Updated: Jan 22, 2021
Breathe in 2, 3, 4—Hold 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7—Out 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8. And again 4-7-8, one more time. Sigh. Take a moment to pat yourself on the back. 2020 has been far from easy for anyone but you’ve made it this far! Many undoubtedly had moments of overwhelm and panic with the initial outbreak and as we are getting into a height of this second wave, these moments can feel even greater in frequency and intensity. It’s frustrating for sure, “here we go again.” But it’s important to note we did it once, we can get through it again. Fortunately, this time we have already learned what helps and what doesn’t.
Panic attacks are our body’s response to stress. This overwhelming cloud where everything seems like it closing in on us. As if we weren’t struggling enough to keep balance before, now adding in homeschooling, home offices and status homebound, we all can benefit from a moment to stop, breathe and take care of ourselves. If you don’t take time for yourself, you end up giving a tired, burnt out version of yourself to others and that can’t be good for them or yourself.
When you feel that anxiety/ stress rising, take some time for yourself. The beauty of peaking anxiety is that even if you do absolutely nothing, that peak will fall and the moment will pass in 20-30 minutes, but those 20-30 minutes can feel horrible, like impending doom.
You feel like you’re losing control, so first start with regaining control of your breathing. 4-7-8, you’re doing great! It inevitably is hard to focus when this panic is rising, distraction is key to keep yourself from spiraling: “What can I do? What do I do?!” Reach for your personal rescue box!
Create a box/basket and fill it with things that bring you a sense of calm and joy. Good rule of thumb to follow is things that stimulate the 5 senses:
Things you can look at: old photo albums, books you can read, magazines, comedy videos. Look outside your window, the birds in the sky, the squirrels climbing a tree, branches swaying in the wind.
Things you can smell: candles, lotions, essential oils (particularly lavender and eucalyptus). Bake cookies, let its aroma fill the room.
Things you can feel: a cozy blanket, stress ball, fidget spinner, a massage ball, heating pad, weighted eye masks. Adult coloring books are great because they stimulate sense of touch and are also visually appealing. It also requires rhythmic movement which is always helpful in moments of high anxiety.
Anything with left-right motion: walking, running or rhythmic pattern: jump ropingor stretching can be helpful too.
Things you can taste: cookies, crackers, candies of different flavors/textures: soft, hard, chewy, fruity, chocolate, mint gum, Listerine strips, frozen starbursts.
Things you can listen too: guided meditation, white noise, ocean wave sounds, music- a preset playlist.
I call it the rescue box because it rescues you from spiraling into a full-fledge panic attack, an overwhelming cloud of anxiety and stress. The more you have in your box, the more you can do until the moment passes and you can begin to process with a clearer head. Once you’ve had time to reset, you’re a refueled to get back to that list of things you inevitably have pending. This year has challenged us all in so many ways. We can’t change what has happened but we can put ourselves in the driver’s seat when it comes to our own well-being to get through these unprecedented times a bit more smoothly. Control what you can!
And of course, stay safe and well! Wear your mask, wash your hands and keep your distance!
- Vanessa Patel, MD