Wow, the 26th of June 2014 was a day I probably won’t be forgetting any time soon. There I was, innocently eating my pesto pasta lunch at my desk, probably watching a video of someone hitting their head on something, when I was suddenly struck by the most peculiar, exciting feeling of all time. It was like I was going up on a roller coaster! But I was only at my desk! Wheee! Except when my stomach started to flutter so rapidly that my chest decided to get in on the action, collapsing onto my heart so tightly that I couldn’t remember how to breath, I suddenly wasn’t so sure about this. Oh my God, am I having a heart attack? Yes. Yes I am. Jesus, I’m having a fucking heart attack! I need to immediately find a place to crawl under and die, out of sight because I’d be far too embarrassed to pass away in front all these people! The only issue is that I can’t really move because my eyesight had changed channels to that TV static one, and even worse was that I’d already just about shot out of my body, no longer a part of myself, observing me from a distance. Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome my first ever panic attack to the scene, at the ripe old age of 29.
And, of course, it was not my last, because that would be far too easy. No, rather the next one came an hour or so later. The next one was not long after that. And this became my life, for over a year to come. Naturally, the dramaqueen inside of me initially refused to believe this was as pathetic as a simple panic attack. Oh no, not me, I was not a statistic. I was the best! I was not one of them anxiety kids! This didn’t happen to people of my age! This was surely a legit heart condition and I was dying! However, after countless doctor appointments and even a trip to the hospital to get my body covered in wires and blood sucked from my veins, it was confirmed that my heart was the pinnacle of health and I was going to live. Which annoyed me because I was forced to admit to myself that I had become another loser, a victim to the impossibly high stream of life’s demands, and was no longer in control of my brain juice. I needed to accept that I too had now joined the ranks of people who lived as a nervous-wreck, every single fucking day of my life.
Sound familiar? I assume so, because here you are, reading my amazing words, which is great for me as I thrive on attention. But this is also great for you! It shows you are making an effort to fix yourself, and honestly, that’s essentially the only thing all of these 10 steps are going to ask from you. To make an effort. To apply yourself to each one as best you can, and then eventually use them to overcome panic attacks once and for all, rising to become the greatest person in the world! (results may vary)
However, before we jump into it, I feel it’s important to give you a bit of insight into my own emu situation first. Without going into too much detail about what may or may not have caused my affliction (although the sister article to this one may give a clue), you must firstly understand that my specific incarnation of panic was very situationally based, most likely to occur when public speaking, or in crowds, or at the urinal, or having a conversation, or anything involving other people in any circumstance whatsoever. It was a type of agoraphobia apparently, a proper panic disorder, and because of this, it’s difficult for me to sway the following findings away from my own personal experiences. That said, I have still tried my best to keep all other types of trouble in mind, and hopefully the majority of this guide should be loose enough to apply to all of ya’lls, or at very least provide some direction for you to make up your own individually tailored approaches. Because you’re an adult now. I can’t do everything for you.
That said, I can wish you all the strength and love for this journey. I know it sucks, believe me, I know it sucks, maybe the suckiest thing like ever ever. But just remember that, no matter who you are, you do not deserve this. You were not designed to be this way. And it can be fixed. But only you can fix it. I'm ready when you are.
Step 1: One Step To Rule Them All
“Faith is taking the first step even when you don't see the whole staircase.” - Martin Luther King, Jr.
As it is with every single guide ever written in the HISTORY OF THE UNIVERSE, the first step is always the most important one. And who am I to break the formula? Jared Woods, that’s who. But I’m still not going to break the formula.
Ok, so here it is... the pinnacle of urgency... the apex point you must consider the most vital... the singular step you must prioritise for your mental comfort... and it goes like this: Make. The. Decision. Make the decision right now that you are not going to stand for this any longer. Nope, not gonna do it, not anymore. From this point onwards, you will do whatever it takes to rise above and ultimately conquer this rubbish festering within your tummy. You will approach and embrace every idea that comes into your head with open arms and the valour of a storybook hero. No matter how difficult it may seem, and no matter how much these ideas threaten your vision with the exact same fear you are trying to subdue, you will take this upset head-on. No more excuses. You are now declaring a war.
"Strength and growth come only through continuous effort and struggle." - Napoleon Hill
Exhausting thought, eh? Of course it is, because this isn’t going to be easy. But you must know on some level that (by your very human nature) you have the ability within yourself right now to overthrow this distress, right? People have climbed Mount Everest (or died trying, which is still the point). People have built rocket ships that survive in space. People have reportedly cured cancer with the power of thought alone. The end to human capabilities is yet to be found, so for you (no matter who you are) to strike at and potentially defeat something as commonplace as panic attacks, is a concept you cannot logically deny yourself as wholeheartedly capable of. This anxiety is not who you really are. You’ve got to fight to get back to your true self. You’ve got to fight to regain control of your life. And there is nothing more worth fighting for in the whole wide world.
“Don't be afraid of your fears. They're not there to scare you. They're there to let you know that something is worth it.” - C. JoyBell C.
If you aren’t willing to do this, fair play to you, good luck, get off my blog. Go back to your life where you avoid situations and cower in permanent despair, anticipating the next demon's jumpscare. Hell, there’s probably a part of you that quite likes being a neurotic wreck, isn’t that right? You’re almost proud of being a little bundle of anxiety, hey? It means you’re 'complex' and 'special' and have a convenient excuse to run away from things when you get the slightest inkling of threat, correct? Yeah, I know you, bitch. Keep at it! You’re so unique. You’re so deep. You just weren’t born into the right world. Get back into your bed and let the big kids take care of business.
"Strength does not come from physical capacity. It comes from an indomitable will." - Mahatma Gandhi
For everyone else willing to do this, congratulations! You’ve pretty much laid all the groundwork for everything you need to do already. The rest of this article is just a stew of ideas which you can use at your own will in order to build upwards and out of the swamp, mostly designed to point you in a few directions, encouraging the breeding of your own ideas, which will work even better for your particular case of ouchiness. It’s not going to be a summer stroll, but the closer you get to victory, the more powerful you will become, eventually turning into an entity much stronger than anyone who hasn’t been through all of this. Believe me when I tell you that.
“That which does not kill us makes us stronger.” - Friedrich Nietzsche
Ok, so you ready to battle this monster? Take my hand! Here’s a good first move:
Step 2: It’s Legitimately Somebody Else’s Job To Fix You
I want to start this article by taking it slow and gradually easing you into the recovery process, because I love you and I want you to be comfortable. And so the first thing you want to remember, is this age old cliche:
“Prevention is better than cure.” - Desiderius Erasmus
So true! Which is why I am going to spend the next several steps focusing on things you can start doing right now and in your own time, which is useful because I don’t think you’ll be able to read these words mid-panic attack. And here is the first one: seek professional help.
“Admitting that you need help doesn't make you broken. It makes you fixable. And teachable.” - Anonymous
Perhaps you’ve already given this a shot, in which case, good on ya! Feel free to skip this action and be merrily on your way. However, for many of us (including me) this was a very difficult step to take. An embarrassing step. An admission of weakness. A surrender into defeat. I was supposed to be invincible! How the fuck did this happen to me??
If you feel this way, allow me to smother your apprehension right now: Doctors don’t actually care. They hear cases like yours every single day, and while they have practiced their sympathetic pout down to an art, they’ll probably forget your sob story the moment you walk out of their door, right until they open your file once again. I'm sorry, but they don't actually care about you, they get paid because people with ailments like yours exist. If anything, they depend on you to feed their kids, which makes you a giver, so feel good about it, if anything.
You must also always remember that anxiety disorders affect 18.1% of adults in the United States alone. That’s 40 million adults between the ages of 18 to 54, without even considering the rest of the world whatsoever, because the US don't consider the rest of the world whatsoever. You are not a special little fingerprint with some unique type of freak out designed just for you. You are actually just another schmuck crumbling under the high pressures of modern living, and as a result, are a well documented story, mundane, mainstream, and very treatable, for centuries now. So swallow your fat pride with a big cup of orange juice, do I headstand until you are over yourself, and make that appointment. Right neow.
“You can be as miserable or angry about anything as much as you want, at the end of the day getting emotional will not solve any of your problems. The only thing you can do is keep moving forward because whether or not you are ready, life will always go on with or without you.” - Anonymous
Ok, so what happens next? Why you asking me? You think I know? I’m not a doctor. However, I am a bit of a psychic, and predict the following two suggestions will come your way:
(1) I see medication on your near future tarot cards. Perhaps you’re already there, and if so, I have a star sticker for you right here, but when it came to my own personal story, I was always wholeheartedly against the practice of shoving pills into my mouth just to be normal. But when you’re desperate, it can be the flashlight from God in a dark maze of scary devils. Think of it like this: when you have a headache, you take painkillers, so why should this agony be any different? Which is why I surrendered, gracefully accepting a prescription for Propranolol (lol) initially, and then swiftly moving on to 5 HTP for a while afterwards, the latter of which you can buy on Amazon right now if you like (and they are a lot of fun too, the druggie in me recommends them highly). IMPORTANT TO NOTE THOUGH that these little soldiers were never intended as a permanent crutch, but rather as an elevated platform from where I could just about get my head above the murky waters long enough to locate an exit point. And they worked for a bit, maybe not as the miraculous cure you’d think or I'd hoped for, but at least enough to wave away some of the fog. Eventually, I tipped my hat to them out of respect and then kicked them the fuck out of the door, going into battle alone, a method I'd recommend you practice too, if you can find the strength. And you can find the strength! You know where? Point two, after the quote.
“But the main thing is that medication, too, is not all the help.” - Tanya Tucker
(2) Therapy! And in all honesty, of all the weapons I attacked my anxiety with, I feel like this was surely the most beneficial. I’m not sure where you live, but I am very lucky that my sessions were covered by the NHS and we could even have our conversations over the phone, meaning once a week I’d sneakily book a meeting room at work and whisper out my problems to some lady I never met on the other side. And (I shit you not!), during the very first phonecall, we hit a massive break through, exposing the root of all my panic attacks, a cause so obvious that I cursed my own predictability and nearly hung up in shame. Regardless, the bottom-dollar is that sometimes we need a professional outside mind to unveil our trademarks, and once I had my eyes opened upon my own foolish neurosis, it became much easier to stare it down without blinking. And it didn’t even end there either, because our chats continued to provide various other bullets to combat my mind’s ordeal (many of which are included in this blog) until we finally reached a point where we closed my case. Needless to say, I had pretty much fallen in love with this lady by this point without ever seeing her face, and so even if it’s hugely unlikely, I hope to one day give her a hug out of thanks. Anyway, the point is, this should be one of the first pitstops on your mission, because I've never heard of anyone who went to therapy and got worse.
“I love therapy! There's nothing like talking to someone who has no emotional tie to your life.” - Eva Mendes
As with everything, neither of these will be the end-all solution to our issues, and I personally had to fight with many other angles every single waking hour just to find some relief. But the wobbly days had large arrows to follow, and I consider this step to be one of the most valuable in your arsenal. If you do not have the same experience, I’d recommend seeing a different doctor.
Step 3: Read Much Too Far Into It
Just the fact that you are right here right now on my supreme life changing blog is an indication that you are already well underway to taking this specific step. But whether you came here by someone’s suggestion, or a bit of a googly, or because you love and me and read everything I write (xxxxx), I suggest you keep this thing going, not only with my magical words, but all over the show. Religiously spend at least 10 minutes a day researching your ailment online, and you will slowly begin to uncover many things, such as: stories from those who are exactly where you are; new and 'exciting' methods to scrape your own dirt away; and perhaps even getting to the core of your specific hiccup. It’ll be more beneficial than wasting 10 minutes on Facebook, I assure you of that.
“The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you'll go.” - Dr. Seuss
But WAIT! Why stop there? Take this bitch even further, always always. One suggestion I have is to buy actual legit self help books which specifically deal with this type of problemo. As is the nature of such things, you may find some of them are not very relevant, but I am yet to read a single guidance publication that didn’t give me something to take away (no matter how small), and even more importantly, you will at very least get a sense of pride that you’re not taking this battle lying down. And there are so many to choose from that I have no doubt you’ll find one or two which really smack your tummy around. Public speaking? Large crowds? Small spaces? Drugs? Your job? A break up? Your inadequacy? Your mortality? Your mother's face? They have a book for that! Hell, even if you have no idea what’s going on, that’s cool, there are tons of other pages out there simply dealing with anxiety attacks themselves, no matter which way they are striking from. Read a bit in the morning to start your day off with strength, read a bit at night to calm your mind into sleep, and sandwich your day between the advice of others.
“I went to a bookstore and asked the saleswoman, 'Where's the self-help section?' She said if she told me, it would defeat the purpose.” - George Carlin
On a personal note, a little selfy-helpy booky-wooky named The Happiness Trap by Russ Harris probably helped me the most, and a fair amount of information from said printed material has been molested and digested into a couple of treasures you’ll find on this very page right here. So if you want my two cents on which direction to get the ball rolling towards, I’d undoubtedly recommend this one above all others. You’re welcome.
Step 4: Throw Your Brain Away
“If you have fear of some pain or suffering, you should examine whether there is anything you can do about it. If you can, there is no need to worry about it; if you cannot do anything, then there is also no need to worry.” - Dalai Lama
Running the risk of getting a bit too hippie here, there is a method which is frequently cited as one of (sometimes, even) the greatest reliever above all of the others. And it's meditation, don't be scared. The reasons for such a high regard are plenty, but for me personally it was two fold: (1) every day, I took the time to break away from life, practising the process of separating the stream of insanity we call 'thoughts', from the calm inner-being which yearns for peace; and (2) by regularly stroking this path, accessing a certain space in the brain became easier, which was invaluable in times of agonising pressure.
“Meditation makes the entire nervous system go into a field of coherence.” - Deepak Chopra
Now, this is not a how-to blog, and I’m not going to sit here and give you some grand guide on the different methods to achieve said zen—mostly because I’d fuck it up and say it wrong and then people will stop listening to me. However, there are plenty of resources out there, from books, to blogs, to YouTube videos, to even studios offering sessions and information (often for free), so just do a little clickie and explore this avenue, because this could very well be the main thing you are looking for. And if you are reluctant, fearful that mediation is a gateway drug into veganism and tie dye bandanas, all I can ask is that you don’t knock it until you try it. Because I knocked it. And then I tried it. And now I don’t knock it anymore. It’s been praised for millenniums for a reason.
“Half an hour's meditation each day is essential, except when you are busy. Then a full hour is needed.” - Saint Francis de Sales
However, I must be honest with you here, it didn’t move mountains for me. I seriously thought it would too, like I’d find God and he’d give me a mushroom pizza and I’d calculate the exact formula to see through walls, which didn’t fucking happen. But some stuff did happen, and I found just by dedicating 10 minutes to it every night (or perhaps before a stressful situation, if you get a chance), I did begin to work it better and better. Transcendental meditation was a good candidate, but I got the most value from guided meditations (of which there are all sorts on YouTube for you to experiment with) because they help take the hand of your thoughts and then gently lift them away from themselves. Some days were better than others, granted, but just the focus on breathing alone probably saved me many an embarrassing meltdown in public. However, as shallow breathing is the NUMBER ONE ENEMY to the panic victim, I won't focus too much on it here and will rather dedicate some more time to it later. We’re talking about meditation here, ok? Jesus, Calm down. Don’t have a panic attack, hahaha.
“If you want to conquer the anxiety of life, live in the moment, live in the breath.” - Amit Ray, Om Chanting and Meditation
Ok, wait, actually I’m done, lol, let’s move on to the next topic, which is
Step 5: Run Away From Your Demons
I have this theory, right, that goes like this: all anxiety consists of, is an excess of energy. It certainly feels that way, don't it? As if this super siayan amount of explosive motion is threatening to tear your entire body apart. So, within this hypothesis, what’s the most straightforward way to defeat said energy? Simply by wearing it out.
“Exercise is really important to me—it's therapeutic. So if I'm ever feeling tense or stressed or like I'm about to have a meltdown, I'll put on my iPod and head to the gym or out on a bike ride along Lake Michigan with the girls.” - Michelle Obama
No matter what your problems in life, there is very little that exercise can’t help you with (except maybe broken bones or something, but whatever, stay on topic). If you’re anxious and depressed, but spend all day lying in bed or watching TV on the couch, you can’t expect to ever get better. So with this idea in my head, I started running and regularly hitting the gym in the mornings, which meant by the time I started my work day, my body was far too destroyed to even contemplate an escape, while my brain swayed from a wave of endorphin happiness, just stoked to be included whatsoever. Believe it or not, I didn’t actually make this method up myself, it’s a fact observed and reported a billion times by a billion different people. Activity breeds serenity, you already know this. Join a netball team or a yoga class or train for a marathon, anything you like, just don’t be a lazy fuck and then complain about your anxiety. I can't imagine why you wouldn't give this a shot, it's a guaranteed substantial rise in your mood or a full refund.
“Today, more than 95% of all chronic disease is caused by food choice, toxic food ingredients, nutritional deficiencies and lack of physical exercise.” - Mike Adams
On that exact same page, there are many other healthy things your mommy told you about that you really should already be doing anyway. If you are miserable all the time but are living on a diet of garlic bread and chips and chocolate, you need to step back and realise you are a complex structure made up from chemical compounds, and are completely fucking with the normal balance you were designed to survive on. It's natural science! Once again, I have no sympathy for you if you are complaining about your stressy life and yet you fuel your brain with junk. Just do a little bit of research on nutrition, don’t skip breakfast, eat your veggies and fruit and beans and nuts, and drink fuckloads of water. Save the crap for the weekends where it doesn’t count (fact).
“Health and cheerfulness naturally beget each other.” - Joseph Addison
Finally, alcohol and drugs are definitely not going to do you any good. Now, this is a tough one, because I get intoxicated all the time, but this affliction does make me somewhat of an expert on the subject. Simply put, it definitely has done me the opposite of any favours, and I have had some pretty vicious attacks as a result of a hangover—and many other people attest to this trouble themselves. So cut that backwards as far as possible, which I did, and it helped loads. It is also known that smoking narrows the blood vessels, which isn’t very beneficial to someone who is in genuine need of more oxygen, so look at ways to limit your nicotine intake, if you’re into that sort of thing. And, for the love of God, stop drinking caffeine. That stuff is a panic attack in a cup waiting to happen, you’re literally fighting fire with matches there, you do not need any more of that hype, and I personally quit the stuff for well over a year during my darkest journeys. That said, now that I’ve achieved a better balance, I have started drinking crazy amounts of coffee again and it’s such a thrill. Love that evil shit. But you should stop.
In summary: a healthy brain will love you and want you to be happy. Meet it halfway at least.
“If you don’t take care of your body, where are you going to live?” - Unknown
Step 6: Tell Everyone
Ok, so now that we’ve covered all the obvious factors which you probably already knew, how about we delve into the higher grade techniques, yeah? Yeah?? You ready??? YOU FUCKING READY, MATE????
If you're anything like me (and you're probably not), I’m sure the last thing you feel like doing is calling any attention to this already annoying annoyance, and would rather dust it beneath the carpet of your best poker face, until everyone leaves you alone. Unfortunately, as with most things, this won't really help, and you'll have more luck treating honesty as the best policeman. Someone once told me that 'shame dies in the light,' and I have found this to be true.
“No legacy is so rich as honesty.” - William Shakespeare
Let me tell you a story, my child. During my early stages of freaking-outs, I was naturally at a loss. My brain was perpetually threatening to faint in the most inconvenient of places, and my heart found no greater pleasure in testing how many BPM it could reach before I screamed. There was even a time I got up and walked out of a meeting because that’s how much of a wuss I am. I recognised this was very unprofessional behaviour, and knew this was not the type of action I could regularly find an excuse for. My very job was under potential threat. And eventually, I realised that I was going to have to explain myself one way or another.
“Honesty is the first chapter of the book wisdom.” - Thomas Jefferson
Now, granted, I am a very lucky boy in that my company prides itself on a homely vibe and everyone is super chill and I get along with my boss very well. I am endlessly grateful for such a thing, which was enough to give me the confidence to do what I did. And what I did, was take my boss out for a few pints, and when I got enough liquid in me to talk about my emu feelings, I broke the news to him: I was experiencing panic attacks regularly at work. But this wasn’t some sob cry for help, please take note, but instead a reassurance. I told him that I was not giving up, detailing the various methods I had tried on this list already, about the doctors, and the therapy, and my determination to beat this thing, and my refusal to take any stupid shit without a fight. And, most importantly of all, I told him not to go easy on me nor let this make his job any harder. I wanted to still go to the meetings and I wanted to still be placed in high pressure situations, because I knew it was the only way I was going to defeat this beast.
And he listened and he was very open to my pathetic troubles, ultimately telling me that he appreciated my honesty, and kindly informing me that if I was ever struck by a panic attack in front of him again, I just needed to give him a signal and then leave, and he’d cover for me. What a good guy! Furthermore, can you actually comprehend the type of relief that came with this support? I actually now had permission to have panic attacks! One secret hand gesture, and I'd be out and off the hook! And what's even better is that this simple permission came with such an immediate relief that I never even had to use it. Just to have this get-out-of-jail-free card at my disposal was enough of a defence for me to keep the exit in my sight but never walk through it.
“What happens when people open their hearts? They get better.” - Haruki Murakami, Norwegian Wood
But why stop there? Push this theory as far as you can! Next time you feel the evil creeping over you, simply lean over to the person next to you and ask them: 'Do you want to see what a panic attack looks like? Then watch this!'. Interestingly enough, 9 out of 10 times, it will be like sneezing. You won’t be able to pull it off with the additional attention and pressure to perform. Hell, if you’re feeling upto it, maybe even start your day that way. Walk up to random people and inform them 'just so you know, I am prone to panic attacks, and might have one right now.' Best case scenario, they think you’re joking, such a funny person, everyone laughs, they love you, and you go on your adored way. Worst case scenario, you break out into an epileptic fit and foam onto their shoes, and then at least you warned them.
“Everybody will help you. Some people are very kind.” - Bob Dylan, I’ll Keep It With Mine
To summarise: despite what your newspaper is telling you, people are generally pretty cool, and anxiety is a super common thing now. Nobody thinks it's contagious, and nobody is unfamiliar with the concept. So rather than suffering in mute, talk to your friends, your family, your colleagues, the guy next to you on the tube. Help them understand what is happening rather than trying to shove it down, because the panic demon thrives on oppression and will only boil over. Expose the fucker, and its power will dissipate immeasurably.
Step 7: Say Yes!
Cool, so here's something else you’re not going to want to do at all: let’s try induce panic attacks! Scare yourself shitless! So much fun! Yay! Sound like a stupid idea? Well, it’s not. Just trust me, ok? It’s my blog, so I tell you what to do now.
“Thinking will not overcome fear but action will.” - W. Clement Stone
Right, so what you are going to do from now on is pretty much just agree to everything. If someone asks if you want to do something, and you feel that twitch of 'omfg, that sounds terrifying, why would I do that to myself', then that’s your queue to shut all thoughts off, and say 'yes' immediately, booking yourself in, double stamp, no erasies. Hey, does anyone want to say a few words at this open mic poetry night? Of course, I’d love to. Someone keen to be photographed for a project I’m doing? Sure, I can be a model. Want to watch me get my nipple pierced? I can't think of anything I'd rather do. Have you ever been bungee jumping? No, but I’d totally be up for that death feeling. All of these examples are things I committed to during my worst of times, just by the way.
“Expose yourself to your deepest fear; after that, fear has no power, and the fear of freedom shrinks and vanishes. You are free.” - Jim Morrison
The idea of this one should be obvious, but I’ll break it down for you anyway: you are building a strong shell around your core. Slowly but surely, every day life will no longer have the artillery to scare you, because you’ve already scared yourself, only much worse. And next time you feel that flutter of 'oh shiiit' poking about in your intestines, you can breathe around it with an air of condescending arrogance, reminding yourself of that time you jumped off a crane with a cord attached to your ankles. Remember how scary that was? Very scary. Way scarier than whatever your anxiety is trying to pull off right now. And hopefully, within these recollections, the panic will cower back to where it came from whilst you float above it, stronger than ever, each time you win a battle.
“It’s okay to be scared. Being scared means you’re about to do something really, really brave.” - Mandy Hale, The Single Woman: Life, Love, and a Dash of Sass
This step may perhaps be one of the most difficult to execute, true, but it is undeniably a very powerful one nonetheless. And if nothing else, is by far the most fun when you look backwards at the end of it all, because you have a whole bunch of cool shit decorating your CV. Once again, you gotta trust me on this. Would I lie to you, baby? Would I lie to you? Oh yeah.
"Decide that you want it more than you are afraid of it." -Bill Cosby (which maybe isn't the best advice if you want to rape women, but in context, it's still pretty sound guidance)
Step 8 (and Rule Number Fucking 1): Whatever You Do, Do Not Run
Remember the first step? The one I dubbed the 'most important step of them all' or something like that? Well, this is the second most important step, and RULE NUMBER 1, so please take this all very seriously.
“Panic causes tunnel vision. Calm acceptance of danger allows us to more easily assess the situation and see the options.” - Simon Sinek Read
But before we go on, let’s take a moment to admire panic attacks themselves, and analyse how they work. It goes like this: a (usually external) event comes along and rudely triggers the emotion of fear within you, which causes a buttload of adrenaline to pump throughout your body, preparing you for a concept you’ve probably heard of, known as fight-or-flight mode. This mental crossroad is preparing your person for some heavy physical action, and if you step back and think about it, this is actually a really good thing! It’s an essential defence mechanism built into our biology which could very well save your life some day. So on some level, appreciate this weird thing that happens. However, as you are already painfully aware, there are some bugs in this system.
“Fear was the hand of the devil holding a scalding hot branding iron and touching your brain and your stomach and yelling at you to run with leaden feet.” - Dan Groat
The first obvious problem is that we have come a long way since our monkey ancestors, and the code is slightly outdated now. The chances of an animal attacking us in the wild is not quite as immediately threatening as it once was, and our minds have excelled in such complex directions, that for some of us, our neurosis has taken control and kinda just malfunctioned, activating this thing for no real justifiable reason. It’s almost funny, if you think about it that way. Almost...
Which leads us to our next problem. The situations presented by our modern lives which most commonly provoke us into these states of spazz-response, usually don’t leave much space for a fight. You can’t exactly go on a punching spree because you get struck by claustrophobia in a crowded elevator, right? Which is why most of us opt for the latter: flight. Spread your wings and fly away as fast as you can! Leave your problems in the dust as soar back to your nest and regurgitate worms into the mouths of your little babies! Wheee!
“Running away will never make you free.” - Kenny Loggins
Except it isn’t really that much fun because your problems know how to fly too. So what, then? Literally the only thing your natural instinct is telling you to do is run away, are you really expected to rebel against the request from every atom in your body? And the answer is, of course, yes. Yes, you are. And I’m sorry. So very sorry, because believe me, I know what this is like so fucking well it makes me want to cry. But the basic fact is that by running, you simply will never defeat this monster. Retreating will become your only reliable defense, and you will be trapped in this hell for ALL ETERNITY. Is that what you want? No? Then don’t run, duh.
Directly on topic, this applies in the exact same way as avoidance, which is kinda like running except before you even get into trouble. If there are certain situations guaranteed to unearth a nasty panic, then once again, it is in your best interest to walk full force into them, despite what your knotted intestines are begging you to do. Do not make excuses. Do not call in sick or hide in the bathroom or get your friend to break your leg just to get out of it. You must go into this with an army march, because that is the only way to get through it, and you know this. If you’ve been paying attention, this is pretty much a repeat of what I’ve been saying for a while now.
“Anxiety's like a rocking chair. It gives you something to do, but it doesn't get you very far.” - Jodi Picoult
Scared yet? Of course you are. That’s what this is all about. It’s the scariest thing in all of possible existence, there isn’t a much scarier level in the depths of the human psyche, that’s why it’s called panic. But what we are trying to achieve here, as we've covered before, is to induce panic attacks. The more attacks you have, the better you will become at predicting them, the better you will be at recognising them, the better you will get at disguising them, the better you will be at surviving them, and eventually coming out of the other side victorious. YOU MUST WELCOME YOUR PANIC ATTACKS WITH OPEN ARMS. YOU MUST LEARN TO LOVE YOUR PANIC ATTACKS. You need to become an expert at this, and the only way to advance, is by playing their game and then beating them at it with their own moves. Or something like that. You know what I mean.
“I tend to stay with the panic. I embrace the panic.” - Larry David
Ok great, so how do we play? We’re not running anymore, and now we’re staring down the wicked laugh of anxiety squeezing our lungs and licking our palms. So awesome. What now? How the hell is this a game? This isn’t fun at all! What kind of life will you live if you’re walking into extreme terror every single day? And I will tell you: not a very enjoyable one, which I inform you with much experience. However, by enduring panic attack after panic attack, I personally did begin to maintain some sort of a grasp on rational thinking, and worked out a few tricks along the way. And that’s what these final steps are about. Hopefully some of these will apply to you, or at least give you some ideas of your own, but no matter what happens, remember this: there is nothing wrong with fucking up. As long as you give it your best shot and progress little by little, eventually you may even grow up to be as gangster as me.
Step 9: Preparing Yourself For A Panic Attack
Obviously no two cases will be identical, but I guess I was 'lucky' in my ailment because my anxiety attacks were quite specific and almost predictable as to when they’d strike (i.e. pretty much any time I had to speak in front of an audience, or to someone I didn’t know, or to anyone whatsoever). But while I recognise the silver lining, it ultimately became my biggest curse, because I could see Satan coming a mile away, and then I started to get panic attacks worrying about my panic attacks. As soon as someone asked me to attend something, I’d freak out that I might get struck by an attack, and then ended up having one anyway just because of that very thought. It was a self-fulfilling prophecy nightmare. It was the worst thing ever.
“Man is not worried by real problems so much as by his imagined anxieties about real problems” - Epictetus
That said, there are only so many times you can walk into a high pressure social situation and practically faint in front of an audience, before you kinda get used to the repetitiveness of suffering, and begin to experiment with your own mind. And so here are four thoughts I found helped me as I was walking into my situation of doom.
PART A: THINGS TO THINK
1. “I must enjoy this moment. It will probably be the most exciting part of my day.”
Say what you will, panic attacks are crazy exciting! Everything completely falls apart for no reason as you have enough energy in your fingertips to tear open your manager’s stomach just to get away from him/her. And when you look back exhausted upon your day, that bout of anxiety spasm will probably stand out as the most notable event that took place. No, it wasn’t the most fun thing in the world, granted, but I found these outbreaks made everything else in the previous hours seem quite tame in comparison, and so simply by registering it and attempting to appreciate them in a 'if-my-life-was-a-movie' type of way, it nearly (but not really) turned the whole ordeal into a positive one. I have used this angle to successfully ward off anxiety plenty of times before, by treating it as a highlight of my daily script. Weird, I know, maybe try the next one instead.
“Anxiety is the dizziness of freedom.” - Søren Kierkegaard
2. “This is going to be greatest performance of my life.”
This one is tailored specifically for those of us who spent our youths standing in front of our mirrors, accepting our revered awards with humble speeches, dreaming of fame and the applause from our adoring fans. I still fantasise about this actually. Which is why I found great relief in pretending anything was a gig of some sort. When I knew my turn to talk was fast approaching (and as lame as this may seem), I’d imagine a crowd chanting my name “Jared, Jared, Jared,” eagerly anticipating my presence and my superior celebrity words. The nerves would still be there, but with a little research you’ll find even your favourite artists of all time suffer from a bit of pre-show nerves themselves, so you can possibly relate to them in that moment, 'this is what David Bowie probably felt like,' etc. Perhaps this idea petrifies you, and if so, hurry along, but for me, it would put my mind right in the middle of my fear, and yet by hanging on to the dream, I could view the stress as practice for the big time, refusing to let my theoretical crowd down. This one helped me a lot.
“A little bit of stage fright, then I'm ready.” - Faith Hill
“I've never told anyone this. But I suffer from terrible stage fright. True. You can't tell though, can you? Unbelievable, the panic. I nearly die of fear before I go on stage. Something wicked. I can't eat a thing the day before a gig. It'd make me vomit.” - Johnny 'Rotten' Lydon, Sex Pistols
"I have stage fright every single concert I've ever done. I have at least four or five minutes of it. It's absolute living hell." - Brian Wilson, The Beach Boys
“I’m not particularly a gregarious person. I had an unbearable shyness; it was much easier for me to keep on with the Ziggy thing, off-stage as well as on. Who was David Bowie and who was Ziggy Stardust? It was motivated by shyness.” - David Fucking Bowie
3. “I’m going to show these fuckers exactly what a panic attack looks like.”
I've already covered this in step 6, but it works such wonders that it warrants repeating: don’t fight it. Actually try force a panic attack. I’d attempt to provoke the biggest anxiety explosion I’d ever had, because if I was going to shatter in front of all these people, I wanted it to be the biggest meltdown the world has ever fucking seen, no half measures, these assholes are going to see a fucking show before I’m done with them. And, of course, the attention kills the whole thing. Try it right now. Have a panic attack. C’mon, just do it, where you are, have a panic attack. You have them all the time! Just have one right now! Why aren’t you having one?
Finally, scream some random funny words in your head every time the thought comes up. Do it in different silly voices. What would the cookie monster sound like saying these negative things? Less threatening, I'm sure. Keep it as stupid and as random as possible. Be the comedy you want to see in the world.
“I'd love to tell you I had some deep revelation on my way down, that I came to terms with my own mortality, laughed in the face of death, et cetera. The truth? My only thought was: Aaaaggghhhhh!” - Rick Riordan, The Lightning Thief
PART B: THINGS TO DO
When walking into situations which were coated by the eggshells of my neurosis, I realised the best way to swerve left of an episode was to achieve comfort as quickly as possible. And I eventually worked out that the shortcut to said comfort was via my very nemeses itself: other human beings. Of course it would be, because that’s what Life is like. Life likes to play with you.
“Instruments sound interesting, not because of their sound, but because of the relationship a player has with them. Instrumentalists build a rapport with their instruments, which is what you like and respond to.” - Brian Eno
Break the ice as immediately as you can. Build a rapport before anything has the chance to tighten. Talk to surrounding people. Take control of the conversation right away. Be light. Make jokes. Treat these humans like they are already your friend, and hopefully by the time it comes to anything even remotely serious, you’re already quite chilled within the company and everyone has accepted you into their tribe, keeping it calm, keeping it casual.
“You’ll succeed best when you put the restless, anxious side of affairs out of mind, and allow the restful side to live in your thoughts” - Margaret Stowe
Unfortunately I know these methods apply to quite a specific form of nervousness, but I hope you can perhaps get an idea and modify it accordingly. However, if not, here’s two we all can do:
1. Find a song which soothes you. I’ll shamefully admit, I never used this one myself, which is stupid in hindsight, but two of my friends reported great relief was to be found within organised sounds (one finding better vibrations within the magic of The Antlers, the other, Felix Laband, which are both excellent choices). Such an approach will always heavily rely on tastebuds, but once you find one which works for you, pop it onto your headphones before your adventure, and get lost as far away from reality as possible. Hell, maybe even listen to whale sounds or traditional Indian chants or an audiobook about prosperity or an interview with your favourite comedian (I actually did this one!). Just a little extra handbag of encouragement to prop under your armpit and fall back to when forwards has become daunting.
“Music is a higher revelation than all wisdom and philosophy.” - Ludwig van Beethoven
2. Keep a journal. I have read quite a few similar articles which swear by the success they’ve had from this approach, noting the events which lead to each attack, noticing patterns, as well as pinpointing which methods of defense seemed to work better than others. The reason why this pathway can be so beneficial is because it turns the disaster into a game, one where you try beat your mind, where you end up thinking about how to document the experience rather than just enduring it, and if nothing else, leaving you with something material to show your friends at the end of the day. How do you think this whole blog started, eh? That’s right. You are reading the last page of my diary right now, enjoy it.
“Writing is a form of therapy; sometimes I wonder how all those who do not write, compose or paint can manage to escape the madness, melancholia, the panic and fear which is inherent in a human situation.” - Graham Greene
Step 10: What To Do During a Panic Attack
The big red button has been pushed! The alarms are screaming in your head so loud that you can’t hear anything outside of your own skull! Bright fuzz is blinding your vision and your very soul is trying to burst out of your body! Oh my God, everything has gone tits up! All our preparation has failed! We are in the process of having a full blown panic attack! Fuck! What the hell now??
It’s a difficult one to address, because as we all probably know, the most difficult aspect of an anxiety onslaught is that your usual inner dialogue gets sucked right out from your eyeballs and all rational files are impossible to locate. How is anyone supposed to remember what Jared said when you are practically shitting yourself in fear? Not easily, that’s for sure.
“Stress is something that is sort of out of your control. You get stressed out over looking at the finish line. Stress is something that is an outside thing. Stress is an anxiety.” - Joe Torre
As we covered earlier, the reason this is so problematic is because you have essentially become an animal, your brain flipping the switch and dumping a pint full of adrenaline into your operating system, now ready to react based on an instinctual basis rather than any logical one. Which, obviously, isn’t the best when you’re supposed to be pretending you’re a normal functioning human member of society. And the sad news is that there really isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution to escape this snag you are currently tangled in.
However, if you can hang on to one thing, it’s this: your goal is to maintain a grip onto reality as best you can, slowly bringing yourself back into some form of physical matter, hopefully allowing the outside world to once again direct your thoughts rather than the brain blaring orders of the EMERGENCY EVACUATION PROCESS INITIATED. And here are some of the ways I’ve found which help me.
First and foremost, for the love of Jesus: DO NOT FORGET TO BREATHE! Anyone will tell you that. And I’m not talking shallow little breaths (which is probably what you’ve been doing, hyperventilating yourself into passing out), but rather... slow... deep... breaths. Take your time, dude. Pull in some oxygen through your nose for five seconds. Hold it for five seconds. And then release it for five seconds out from the mouth. Experiment with this timing, imagining the anxiety as a mess of colour swirling within your solar plexus, then breath around it, count your numbers backwards, unwind. These actions alone will slow your heartbeat which counters the process which the panic itself is trying to induce here. It’s the most commonplace advice for good reason. It is the single most effective biological warfare you have.
"Fear cannot be banished, but it can be calm and without panic; it can be mitigated by reason and evaluation." - Vannevar Bush
Hopefully this will give you a bit of sobriety and space to aim your next move, to which I’d start by splitting your brain into two: the you you, and the anxiety voice. Give this anxiety voice a stupid name, like Samuel The Wonder Boy, or Boris Johnson. Change this anxiety voice to sound like Mickey Mouse or Spongebob, so when it tells you to freak out, it will at least have a flavour of comedic ridiculous associated. And now, address this anxiety, as a person, as condescendingly as possible, and inform it of the following points:
You are what you are.
You are a little panic attack, and that is all you ever will be.
I know this, because I’ve met you before, and you are an asshole.
You are not dangerous, you do not threaten me.
You cannot kill me even if you tried.
Go ahead and try, you little fuck.
I don’t even resist you, just hurry up and do your thing.
You will be gone soon, and I will still be here.
You do not have enough power to dictate my existence, and do you know why?
Because you are too silly.
“All profound distraction opens certain doors. You have to allow yourself to be distracted when you are unable to concentrate.” - Julio Cortázar, Around the Day in Eighty Worlds
While it’s good to repeat these reassurances in your calmest internal voice during this dreaded intrusion, it is even more important that you get out of your head as fast as possible. To do this, try slowly taking a sip of very cold water. Swirl it around your mouth. Ask yourself questions about the water. Really feel the temperature on your gums. Play with it through the teeth. Swallow it. Focus on the outline of your throat as it slides down. Marvel at the incredible nature of your body and appreciate its ability to consume liquid. Hold the cup or bottle it came from. What does it feel like? How cold is it? When does it expire? Does it have branding on it? What does it say? Who designed that? Could you do a better job?
There are plenty of variations to this approach. Chew some gum. Define the flavour. Aren’t teeth weird how they fit together? How does the tongue translate this taste into my mind? What kind of intricate patterns can I press into this gum using the roof of my mouth alone?
Hold an ice cube. It’s fucking freezing. Secretly stab your arm repeatedly with a pin. That really hurts! How fucked up am I that I’m doing these things! Take off your jacket really slowly. Streeeeeetch! Pick the dirt from beneath your fingernails. How long can you hold a squint for? Would anyone notice if you doodled a picture of a hippopotamus? I bet you can't do it, drawing a hippopotamus off the top of your head is pretty hard, I struggle to do that myself, and I'm an excellent drawererer.
You get the idea, right? You’re trying to secure yourself back into reality by focusing on the outside, using your immediate surroundings to gently gravitate towards. Make no mistake, your mind is a tough fucker to beat and there will be a power struggle to dominate the situation, but if you take it slow and don’t fight it so much as recognising it and then trying to move on from it, you will get better with practice. You won’t always win, but you will learn your own ways as to not pay these detriments much notice.
“Letting the radio play on without giving it much attention is very different from actively trying to ignore it.” - Russ Harris
HOWEVER (and this is a big HOWEVER and a WARNING): try not to repeat the same techniques too often. The reason why is what they taught me during my cognitive behavioural therapy sessions: if you rely on one specific defence mechanism, it becomes a crutch and merely another cog in the cycle. The ultimate idea is to eventually train the ability to face these fuckers head-on, learning to deal with them via your raw self and not some fancy trickery. What I suggest is to find something above (or elsewhere) that works, and then begin to wean yourself off of it. Feeling a little stronger today? Don’t bring water with you. Keep the jacket on. Leave your lucky skittle at home. That’s how you’re truly going to get stronger.
“Let me not pray to be sheltered from dangers, but to be fearless in facing them. Let me not beg for the stilling of my pain, but for the heart to conquer it.” - Tagore
Of course, this all ignores the fact that someone might expect you to say something or do something at some point, and in my experience, this was always the worst. The actual catalyst to most of my fits, in fact. So what’s the way around this? I have no idea, but I did find a few things which helped. For example: reminding myself that if I can just keep a semi-straight face, no one will have any idea what I am going through (although I have been known to turn different shades of green at times, but that’s not an every day worry).
Another approach which has been INVALUABLE to me is to always have my first sentence planned out. Do not script out everything you are going to say, because that can overwhelm your already stressy brain and your thoughts may scatter, but instead just keep your first sentence in an easy-to-access brain pouch, repeated few times in your head, ready to spit out whenever someone expects you to say something. Even if you change the topic, fukkit, makes you look cooler. Just remember to speak as slow as humanly possible without sounding like you’ve had brain surgery. Take a short moment before responding, maybe even clear your throat. Blurting out shit really fast will reveal your edginess, but by granting your words some space, you suddenly seem chilled whilst offering your speech some additional control. And then hopefully, once that first sentence is out, the rest of your words will flow much easier from there.
“Well-timed silence hath more eloquence than speech.” - Martin Farquhar Tupper
Related, and another SUPER POWER TRICK I learned all by my lonesome, was to try and say something relatively funny if the scenario calls for it. Nothing (and I mean NO-THING) takes the edge off quite so immediately than someone laughing at what you said. For me and my chronic longing for validation, it literally evaporates all tension, my entire demeanour shifts, my mojo comes rushing back, and I spend the rest of the time focusing on winning them over even more. It’s great. That said, if you have a shit sense of humour, maybe don’t give this a try, because I imagine nothing would be worse than standing there, about to pass out, stammering a joke, and having no one laugh. I think you might actually literally die.
“Laughter is the closest distance between two people.” - Victor Borge
But if none of this works, and you are forced to ride it out old school like, just remember that statistically, anxiety only affects people of a higher intelligence. So if nothing else, at least you’re one of the smarty chosen ones. OH LUCKY YOU. Seriously though, you got this, you will only get better at it, and you will be fine. I love you, anyway.
“Happiness in intelligent people is the rarest thing I know.” - Ernest Hemingway
ConclusionIt is with a heavy heart and a facial expression resembling self pity that I end this article on a bit of a disappointing note. You see, I have been a bit less than honest with you, dear reader, about my own personal journey through the depths of uneasiness, and am now going to come clean. I'm still not 100% ok. Every day, without fail, a spark of nerves flicks in my stomach at some point, and for a brief moment, I will tense up, the whole scene playing before my eyes where the walls of my hard work threaten to tumble upon and crush my fragile skeleton once more. I wish I could tell you that I'm thoroughly cured, that this vicious stalker of nerves has been utterly defeated never to return, but that would be untrue.
What I can tell you with all the pride in the world, however, is that 19 out of 20 times, I am able to snuff it out within the same very second it flares, my mind now equipped with so many automatic procedures that these distorted thoughts are quickly misdirected, snagged and disposed of, quickly replaced without even a twitch of my eyelid. Sometimes they are a bit more determined and get a bit further into my safe zone, and every now and again, the ordeal turns into a full-fledged battle once again, where I have to dart my focus and fire every trick I've invented just to avoid running back to my daddy's arms. Perhaps a part of me will forever have to deal with this, and that sucks balls. But it does not discourage me.
Because at the end of the day, if I ever need some reassurance, all I need to do is think back to where I used to be before I took Step 1. Before I made the decision not to be controlled by this weight, and began the slow long walk towards the promise of liberation. And when I pause and made this observation, admiring how far I have come, I sometimes nearly break into tears, as timid as that seems. I feel legit sympathy for my former self, over how hard my life was not so long ago. And I feel legit gratitude as to how easy my existence is now in comparison. And this proves, above all else, that with a bit of application, my approach actually works, and that is why I felt confident enough to write this blog in the first place. That fact alone warrants its existence.
But no matter where you are in your current struggle, I want to leave you with this final thought. Right now, someone is having their first panic attack ever. They don't know what it means, and they probably think they are about to die. They could be a teenager with mommy issues or a middle-aged business man with a bad hangover, it doesn't matter. What matters is that this will never be us, ever again. We know what this shit is. It may catch us off guard from time to time, but it can never truly sucker-punch us like it once could, because we've endured it before, we've done some research into its ingredients, and we have an idea on how to deal with it. And it that regard, even if you feel weak at this point in time, you are actually stronger than most. You have a new playing card, you have earned a new stripe, and in time, a panic attack will be just like stubbing your toe. It will be uncomfortable. You will never enjoy it. But you will be able to brush it off and walk on with or without it, while everyone else next you simply crumbles. And that is why, if people like us are around for the end of the world, we will inherit the earth. God bless, or whatever.
“Don't Panic.” - Douglas Adams