If you were to take a second and look back through my work on this site, you will see that I have been comfortable talking about mental health – especially my own.
I have had anxiety and panic attacks since I was 13 or so. I don’t have a problem admitting it any more and am always willing to share in the hopes that even my meager contribution to the discussion will help in breaking the stigma surrounding mental health.
But it can be tricky. A large number of those suffering from some sort of mental illness – whether it be OCD, depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder or something else – have found our society generally doesn’t want it to be discussed.
Sure, we have commercials that are giving you the benefits of anti-depressants, but that’s not actually allowing us to discuss it. It’s just quietly saying, “Hey, if you need it, we got you.”
When it came to dealing with my issues, it was incredibly difficult for me to even share that I had a problem. I kept it to myself for almost a year before I broke and told my parents because it was getting to be too much.
After that, I tried absolutely everything. I tried anti-depressants that I ended up dropping because they were messing with my memory. I tried therapy. I journaled. I did all of it.
It took quite a long time to figure out what it was that worked for me in dealing with my anxiety and panic attacks. But eventually I found a few things that worked, that helped me get out from inside the tornado and not always into the sunlight, but at least a cloudy day.
1. Tell someone
I am a notoriously private person in the sense that I don’t even talk about my relationship to almost all my friends. So, imagine having to tell them I had a problem with anxiety and panic attacks. It wasn’t an ideal situation, that’s for sure.
But once I realized that these were my friends, that they weren’t going to judge me, I found it much easier to open up. I still only rely on maybe five or so people for it, but when I can feel myself start to freak out I do one of two things.
I either say, “Hey, talk to me. I don’t care about what. You just need to distract me,” or, “I’m having a problem and I need to talk about it and get an outside perspective to help calm me down.”
It’s not an exact science and sometimes the calm is only temporary, but this has certainly helped me in managing it.
2. Find an ally
I have one friend who understands exactly how I’m feeling and when I feel like maybe I’m going off the rails and pushing my mind into somewhere it has no business being, I go to him and he understands exactly what I’m saying.
If your friends don’t understand how you’re feeling because they don’t have the same sort of issues, sometimes it’s hard for you to find any sense of calm.
It might be hard to find someone who is as open as you are in discussing it, but if you do find someone, make sure they know they can come to you when they need it and vise versa.
It really does do a world of wonder to know you’re not alone and someone understands what’s going on inside your head.
If I know that no one is going to answer because they’re in class or at work and I feel a panic attack coming on, I immediately look around and see what I can distract myself with.
I pick up a book or turn on a movie or TV show, grab a notebook and start writing something, anything to turn my mind away from the place where it’s going.
Sometimes, this can definitely be difficult. There aren’t always things readily available to distract you.
You can always grab your phone and Google something in an effort to distract yourself. It may take a few more minutes than it would if there was someone else distracting you, but as long as you focus on what you’re doing, it’ll eventually subside.
I know that this sounds sort of hippy dippy, but it totally works. I was skeptical when someone told me that I should try yoga or meditation for my anxiety because that didn’t even seem real to me, but I’m always one to try new methods, so that’s how I found myself on a yoga mat.
By the end of the first week, I really noticed a difference. There’s something about focusing on the poses and your balance that clears your mind of everything else.
Learning to constantly focus on breathing also helps, as your breath tends to quicken in the face of an attack and evening out your breathing has a calming effect.
I discovered that the more I practiced yoga and used meditation apps like stop, breathe, think and relax, the less likely I was to let my mind go haywire.
Of course, everyone is different and what works for me might not work for someone else.
But the number one thing I can recommend for dealing with any sort of mental illness is first admitting to someone that you have the problem to begin with. Keeping it in is doing more harm than it is good and you will certainly feel a weight lift off you knowing that you don’t have to keep it to yourself.
No matter what the problem may be, the people in your life care about you and want to know what they can to do help you deal with it. Opening up dialogue into what you need and how they can help is a big step toward others understanding the struggle of mental health.
Trust me, it’s hard, but you’re not alone.