If you suffer from Anxiety Disorder, I am willing to bet that your least favourite words to hear are “Calm Down” or some variation thereof.
Telling an anxious person to calm down has the completely opposite effect. If there was a way that I could calm down just by deciding to calm down, I would do it.
But telling me to calm down when my mind is being freaked out by AD does not, has never and will never help the situation. I am caught up in a whirl of worry, fear, bad feelings and confusion that cannot simply be dissipated by the words ‘Calm Down’.
Believe me, if it were as easy as that to break the cycle of anxiety, I would do it.
As previously discussed in this blog Anxiety is different from stress. Stress is a normal part of everyday life and, in some ways, can be beneficial. Anxiety, on the other hand, can be debilitating and all-encompassing. Panic attacks can occur anytime, anywhere.
The triggers are different for each person. For me, crowded places, unfamiliar situations, and altered routines are stimuli for panic.
Crowds make me feel as though I am going to be trapped and trampled underfoot. Being small in stature doesn’t help, I guess. I can’t see where I am going. I am constantly knocked by people’s elbows, shoulders, or bags. I have even been knocked over on more than one occasion. Walking beside my very tall husband, you’d think I’d be okay – but no. people tend to step out of his way and walk straight into me. Thump!
Anxiety levels? Sky high!
Unfamiliar Situations send my mind spinning too. I immediately assume that everyone is looking at me, judging me, finding me unworthy. I feel numb. When I try to join in conversations, I tend to babble and say stupid things. I want to go home.
Changing Routines is another of my freak out cues. I like to know what is going to happen and when it is going to happen. I hate surprises. My mind jumps onto an irrational train of thought and I end up a shaking wreck. If I misplace the car keys – which should never happen because everyone knows that car keys belong on the hook on the hall stand – I panic. Where are they? What if they’ve been stolen? Someone can now steal my car. How will I be able to manage without my car? How will I be able to do the weekly shopping? What if there is an emergency and I need to drive the dog to the vet or go to the doctor? What if someone needs me and I can’t get to them? They could be in a life-threatening situation and I couldn’t help them. Someone could die because I can’t find my car keys!!!!!
What Should I Do
These are the steps that I follow when I realise I am having a freakout.
Stop: I push the invisible Pause button – literally – I push the pause buttons on the side of my head to put the situation on hold. I walk away, preferably to somewhere quiet where I can have time to mentally distance myself from the issue.
Isolate: I make every attempt to avoid the things and situations that I know will send me into the spiral of panic. If the situation cannot be completely avoided, I need to plan carefully for it so that I will be less likely to be thrown off balance. My husband and I have devised a way of walking together along crowded streets so that I do not end up black and blue. He sort of tucks me under his arm and holds on to me as though we are in some weird three legged race and must stick together like glue. It works!
Focus Elsewhere: This can be difficult as AD makes you overthink everything, rehash everything and recall everything. I find that singing (loudly and usually off key), dancing, or playing with the dogs helps to shift my focus. Old rock and roll from the Fifties works best. e.g. Runaround Sue.
Let it Out: Shout, scream, wail, cry – what it takes to expel the feelings. Sometimes, this is needed to derail the Panic Train. Just do it!
But – PLEASE – Don’t tell me to Calm Down.
Listen: Let me rant on to you about what I am feeling and thinking – irrational as it may be. If you do this, I won’t feel as though I am being dismissed or that my feeling aren’t worth considering.
Ask: Ask if there anything I need. There probably won’t be, but ask anyway. I will know that you are trying to help me even if I don’t tell you so at the time.
Be there: Your presence is valuable. Even in silence, your being there is appreciated.
Breathe: Breathe with me. Breathe slowly, deeply and evenly. I will eventually join you.
Thank you for helping me to get through the panic. Thank you for understanding that I can’t easily control the feelings. Thank you for knowing that I will calm myself as quickly as I can. It won’t be an immediate calming. It will take some time, but I will get there.
Thank you for not telling me to Calm Down.