Not every day, but more frequently than some, I end my day with a sobfest-style panic attack.
Panic attacks are different for absolutely everyone. No panic attack for me is the same, though I’ve definitely caught on to my triggers and repetition of behavior.
For me, a panic attack feels like I am simultaneously pushed to the floor, insulted, and left alone – when none of these things have actually happened. My heart pounds, my entire system of emotions feel wired to explode at any second, and any sense of positivity and security flies right out the window. A trigger for me might be an abruptly rescheduled plan, negative feedback on a paper from a professor, or even the fact that I don’t know what to do with my free time. Recently, I've developed a very annoying and frequently occurring sense of claustrophobia, often finding myself embarrassed by how anxious I feel entering packed and vibrant social situations.
My reactions to these circumstances are powerfully irrational, and I often find myself unable to stop the internal pressure from building up inside of me. I am taking steps to take professional care of myself, but while the panic is still here, I want to share what has worked for me to come out of it when it arrives.
The most intense panic attacks for me have usually happened at the very end of the day, after closing my door and finally being alone to process and listen to my thoughts. I would argue solitude is one of the most powerful places we can put ourselves. When you have nothing else to distract you from how you truly feel, how will you truly feel?
In those moments, as I notice an onset of panic, I sit down on my floor, close my eyes, and let it happen. Yep. Step one: let the feelings be felt.
Many coping mechanisms I have found myself pursuing – bad eating habits, antisocialism, mania and trying to do everything at one time – have been like band aids to deeper feelings I haven’t allowed my body to feel. I avoided listening to what God was trying to make me understand by distracting my conscious with anything I could put in front of me. And at the end of the day, when all is said and done, what’s usually left is the original feeling I needed to feel.
Letting myself sit and cry – like really, ugly, puffy cry – felt so uncomfortable for me the very first time I consciously let it happen all by myself on the floor of my room. It’s a feeling we tend to reserve for “appropriate” times, like when tragedy strikes our family or chaos truly erupts our lives. What I hypothesize has forced our generation into a mentally misunderstood epidemic is the uncomfortableness that comes with feeling “sad” for the sake of feeling sad. Social media and subconscious mental clutter pesters us with how we aren’t good enough, skinny enough, strong enough, tan enough, smart enough, accomplished enough, or even imperfect-enough (it happens). We are being manipulated by people who don’t even intend to manipulate us, because of our mere exposure to what everyone else’s life is “like.” As we’ve aged, and have had to make big kid decisions about how we want our own lives to go, suddenly, we are faced with an emptiness in not knowing who we truly are if we aren’t comparing ourselves to something else.
I feel these senses of incapability to define my own self if I'm not comparing myself to something (someone?) else. It’s a paradoxical way of living. And what happens when I let myself be still, quit comparison in its tracks, and look at what my own heart is feeling… It ends up feeling sad.
Maybe I’m alone in that constant comparison, but it drags me (without me even knowing it) and pulls me into the lie that I need to chase something, or else. What about who Chloe is, all by herself? What does she want? Where does she want to be, and what does she want to be doing while she’s there?
Not answering these questions puts me into a state of panic, as I realize I have no answer. So, in those attacks, when something goes wrong and I spiral into not even knowing what is “right” is anymore, I let myself sit in that pain. If I disregarded it and carried about with a nighttime routine I learned on YouTube that I don’t actually want to do, I miss that moment to get to know my heart, and listen to what it has to say. To an outsider, I look exactly as I look: really, ugly, puffy crying. But to me, I am in a state of newfound compassion, ready and waiting to learn what I need to learn from what my own self is trying to tell me. After releasing that pressure to myself by myself, I open the conversation to the only source of advice I know will truly hear.
Step two: talk to God. I sit on my bedroom floor with my hands wrapped around my knees, I bow my head, and I tell Him I need Him back. Why? Because depression, anxiety, panic… it’s all a result of me giving the devil a foothold (Ephesians 4:27), pulling me from my only true source of good and fulfilling life.
No matter how far from the Lord I am feeling in the moment, I tell Him I want to draw near to Him. That’s it. It’s so easy, I get mad, because I regret not saying it sooner. I tell Him I miss Him, I’m sorry for pretending I don’t need Him in my life, and for the forgiveness and grace to come near to me again. And you know what? It always, always happens. (James 4:8).
Step three: a reminder from yourself to yourself of everything going right. By now, I’ve usually breathed through a lot of the panic, and I’m ready to feel a little bit healed. I uncross every limb that’s been tightly wound, breathe in, and breathe out, and start listing out all the things that I love about my life. The people that I love, the things I love to do, the places I’ve been, and what's yet to be lived. I just remind them all to myself. Over, and over, and over again.
After even just one minute of focusing on gratitude, I feel so. excited. to get up. I’ve cried, I’ve filled my faith cup back up to the brim, and I’m excited to wake up tomorrow and see where He leads me. I remember what I love about this life, I know that whatever triggered me into an irrationally dark pit did not, in fact, require that reaction, but it’s okay that I'm still figuring out how to handle it all. I don’t have to hustle. I don’t have to run fast. I can take moments to be still, to connect with the Lord, and try again tomorrow.
Isn’t that beautiful?
Friend, I don’t know where you’re at. I don’t know if you've ever felt a panic attack before – and maybe you’re just freaked out by everything I described. I guarantee you know someone dealing with a battle, though. A battle through anxiety, an eating disorder, depression, addiction, divorce, miscarriage, loss…. Maybe even just really dull, really unmotivated daily life. These things make up our lives, whether we wish them upon anyone or not. They happen. By God-given circumstances we are thrown, sometimes, into pits. We are pushed, challenged, questioned, neglected – for reasons we often feel we have absolutely no control over. The purpose, I believe, is to return us to Him. And when we are filled with Him, we don't have any room left to feel empty from everything else.
Everyone you know is dealing with something. Me? I panic. What about your neighbor? Your sister? That barista? The teacher you’re talking to or the client you’re about to see? What about your cousin? Your roommate? The guy that annoys you at work, or that woman that sat next to you on that plane?
Explore compassion for those around you, ask your friends to talk if you feel like they’re slipping, or look yourself in the mirror and ask your heart what it needs.
Above all else, remember Who gave you this life in the first place. Crave Him, look to Him, and trust Him – He led you here to lead you back to Him.
Hi! I'm Chloe, a twenty-something writer and communications strategist figuring it out as I go along. I love airplanes, oat lattes, and deep chats over cheap wine.
I hope you leave here inspired to explore the world and love its people, or, keep reading all the things. It's good for you!
Follow along: @chloe.belangia