By Amber Russell, Courier & Press, Oct. 3, 2017 –
Thump, Thump, Thump. Everything feels like it’s going in slow motion. All I can hear is my heart beating, which feels like it is going to beat right out of my chest.
I can’t breathe. I can’t think. I’m starting to sweat. Thoughts begin swirling in my head. “It is so crowded.” “Everyone is looking at me.” “I am in the way.” “I am taking too long.” Tears start to well up in my eyes as I think, “Please don’t let me see anyone I know.”
Sound familiar? This is how I feel sometimes in a crowd or even at the grocery store. Forty million adults (18 percent of the population) in the U.S. suffer from some form of anxiety disorder.
I am very familiar with anxiety and what helps me cope. What works for me, however, might not work for someone else experiencing similar symptoms.
There isn’t one single coping mechanism that will magically make your symptoms go away, but there are lots of things aside from medication and therapy you can try. To get started you may want to try talking with someone you trust, focusing on things you can control, finding a place you feel comfortable and safe, and doing something physical such as going for a walk.
Here are a few other suggestions to try when symptoms surface:
1. Know what triggers your anxiety. Is it work, school, crowded places, a specific person? Do you feel overwhelmed or something else more specific? What are your symptoms? They may include racing heart, sweating, trembling, nervousness, rapid breathing, constant worrying, restless sleep, inability to focus, intense fear or embarrassment.
Keep a journal to track when you have panic attacks or strong symptoms. Note the date, time, what was going on at the time of the attack, what you were thinking about beforehand, how long the symptoms lasted, and what made them go away. Once you have more information about symptoms and causes, the anxiety is easier to control. I get very anxious in crowds, especially while shopping. From tracking triggers and symptoms I know that while I obviously can’t avoid shopping altogether, I should not shop on super busy Sunday afternoons.
2. Try deep breathing. When we are stressed, our breathing becomes shallow. We feel like we can’t breathe, so we try to breathe fast by taking in quick short breaths through the mouth. This can actually cause hyperventilation. Try the 4-7-8 method instead:
- Close your mouth and inhale quietly through your nose to a mental count of 4.
- Hold breath for a mental count of 7.
- Exhale completely and slowly through your mouth, making a swoosh sound to a mental count of
Repeat these three steps at least 2 times. It may seem awkward at first, but it really helps to focus on breathing. Slow it down, breathe in through the nose, hold the breath, and slowly exhale through your mouth.
3. Try grounding techniques, which help put your mind in the “here and now” instead of focusing on how stressed and anxious you are. The more you focus on how stressed, anxious, and overwhelmed you are, the more stressed, anxious, and overwhelmed you become. Try the 5-4-3-2-1 game. Look around the room and mentally describe 5 things (poster, clock, lamp, etc). Name 4 things you can feel (hair touching your shoulders, the breeze of a fan). Name 3 things you can hear (the air conditioning unit, the click of a pen). Name 2 things you can smell or smells that you like. Name 1 good quality about yourself. Repeat with different items if needed.
If you or your child suffers from an anxiety disorder, take steps to manage it. Start with the coping techniques mentioned above, and seek professional help if anxiety is interfering with daily life.