As I write this, I am suffering from severe anxiety. Why, you ask? Oh, no reason. I am merely panicking because my body and mind feel like it. Much like a crab in a sushi restaurant, I am gripped by the dread of what is to come. But unlike the crab, I have no idea what’s going to happen. The crab is going to bathe in a jacuzzi from Hell, the watery portal to oblivion. The crab is recalling his past sins as he prepares to meet Poseidon. The crab is thinking about how he could have been a better husband and father. I, on the other hand, am writing a blog entry on my porch, preparing a post that nobody will open on Twitter. When I think about it like that, my problems aren’t so bad. But it feels like they are.
The first rule of panicking: don’t panic. Accept that you are having a panic attack and take the proper measures. The important thing during a panic attack is to calm the hell down, which has never been my forte, but I do my best. One thing I do is I travel along my negative thoughts to their conclusions. For example, I could be anxious because I have a thing later. I think about the thing and say “What happens if this thing goes wrong?” Then I think about the consequences of it going wrong and ask “And then what would happen?” I keep doing that until I’ve reached the conclusion, whereupon I usually realize it isn’t such a big deal. Then I often remind myself that my fears are improbable and I’m psyching myself out for no good reason. Here’s a common example: someone responds to your text with “k.” You may say “Oh no! They’re mad! What are they mad about? Was it that thing that I did a week ago? Was my text somehow offensive? Maybe they’re not telling me something. Did they do something? That fucking bastard! How could he?!” And so on. Another thing you could say to yourself is “Wow, this guy sucks at texting.” Which seems more likely to you?
Then, of course, there is the usual mindfulness. Try and find five things you see, five things you hear, and pay attention to the feelings in five parts of your body. I don’t want to beat you over the head with mindfulness in every third blog post, but I can’t stress how helpful and important it is. It’s the best way to get you out of your head and negative thinking. If you can, also focus on your breathing. In through the nose, hold, and slowly out your mouth. If you are a crab, inhale through one gill, hold, and release through the other.
Another thing you can do is what I’m doing this very moment: distraction. It’s a coping skill I overuse, but it’s great in the case of anxiety. Instead of letting my thoughts race, I’m immersing myself in writing, which takes my full attention. It’s hard to pay attention to negative, racing thoughts when your focus is concentrated on a singular, more productive thing. And it could be pretty much anything. Music, TV, cooking, reading, you name it. From the moment I started writing this post to the point where I’m now writing these words, my anxiety has reduced a fair amount due to the level of immersion I have reached.
The worst thing you can do is feed your panic. Do whatever helps you, but focusing on these thoughts only makes them stronger. Your negative thoughts are like the fairies from Peter Pan. Say you don’t believe in them, and they’ll drop dead like a bird in a lightning storm. Accept that you’re having these thoughts and don’t focus on them.
We all need to remember, myself included, that things are going to be okay. That our thoughts, though terrifying at times, are not reality. Fear is like The Blob—it grows more and more if it feeds. If you’re dealing with anxiety, remember: breathe, be mindful, think it through if necessary, and accept. Thank you for reading my coping exercise.