Have you ever had a panic attack? It struck me this week that many people may never have felt the weary tightness in their chest, watched helplessly as the world tilted behind their eyes, been overcome by a silent, lurking, whirling darkness. (Right about the same amount of fun as getting locked in a mediocre Escape Room with an agitated mountain lion.)
I’ve experienced bouts of intense anxiety for as long as I can remember. I began to identify those moments of overwhelming, physical fear as panic attacks in college, which helped a whole lot. It can feel like the world is coming to a screeching halt, with you at the center of the wreckage.
Hold on, you might be thinking, didn’t the world actually just come to a screeching halt with me at the center of the wreckage? Like, this morning?
Why, yes! Yes it did.
No matter when we experience anxiety, it feels like the world is ending. The upside? When the world is actually ending, we can use the same tools to calm our bodies and our brains as we did when we were worrying about regular stuff – like whether we’ll ever meet the love of our life, what will happen when everybody figures out we don’t actually know what we’re doing at work, or if our left arm will just fall off. (That last one is definitely not a personal example. And it felt very real at the time.)
In honor of this sprawling, epic, and intense global panic attack, I wanted to share a few of my favorite ways to make my mind and body feel just a tiny bit better.
Phone a friend. It can be a friend, a relative, a therapist – anyone who makes your words feel less scary once they’re out in the air between you. Tell them you feel like the world is ending. Tell them how it makes you feel. Finding the right words can be hard. Just try your best.
Take a walk – especially if it’s cold outside. For whatever reason, cold air on my face is the ultimate in calming my system the fuck down. Panic feels hot, claustrophobic, all-consuming. Cold air can feel like putting out a fire. Just notice your cold breaths.
Listen to some words. I have to find new ways to work podcasts into conversation, because I’ve used “that reminds me of this podcast I was listening to the other day…” way too many times to still have any friends. But for anyone who is looking for engaging, thought-provoking, funny words that soothe – Reply All, Armchair Expert, Heavyweight, and Welcome to Night Vale are some of my favorites. Author’s Note: Welcome to Night Vale is the weirdest of these recommendations. It may be the weirdest podcast ever. If you are a fan, please call me because Julie and I have been trying to meet you for years.
Dance really hard. Even if you don’t want to. Even if it’s just for like twenty seconds.
Watch a fucked up movie. This one can be polarizing. If you are like my mom and every movie you watch has you asking the people around you, “Is this going to have a happy ending? I’m going to be really pissed if this doesn’t have a happy ending,” – then maybe this tactic is not for you. But if you can get lost in some crazy shit, and hell yeah the government is behind it, then cut that panic attack by watching somebody fake who’s somehow got it worse than you.
Help someone else. Donate to your local food pantry. Offer help to the most vulnerable in your community. Listen to your friend talk about their end-of-the-world anxieties for much longer than you’d planned. Focus on your strengths and put them to work – even today, there’s a whole world happening outside of your head. (What a relief, am I right?)
Stay strong, my friends. Cry when you need to. Dance even if you don’t feel like it. And call me if you ever want to talk about podcasts.
P.S. If you want to feel like all your friends in isolation are hanging out together, try the Marco Polo app. (I am not even a little bit sponsored. But definitely open to it if we make it through this whole virus thing.)