by Kristin Nador/@KristinNador
His skin crawls.
She tries to slow her shallow breath while her heart races.
He’s dizzy, and moves in slow motion, feeling strangely robotic.
Her clammy hands reach for the door and her fingers go numb.
His legs shake and turn to rubber.
She feels pinpricks all over her body. Where can she run and hide?
Is it a horror movie?
Only to the one experiencing it.
This is how many people experience a panic attack. Anxiety is normal in many everyday situations if you’re doing something unfamiliar or intimidating such as speaking in front of a group. But if you are anxious, nervous, fearful or panicked about ordinary daily activity on a regular basis you may be dealing with an anxiety or panic disorder.
There are different types of anxiety disorders from generalized anxiety to panic disorder to agoraphobia. Some may be rooted in childhood experiences, severe grief or loss, a traumatic experience or the overactivity of the natural fight-or-flight response controlled by the sympathetic nervous system.
How can you keep your creative flow from being paralyzed when panic rears its ugly head?
First, get a professional assessment, don’t assume you have an anxiety disorder, there may be other issues at play. Talk with a counselor, therapist or health professional. If it is determined you have an anxiety or panic disorder, follow your doctor’s advice. I am not a doctor, and the suggestions in this post should not be considered medical advice. Your medical professional will be able to give you a specific plan that will work for you. It’s possible you may need cognitive therapy, behavior therapy or medication for a time until you can determine your stressors.
Don’t suffer in silence. Come out of your panic closet. A big part of the power of panic or agoraphobia is the fear that you will have an attack in front of others or in a public place. The fear that you will be thought of as ‘crazy’ holds a powerful sway. Take away its power by sharing your struggle with those around you. Educate them on what anxiety or panic attacks look like. It takes away another layer of pressure that can push the panic to the surface. This is what celebrities Emma Stone, Kim Basinger and Nicole Kidman, who all suffer from panic attacks, have done.
Is there anything you can do to stop panic attacks?
Most of the time you can’t stop a panic attack, but here are seven ideas for making it through an attack without ending up in an emergency room. These ideas aren’t for stopping panic but minimizing what your body is trying to maximize:
Figure your triggers
- Take the time to understand what may trigger your panic. Then you can avoid them or work with a health professional on desensitizing yourself.
Search for your zen
- Participate in calming activities on a regular basis such as working in your garden, taking a long shower, or enjoying a walk in the woods.
Burn that nervous energy
- Aim for completing some type of cardio-type exercise daily: walking, running, jogging, or dancing to release any anxious energy build-up.
Write a script
- Study the symptoms your body experiences during an attack, then write yourself a script or reminder so you can hang onto logic when an attack happens and be pro-active instead of reactive. Example: “If my hands start twitching it means an attack is starting. I will attempt to stay calm and breathe through the attack. I will pass through the attack and it will end.”
Reduce or eliminate caffeine and sugar
- These substances can put you on edge which can trigger an attack.
- Tensing a specific muscle or set of muscles and releasing the muscle can give a general feeling of relaxation and help you work through the symptoms of a panic attack.
- Some people believe taking deep breaths can help the smothering effect some sufferers feel during an attack. It might lead to hyperventilating, which only makes things worse. Try measured, rhythmic breathing instead. Focusing on slow shallow measured breaths may lessen many symptoms.
Bonus: Journal it out. Keep a journal. You may be able to understand triggers better, release stress, and learn about patterns your body follows.
The most important thing you can do is to do it afraid. Don’t let anxiety and panic stop you from moving forward in life. I can speak to this from personal experience. I have a panic disorder diagnosis and at one time was afraid to leave the house. Little by little I decided to take my life back. About ten years ago, I began to speak before small groups. It was scary but I did it afraid. About six years ago I worked with a ministry where I visited families weekly in their homes. It was scarier; I was in a situation I had no control over, but I did it afraid. Last year I spoke in front of approximately forty writers.
Even with a possibility of a panic attack, I decided I wanted to move forward more than I was afraid of a public attack and did it afraid. It went well, and now I have a precedent to point to when my psyche tries to tell me I can’t do it. Step by step you can live your best creative life if you decide to do it afraid.
Want to learn more about creatives dealing with anxiety and panic disorders? Check out these links:
My Panic Attacks, Anxiety and PTSD by Life and Art-Ms. Mackey
- How To Harness Your Creative Temperament and Stay Sane, Married and Sober
- Depression and Bipolar – 13 Ways To Push Back at the Dark Side
- Writing and the Fear of Failure