Sometimes I find myself in social situations where I don’t have the luxury of stopping, sitting down quietly, meditating, or really taking the time to thoroughly work through my emotions in order to calm myself.
Take for instance the other night – I was at a party, in the middle of playing Taboo (I freaking love this game, mainly because I kind of rock at it) when I started to feel my throat closing up. This happens to me often, not just in scary situations, but even in positive exciting ones, because both scenarios produce adrenaline (yes, board games get my adrenaline flowing okay?).
My body can’t really differentiate between excitement and danger, so the adrenalin produces the same kind of symptoms, such as my throat closing and a nausea that comes with it. My mind can’t process these physical symptoms fast enough, so even though I’m in no danger, the symptoms are enough to make me anxious, even if there is no external cause or reason for the anxiety itself.
This is when I find myself suddenly overwhelmed by a physical expression of my anxiety. It’s a sudden onset of anxious thoughts and feelings, which is rather different from when you’re worried about something that’s in the future. It’s not the gradual buildup of worry leading up to a speech, for example, it’s more like the sudden terror you experience when you’re already giving the speech only to realize you forgot to put pants on. Its sudden, its unexpected, and its freaking uncomfortable to say the least.
My mind starts to immediately swirl, and I find myself in a situation where I don’t want to draw attention to my struggle, and so I start to plan on how I can handle myself in the situation, while attracting the least amount of attention from those surrounding me. Getting up and bolting out of the room and running for a quiet place to hide isn’t exactly incognito, so I have a few various techniques that help relieve some of that anxiety in the immediate moment, while going unnoticed by the very people I don’t want to draw attention from.
This one really works if you’re mentally spiraling. Just start to focus on the objects around you. Concentrate on the colour, the texture, the name of the object. If there are too many noises around you, try to concentrate on one, simpler sound, like the ticking of a clock. Sometimes I find even tapping my fingers on a desk or my foot on the floor is grounding. It helps me recognize and focus on the physical world that surrounds me rather than focusing on my racing thoughts. It redirects my track of thinking.
Visualizations can be a two-part technique. You can either focus on literal visuals – like images, or funny videos, or you can think back to an amusing memory, or the last time you found yourself relaxing on the beach. Just redirecting your thinking, however temporarily and quickly, can be very effective and calming.
I’m fortunate enough to have a cellphone full of adorable pictures and hilarious videos of my child, so I’m never in lack of visuals as a distraction. If I’m in a scenario where it won’t be remiss if I ‘check my phone’, I can just open my gallery and look at a picture of my son doing something ridiculous. Its rather effective in grounding me, because now I’m focusing on the memory associated with that photograph, rather than the worry I was feeling a moment before.
Saving images that you find calming to your cellphone could be helpful, and in today’s day and age, no one is going to judge you, or question you, if you pick up your phone to check something quickly. Chances are, they won’t even notice you’re not reading a text but rather focusing in on a photo of the time you got shitfaced and partied in Mexico, or a picture of your baby’s surprise when they entered a swimming pool for the first time. Basically – you end up sufficiently distracted, and no one around is any wiser to the fact that you even needed a distraction in the first place.
Rationalizing is a difficult thing to do when you suffer from anxiety – largely because your anxiety stems from the fact that your fears seem larger than life. In short, you don’t realize that you’re being irrational. A good way to lead to rationalizing your fears is to ask yourself a few questions:
Is this worry realistic?
Is this really likely to happen?
If the worst possible outcome happens, what would be so bad about that?
Could I handle that?
Is this really true or does it just seem that way?
Ask yourself questions in order to rationalize your irrational, larger-than-life, fears.
If I’m out with family, I remind myself that I’m surrounded by people that care about me. If I’m out on my own, then I question my irrational fear of drawing attention to myself. What is the worst thing that can happen? Someone notices that I’m panicking, or anxious, and the most likely outcome is that they just ignore me and continue on their merry way. I remind myself that I am never stuck in a situation, and I can always excuse myself if need be. I have the agency to do that.
Take a Deep Breath
Breathing deeply and concentrating on that breathing is also a very helpful way to both calm a racing heart, as well as distract yourself from negative, anxious thinking. By really focusing on the air entering and exiting your lungs, you’ll start to feel your body go from tense to relaxed, aiding in the physical discomforts that come with an adrenaline rush and anxiety.
Step Out or Step Aside
If you simply cannot remain in the situation in which you find yourself, calmly state that you’ll be right back – you’re not bolting out the door so you’re not going to be drawing undue attention your way if that’s your concern. Remind yourself, it is perfectly normal for anyone to have to excuse themselves. We’re human – sometimes you need to use the bathroom, sometimes you need a drink, no one just sits in one place endlessly, its normal to need to get up and move around. Excuse yourself and take a moment to take care of you. That’s what I did in the party situation, I said I was going to go get a drink, went and grabbed a lozenge to help with the irritation I felt with my throat closing up on me, and then returned to the game as soon as I was able.
You’re not alone in this battle – and chances are if you suddenly find yourself freaking out, there are other people in the room that are either feeling the same way or have felt the same way before. Anxiety disorders are way more common than you would think, I learned as much once I started blogging about it. You’re not a solitary case, and you are not a freak (as I often thought of myself), you are one of many, and you are not alone.