Yesterday, I went to the dentist to replace some old fillings. No big deal — except that it was. I got in the chair and the dental assistant put the nitrous mask over my nose. I started to feel intense anxiety. I think it reminded me of my ECT treatments, which give me a ton of anxiety. I grabbed the mask off my nose and tried to calm down but I had lost control. My heart was pounding and I started to shake. I lay back down and the dentist started to numb my mouth but as soon as he put instruments in my mouth, I couldn’t breathe. I felt like I was in danger, as silly as that sounds. By then, it was decided I would come back another day and I left with my numb mouth and all.
I am prone to panic attacks, so I have a lot of coping mechanisms I use – not just for acute incidences like at the dentist but also for times I can’t go to therapy every week and now for a pandemic!
It’s hard to distract yourself when you’re in the throes of an attack or in a depressive episode, and I’m not perfect. For almost every healthy coping skill I have on file, I also have an unhealthy one. When I don’t use the healthy mechanisms, I definitely pay the price emotionally, and even physically.
Here’s what works for me, whether I’m stressed or having an attack:
- Practice deep breathing – When you do deep breathing exercises you increase the supply of oxygen to your brain and it stimulates the parasympathetic system, which promotes a state of calmness, according to Stress.org
- Watch Friends bloopers on YouTube – This is one of my fave ways to relax because as soon as I start watching, I’m cracking up and my brain has managed to think about something else. I highly recommend laughing your stress and anxiety away
- Sing my favorite songs – I sing a lot. The kids are constantly telling me to stop but it makes me feel good. It’s something that I do regularly to improve my mood but probably not something that can stop a panic attack in its tracks
- Take VERY hot baths – I like to turn the heat up as much as possible to where the only thing I can feel is the hot water. It’s also therapeutic for me to have a good cry while the water is running
- Write – Again, blogging really helps maintain my mood but it isn’t something I would be inclined to do when I’m panicking
- Get a massage – This is my favorite thing to do to keep me de-stressed but unfortunately, I haven’t been able to get one because of the coronavirus
- Get under a weighted blanket – Healthline.com says the weighted blankets help ground your body by pushing it downwards and has a deeply calming effect. The blankets also stimulate deep pressure touch, a type of therapy that uses hands-on pressure to reduce chronic stress and high levels of anxiety
- Sew – I really have to concentrate to sew, so I tend to leave my troubles behind while working on a project
- Read – Reading is awesome and you can get lost in a completely different world
- Pray – It helps me to pray, especially when I’m feeling completely out of control
- Go to therapy – This probably should go at the top of this list. Talking to my therapist helps me sort my thoughts and she provides practical solutions to some of my often-illogical behavior
- Get my nails done or do them myself – My friend Meredith and I have a saying — “Everything is always better with painted nails.” Solid philosophy
Those aren’t all the coping skills I’ve employed but my favorite ones that have proven beneficial. Now, for the unhealthy mechanisms. I DO NOT recommend you try to deal with panic, stress, anxiety or depression with these but I know they are very common. While I aspire to nix those from my list some day, I understand that it’s hard to break these habits and behaviors.
- Overeat or binge on healthy foods – Depending on the situation, I purposely overeat until I’m uncomfortable or in pain. More rarely, I binge on unhealthy foods like candy and LOTS of carbs. I do love my carbs but I had gastric sleeve surgery last year, so it’s REALLY not in my best interest to eat them. (If you have unhealthy eating habits, check out my cousin’s Facebook page. She’s a licensed nutritionist and has great ideas about intuitive eating)
- Compulsively shop – Sometimes, I just feel the need to shop. It’s fine if I need something and need to buy it for the house or kids, but I’ve had times where I’ll spend hundreds of dollars on stuff we don’t necessarily need. And it makes me feel terribly guilty. That’s the thing with unhealthy coping skills, they only feel good for a little while
- Blow off appointments – When I’m dealing with a lot I feel like I need to retreat into my home and be alone, which is fine some of the time but at other times, I really need to go to therapy or my doctor. There have even been times I blow off the not-so-important appointments like getting my hair done or a massage appointment but I’m still being inconsiderate but not going and wasting others’ time. I feel guilty about this, as well
- Abuse my medications – I don’t do this anymore but there was a time that I would take too many of my anxiety pills because I just didn’t want to feel, well…anything. I would also take too many pain pills, pushing the limits of what was safe. This is a serious problem, and for some people, it’s a deadly problem. If you abuse your medication and need help stopping, please contact your doctor
Having depression and anxiety is hard. They both can take over almost every aspect of your life and make it even harder. While I implore you to find coping mechanisms that work for you, I think I would be doing a disservice if I didn’t mention that things such as talk therapy, medication and a good doctor can drastically improve your life. Sometimes we need to arm ourselves with more than coping skills, and that’s OK. Whatever your plight, I hope you find peace with it and thrive.
If you are suicidal, please call the Suicidal Lifeline Hotline at 1-800-273-8255 or visit their website at www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org to use the chat function. Stay in the light.