, or the person you know will call down heaven for you and talk about it. Honestly, you may just need someone to tell you to suck it up and kick it in gear. It happens. Take it from me, don't keep it all bottled up inside. It is so much harder when you analyze it in your head for 3 weeks straight, thinking you've looked at it from every possible angle. Because when you actually open up your mouth and talk about it, your friend/mom/sister/brother/husband/wife/cousin will say one thing and it will be something you never even thought about. And it will be the answer you need. Hopefully, you've been there for them during tough times, so it's their turn to be there for you.
It's scientifically proven to boost your mood, create endorphins, and give you an awesome butt. Oh yea, and it like, keeps you healthy or something. Need I say more?
These may all seem like no-brainers and obvious answers. But sometimes when you're so deep in a situation, you need something just like this to help you out of it. You never know who will need to hear these exact words. I hope you find peace in knowing you're not alone in the battle against anxiety. I get it, friend. Anxiety is a stupid jerk, and it comes straight from hell. If you don't deal with anxiety but know someone who does, pray for them. Talk to them. Let them know you are there. Anxiety does not control me. I will fight it, because I have too many important things to do than deal with that monster. So join me in the fight if you deal with it. Let's kick it in the face together, shall we?
Leave a comment, I'd love to talk.
Feeling super vulnerable,