When “Anxiety Attacks” – A Helpful Guide
Some may say, “It’s all in your head.” Uh, yeah, where else would anxiety attacks occur? It happens more than we realize. According to WebMD, over six million adults are affected by panic disorder. Thing is we don’t talk about it as much as bad days, failed relationships and horrible politics. Before we brush it off again, it’s time to talk about the elephant in the room. This will be a longer slice than usual, for it is a serious subject, but the knowledge I’m dropping will have you read without stopping.
I personally believe that panic disorder is a first-world problem. In other countries, they have real issues to think about, like eating and surviving. In the US, we are spoiled beyond belief and our egos are too big for our own good. Don’t get me wrong, but many Americans live their lives without any mental problems. However, we all got problems.
I have suffered from two major anxiety attacks that I’ll be sharing in this slice. I definitely ain’t a doctor, but I’ll share what triggered the major attacks and what helped me stop minor ones from becoming full blown.
It’s normal that everyone goes thru life with things that stress them out, whether good or bad. Traffic, getting married, final exams, buying a new car, losing a job, going on a first date are just some events that cause us to stress. Usually, how we react to these occurrences are expected responses. Traffic makes us mad. Losing a job makes us sad. A first date makes us excited or nervous. On the flipside, panic attacks can be as random as pimples.
In my experience and talking with others, stress coupled with external stimuli and inner feelings is a perfect storm of anxiety and can cause an episode. Some may be more prone to attacks with even the slightest trigger. Attacks can be daily and for many, including myself, it can happen years apart. Either way, it sucks.
If y’all aren’t familiar with the effects of marijuana, there are good and bad highs. The latter includes paranoia. An anxiety attack is basically being paranoid on a bad high. Imagine having negative thoughts and you can barely breathe. An attack only lasts a few minutes, but man, that short time is terrifying. It’s as if fear has you in its unrelenting grip. Not fun at all.
Episode 1: Newsroom Attack
My first major anxiety attack was unexpected and I had no idea what was going on. It was horrible. I just returned from a sleepless trip in Vegas. I was in the newsroom with a bunch of people working on the Golden Gate [X]press, the school newspaper at San Francisco State University. Go Gators! As I was attempting to concentrate on my work under deadline pressure, multiple conversations were taking place around me.
Then suddenly, someone reached for the portable USB drive on the lanyard around my neck. At that moment, I stood up. I think I yelled (I honestly don’t recall). I walked out of the newsroom to the restroom on the opposite side of the building. I urinated. I washed my hands and face. I composed myself, but I still felt on edge.
I returned to my desk and did my work. I’m sure everyone in the room knew something was up. It was quiet, like a different dimension. My mind was gone at that point. I think I even reverted back to my younger years. Some people had the audacity to mess with me, but whatever. I shake the fake.
Anyways, as the day progressed, I realized it was an anxiety attack. That was 2008. The weeks after the incident, I was embarrassed and kept to myself, mostly finishing my work and leaving right away. It was no longer a peaceful place for me.
Since then, several folks have discussed their history with anxiety with me. It’s a relief to know that it happens to many people, including those you least expect.
I’m not putting anyone on blast, but we’ve shared what triggers their attacks and how often it happens. We also discussed how we cope with and prevent the attacks – all beneficial knowledge that I’ll be sharing very soon.
This slice is long overdue, but I finally decided to write it because a relative of mine had to go to the Emergency Room for having a bad panic attack. If you’re reading this, know that I care and so does everybody else. =) That goes for all who suffer from anxiety.
Several of my folks have admitted that they suffer daily from this disorder. Everyday can be a battle and it’s a struggle to survive. If you know anyone that is affected, be considerate and caring. If knowing is half the battle, the other half is giving a damn and acting accordingly.
Episode 2: Post-Race Attack
The sequel was a scary surprise. I remember this day clearly. Twas a little over five years ago, in fact. The day was unusually warm in San Francisco on 2.6.2011. I just finished running the Kaiser Permanente SF Half Marathon. Towards the end of the race, I was dehydrated, tired, developing heat exhaustion and began running sloppily. I was not in the best physical nor mental shape in the photo above. Because I undertrained due to overconfidence, I wasn’t at my physical peak and thus, I didn’t break my PR (personal record) by a mere three minutes, which left me disappointed at myself. The worst of it was not running in proper form – think of a rag doll, if they could run – which injured my LCL (outer part of my right knee). Sadly, this was my last half marathon…for now.
Here is the fun part! Aside from the aforementioned issues, running a half in sub-two hours near Ocean Beach on a beautiful day was awesome! But that didn’t last long. I guzzled plenty of water after crossing the finish line and made my way to the free stuff! Upon walking to the vendors, I could feel my LCL hurting. My calves started twitching and cramping, but I stopped and massaged them. As I gathered some goodies, my stomach started rumbling, not from hunger, but from a sudden bowel movement.
The adrenaline was wearing off and I started becoming overwhelmed by my surroundings. The crowd got louder by the minute. Many people were zigzagging all around me. My body became fatigued. Locating a bathroom was urgent. Overhead, I heard the blades of a helicopter. Sirens started blaring nearby.* That’s when it hit me. My second major anxiety attack was underway in a scary way.
I stopped in my tracks and dropped a Muscle Milk bottle from my hand, as if it were a dramatic, slow motion shot. “The police are after me,” I frantically thought. I panicked in a deafening silence then started to question what I did wrong before I realized that my mind was all fudged up. I then wondered if I even crossed the finish line at all. I started asking strangers where it was and proceeded to find it. When I got there, I was confused as to why racers were running towards me. Crazy, right? Not fun!
After sorting my thoughts, I beelined to the bathroom to unload. I then put all my mental effort to avoid people and walked into a bush. On the other side was an open space with barely anyone present. It was weird, but very calming. I sat down and literally meditated. That really helped.
After discussing with people who suffer from panic disorder, I discovered several ways to prevent or stop anxiety attacks. Once again, I ain’t a doctor nor am I an expert on the matter, but I’ve spoken to enough people and know firsthand to provide helpful advice. I’ll make this part easy and concise. What easier way to do so than with bullet points!
+ Stay as positive as possible.
+ Avoid negativity, including people and places.
+ Don’t live inside your head.
+ Announce if things/people are bothersome.
+ Find a quiet/peaceful area.
+ Sleep for an adequate amount of time.
+ Take a walk.
+ Use the bathroom. (My solution. LOL)
Most times, things aren’t as bad as you make them to be. It’s all in your head! You have the power to stop the madness. Mind over matter, y’all! A toast to avoiding a third and any attack!
* Later that day, I heard on the news that someone died at the race, hence the blaring sirens.