We can combat our panic by gaining control where possible.
The first time I had an anxiety attack, I had no idea what was happening to me. I knew I was overwhelmed but I didn’t realize how bad it was. I also didn’t realize that the anxiety hangover is very real and a shame-filled hellscape.
If you’ve suffered from anxiety attacks, you know the hangover. It’s that point after the fog has lifted where you still feel like crap and you never want to go through that again. And you’re left feeling too tired to deal with life.
But, no matter how horrible the thought is and how much we can’t bear it, we have to. The more dealing with life we do, the easier it gets.
The soul-crushing part of having an anxiety attack is that when we’re in the middle of one, we feel like there is no way out. Doom is impending. We just need a little room after the attack. The only person that can make that room is us but there’s plenty of support if we make space for that too.
I’ve learned that the bigger the safety net I can create for myself, the easier it is for me to feel safe. Safety keeps the anxiety at bay.
The safety net is looking at everything I panicked about during an attack and figuring out if I can decrease the level of concern. Decreasing concern widens the net.
It means naming every paper tiger I’m chasing and putting it back in its cage. It requires breaking down something that keeps us up at night and creating an actionable plan that results in us being able to look at what we’ve done about it and reassure ourselves.
I’ve had a particularly panic-filled year for no explicable reason. I have not felt like I was adulting very well. I’m 46, for God’s sake. I should have this down by now.
I started asking myself questions after my anxiety hangover would pass. Out of that came plans I now refer to as my Anxiety Checklist.
The items on my checklist are pretty universal. I don’t know many people who don’t chronically worry about them. This makes me feel human. It also makes my checklists easier to create because I don’t have to invent the wheel. I can steal someone else’s emergency response plan for a nuclear fallout. I’m kidding. Kind of.
Over 65% of Americans are homeowners. That means a whole lot of us have suffered from panic associated with that ownership. If you’ve ever cried over a busted washing machine, you feel me.
Any time I hear a random noise coming from any part of my house, I am convinced something is going to break down, blow up, or catch fire. Right now, I have massive anxiety over my air conditioner.
It sounds irrational. It’s not. The damn thing is 24 years old, never had a repair and it’s the middle of July in Phoenix. It would also cost me about $5k to replace it.
Most of us wish we had enough money sitting around so a large repair like that was not an issue. Sadly, it works that way for few people. I am not one of them.
Knowing I don’t have a money tree in my yard and $5k would be a disaster, I have lost hours of sleep lying in bed listening to the air conditioner, convinced that today would find me in sweaty financial ruin.
I added this to my checklist. I listed my choices: accept financial ruin or get a home warranty. I wasn’t hard. I just had to take a minute and think about it.
After spending 45 minutes online reading websites and creating a dumb spreadsheet to compare plans, I had something. After a few calls to friends, the something that I had was a decision. And a cool home warranty that covers damn near everything in my house, including the laptop on which I type this.
I can now go to sleep tonight knowing that if I wake up in the middle of the night it won’t be because I’m panicking over the money. It’s now a $100 repair. If I get woken up, it’s now because the air actually went out or the cat is puking. That’s a serious reality.
During my last marriage, I took care of everyone and everything. What I routinely put on the back burner was myself. I had gone years without a well-woman visit, dentist visit, eye exam or anything else that a grown-ass adult woman would need to do to make sure her body was in working order.
The result of years of neglect was waking up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat, absolutely certain that I was going to get cancer, go blind and lose all the teeth in my head on the same day.
I sincerely doubt I am the only person that has gotten up at 2am and flossed their teeth thinking it would buy them three, maybe four, more days with their teeth fully intact before they all spontaneously fell out.
Making doctor’s appointments aren’t hard. It’s everything associated with doing it that makes us need a nap. One hour of your life is all it will take to list out every part of your body that's neglected and who you might need to see about it.
To get your cervix checked, you see a gynecologist. To get your teeth cleaned, you see a dentist. Not hard. Please don’t confuse the two.
I understand there is money involved. Under most insurance plans, these check-ups are covered and included. This is where your resources come in. Go see someone in HR. Tell them you’ve treated your body like a truck stop convenience store. Ask for help finding providers if you need them. This is their job. Human. Resources.
Add making the appointments to the list. Show up. Stop flossing at 2am.
Once you’ve tackled an area of anxiety, write down the affirmations of what you’ve done so that when you are in the moment you can look at what measures you’ve taken and take solace in the fact that you are in a much better place than your noisy mind is telling you.
Keep doing this. Keep reminding yourself that you are a capable, prepared adult who has taken the time to protect yourself and your family from ruin. You have controlled what you can.
My next item is getting rid of the anxiety that I will die in a house fire. I will be going through my house figuring out what I need to do to calm my ass down. New batteries in smoke detectors, checking dryer hoses for lint and changing my air filter though I don’t even know if that will help anything. I just know that thing is gross.
Remember that you can’t control everything and that’s not the point. The point is that there are things you can control. It’s just a matter of giving yourself a chance to see them and then acting on them when you’re feeling well again.
Some of these things are hard because they require us to ask for help. However, I would rather ask for a doctor’s recommendation than spend one more damn night flossing in a panic at 2am. It’s the means to the end.
It can be rough. If you can’t get your checklist started because you don’t feel well enough for long enough to take measures to calm your mind, please get help from a professional. It’s okay to say that things are bigger than you. They won’t always be.