When Anxiety Attacks

bench

I think the term “panic attack” is so fitting. It does feel like an attack, doesn’t it?

You’re sitting there, watching Fuller House, and out of no where your heart starts racing, breaths shorten and quicken, and tunnel vision sets in. It feels unprovoked, unwarranted, but that’s just the way panic works. It hits you when you’re vulnerable, and it’s not respecter of persons.

It took me years to get to a point where I could openly identify and admit my own social anxiety. Mingling before church and making conversation with coworkers over lunch causes me irrational, unmitigated fear. This confession might surprise many of you—especially those who’ve seen me in a large group when I’m comfortable—because I’m quite decidedly an extrovert. When I’m surrounded by people I know (and like), you’ll likely find me right in the middle of the party, telling some outrageous story about my last date or talking about the latest YA book you have to read. I crave that energy—I need it to keep me sane.

So, I’m an extreme extrovert with social anxiety, and that means that the very thing that makes my blood sing in my veins and fills me with energy can cause me to break out in a cold sweat and sneak out of every single company-wide meeting before anyone corners me into small talk. It’s hard to explain to others, and it’s hard for even me to understand. But I’m getting more comfortable talking about my anxiety, and I’m finding more acceptance from others than I ever expected to find.

Apart from my ever-present social anxiety, I have occasional panic attacks. They started when I was 13, and I go through spells where I’ll only have one a year, but sometimes it’s one a week. This week is a bad week. Isn’t it interesting that the anticipation of both positive and negative potentials can instigate an attack? This week, I happen to be anticipating some good and some bad, and the result has left my mind muddled.

My brain kind of feels like a highway that’s in the middle of a 12-car pileup. All of these thoughts need to get through, but they’re just sitting there, all rammed into each other at the front of the brain. My best hope is to clear a single lane and let them come through one-by-one, but even that is proving difficult.

In order to fight all these feelings that seem impenetrable, I let my roommate put her crazy Tranquil essential oil over the balls of my feet and back of knees. I take deep breaths. I pray until I fall asleep, and when anxiety sneaks in to try to hijack the conversation, I jerk myself back to prayer. I leave margin in my life, time to sit in my parked car and let the sun beat on me without rushing off to something else. I workout. I distract myself. And I tell other people about it—because it helps.

So, there it is. I have anxiety, and sometimes it’s bad. Today’s one of those days. I’m a member of a wonderful Christ and Pop Culture Facebook group full of those internet-friends who when you mention in real life like you know them personally. I posted in this group about my anxiety, inviting others to share, and it’s been surprisingly liberating. We all are struggling, just falling apart at the seams, and sometimes it’s nice to commiserate. I want you to know that if it’s bad for you—we’re all here, and we’re listening. Sharing helps. Talking about it helps. Processing helps. So I hope we can learn how to better help each other, even if it’s just in confessing a few fleeting fears.

 

Author: Joy Beth Smith

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  • 1. this is good to know as I thought that you (like many of our other coworkers) were just too cool for the nerdiness of game lunch 😉 😛 j/k
    2. Seriously though, yeah, being an extrovert with anxiety sucks because people just don’t get it at all. My biggest is city driving, which means I missed out on some really fun things in Atlanta and Nashville when I lived in the South, and I will probably miss out on a lot of fun things in Chicago, simply because I literally can’t do it alone.
    3. On the flip side, a huge perk of living alone is that my anxiety is GREATLY reduced. I no longer have to spend my every waking moment trying to keep my roomies happy or wondering if they are gossiping about me or if they are hanging out without me or secretly hate me or if they are being mean behind my back, or whatever. (It doesn’t matter how awesome the people are in reality, this is just what anxiety tells me is true 24/7, regardless of who I’m living with.)
    4. It’s always hard for me to know – both with others and myself – whether what’s needed is reassurance and encouragement to overcome social anxiety or whether it’s best to let the person (others or myself) get away and find a “safe” place. So all that to say, you may see me push myself beyond what I should, in which case I will be awkward and overwhelmed, and I may try to “peer pressure” you into doing more than you’re comfortable with. If it’s a situation where you DON’T need encouragement and honestly wish I would go away because I’m making it worse, please let me know directly. It’s won’t hurt my feelings at all. But I also don’t want people feeling regret or left out because I didn’t act like I wanted them to come along or to have anxiety about whether they really “belong” in a group with me. So I have to at least try, with myself and others, to fight back against the lies of anxiety, but sometimes that looks like surrendering for the moment, finding a quiet or happy place, and missing out on something that would have made the “mind/heart sickish feeling” (as I called it before I knew what it was) so much worse.