It’s 2am. My heart is racing. My palms are clammy. I’m growing ever conscious of breathing in and out. Sitting up doesn’t help. Lying down is no better. A quick walk to the toilet and back distracts but doesn’t alleviate. After what feels like an eternity, I’ve reasoned with my brain, my pulse has slowed and my eyes drift wearily shut. It’s over. The dreaded panic attack is over.
I’ve always been an anxious person. At two years of age, being let go on water slide left me thinking I was drowning. It took me fourteen years to finally get back on the slides. Having a parent as a teacher at my primary school left me with crippling panic attacks as an awkward teen in the first year of high school. How would I deal without my safety net?
Even as an adult, I’m constantly bargaining or reasoning with my internal feelings. Working in the media, the jobs I undertake are often out of my comfort zone and require a fair degree of negotiation. While I think of myself as a pretty levelheaded guy, there’s a lot of frustration involved with having self-doubt that leads to high levels of anxiety. The older I get, the better I am at identifying triggers and handling the stress. Often my anxiety manifests itself in ways that make no sense at all.
Starting a new job tomorrow? Scared that I’m dying.
Going to an event I won’t know many people at? Worried that my plane will crash.
The sooner I work out the catalyst for my anxiety, the easier it is to manage the dread. Instead of spending hours upon hours thinking about all the unlikely diseases I have, I dissect or discuss the pros and cons of the new impending job. I find this approach to be far more reasoned. (Oh and stay away from Googling symptoms. That is NEVER a good idea.)
Of course, there is no one-size fits all approach to coping with anxiety but here are a few tried and tested methods I have had success using.
Over the past few years I’ve noticed that the more time I’ve spent swimming, the less time I’ve spent suffering panic attacks. The submersion, combined with the inability to do anything but swim, means that I spend an hour dealing with my own thoughts; a relaxing environment surrounded by people instead of the wee hours of the morning.
Easy listening music
Admitting you have suffered from panic attacks can be tricky, but admitting that the soothing sounds of Ed Sheeran helps you through rough nights can be even more intimidating. Sometimes silence is deafening but loading up my music player with easy listening hits is a regular distraction from the thoughts whizzing through my head. There’s something about acoustic pop that is so inoffensive it assists in lulling me to sleep. On a cooler note, I also find Bon Iver to be particularly great musical comfort.
Talking to people
Whether it’s a trained professional, a good mate or a colleague, talking through your inner most concerns works wonders. Some times all you need is to voice your concerns out loud to realise that other people feel the same or they’re not as big of an issue as you first thought. Feeling alone with your problems is isolating and exacerbates the situation. Never feel like you can’t say something.
Although I don’t think hugely increasing your usage of screens helps nighttime anxiety, when I’m desperate to feel connected I find the constant stream of Twitter calming. If I find myself freaking out at 3am and with no desire to bother sleeping housemates, the ever-refreshing cyber world is a constant reminder that the world is continuing to turn. I’ve also found advice sharing works well within the Twitter community. Turns out a lot of the internet’s snarkiest are more than happy to help out fellow worrywarts.
I feel fortunate in knowing that I have a strong support network in family, friends, colleagues and housemates but also I have discovered ways to personally cope with my anxiety. For others this is not always the case. Beyond Blue is a great source of information and always on hand to assist.
Mike is a 26-year-old media graduate from Adelaide, South Australia. When he’s not undertaking a variety of media and non-media freelance work you can find him avidly tweeting or trawling the internet for memes.