Jodi Picoult summed it up nicely: “Anxiety is like a rocking chair. It gives you something to do, but it doesn’t get you very far.”
Suffering anxiety means thinking you haven’t locked your car, and constantly running back to check that you haven’t left it open. Suffering anxiety is like watching a scary movie and thinking a monster is going to pop out and scare you, but even when it never does, you still wait for it to happen.
It’s an all-consuming, debilitating affliction. And, even if you’re able to get through it and be productive for the rest of the day, you can still be plagued by subsequent lethargy, low mood and despondency.
I had one such anxiety attack a few months while at the gym. My heart was racing at a million miles an hour. My chest felt like it weighed 100 kg. I was sweating profusely, had trouble breathing and felt my throat closing up.
This is pretty normal for a high-intensity circuit class workout. But the class hadn’t even started yet.
I knew in an instant what it was: anxiety.
I am – both fortunately and unfortunately – well-versed in responding to such situations. To combat the overwhelming anxiety I was feeling on that day, I did the following:
1. I spoke to my Mum
Outlining what I’m feeling – even if that proclamation goes only as far as saying it out loud – is helpful, as it gives voice to what’s going on and allows for assistance that otherwise wouldn’t be available. Luckily for me, my parents have always been on hand if and when such ill-health manifests.
2. I did something fun for myself
I turned off my phone and laptop and switched Netflix on, so I could watch a few episodes of Brooklyn Nine Nine. While this strategy may seem like a deflection, or distraction, I found it relaxing as it allowed me to laugh and disconnect from the stress of the working day.
3. I made a strong pot of tea
I’m a big believer in the idea that a cup of tea solves everything. Such a pronouncement is hyperbolic, of course, but a lemon, ginger and herbal brew always has a soothing effect on me.
4. I breathed deeply
No matter how laborious this process may seem, controlling my breathing with deep, deliberate inhalations does help me calm down. Especially when one of the primary symptoms of an anxiety attack is sharp, shallow breaths.
5. I let my emotions wash over
While it can be painful to allow negative feelings to rise to the surface, I think it important to have them expressed rather than suppressed. Letting the hurt and distress boil over sucks while it’s happening, but I always feel rejuvenated once they’ve been given room to breathe.
6. I wrote down how I felt
I’m not great at verbalising how I feel, even with close friends and family. Writing is, and always has been, how I communicate my innermost thoughts and emotions. Putting pen to paper meant I could rationalise and appreciate why I felt the way I did on that day, thereby allowing me to move forward. It has also allowed me to pen this piece you are now reading.
There are dozens of ways that you or I can respond when experiencing an anxiety attack. The ones outlined above have worked for me, and if and when I suffer a similar sensation, I’ll employ tactics that are similar if not the same.
What’s important is knowing how best you can react. My strategies and solutions work well for me; some are universal and some cater to my idiosyncratic needs. You need to figure out what works best for you, and what won’t.
But any approach must also be coupled with the knowledge that the anxiety, no matter how severe, will pass in time.
Know that it’s not the end of the world, and that you will get through it. Just as I do.
Jerome Doraisamy is the author of The Wellness Doctrines self-help book series, targeted at lawyers, students and teenagers.