Stress is tricky. It can hit you like that mile-long train that goes by at night screeching and shaking for upwards of 20 minutes. It can hit you like a gentle breeze, making you barely aware that you’re even anxious at first. You can be low-level anxious for days, weeks, without realizing it until WHAMMO the rest just drops on your respiratory system like seven bags of hammers and oh no you can’t breathe and where did all of this invisible weight come from? Other times I guess you just realize you’ve been clenching your jaw for a long time and it hurts and hey maybe you need to relax before the rest comes along for the ride. Hurry!
In my experience with this I’ve learned that you can rely on going through several stages of stress, depending on the situation. It will often start small and get bigger or more unbearable. Many times you’ll jump past some of the stages, if the stressor is just right or terrible enough. Here are the typical stages that I end up barreling through at a moment’s notice and the many ways I try to calm myself down because sometimes the things work! Maybe this time too!
This is basically our average state of being, mine and Amandoll‘s. It can feel like anything from more-than-reasonable annoyance to tingling in the back of the neck. Sometimes my heart beats very fast, actually visible to anyone paying attention. Along with that, my hands may shake.
To the casual viewer, I would seem either the same as always or very distracted. Too anxious and I’ll have to come and go so that nothing, and no one, sets me off. Pro-tip to anyone out there who might be around me: if I suddenly get too distracted seeming, it’s because my mind is racing and I’m trying to get a handle on it. Please don’t try to distract me from it. It won’t work.
At this stage, I will try to drink a soothing tea, or “herbal infusion,” because doing anything more, like yoga, is just too much to ask. Yoga is for the low anxiety after you realize your headache is from tension. But general undeniable anxiety is meant for tea treatments. Anything with lavender, sleepytime blend, or Amandoll’s favorite, kava, will at least give the illusion that I am feeling more at ease. If I drink it just right, I might even believe it.
Shortness of Breath, Inclination to Sit in Your Closet
When I start to really feel it, it’s hard to breathe. This persists all the way through the last stages if my stress doesn’t ever fade or get resolved. I can still breathe, so my best bet here is to try to slow myself down. Sometimes that works! Mind over matter, right Dad?
It helps sometimes to sit down in my closet. It’s pretty large in some spots, so I can relax against a wall easily, in near darkness with my phone nearby. It’s a hidden and small place that feels quiet and comfortable, perfect for moments of near-panic, or when I just need a break, in a totally normal way that adults can do at any time. I swear.
At this point, I will use my phone from my closet to message Amandoll to say where I am. Usually this is met with, “oh no oh no have you tried guided meditation??” Guided Meditations on YouTube are there in abundance. Sometimes it soothes us to hear a calm monotone voice explain to us that we are walking through a forest and find a door and go down some stairs and in a beam of light there is our inner essence or whatever which we are then instructed to cuddle. Other times, we can’t find any voices that don’t annoy us and we turn out feeling worse!
Tears, Maybe Fear
It’s okay to cry. Right?? Yes, it is. And sometimes you cry out of frustration or stress, and not just out of sadness. It’s okay to feel a bit like you are losing control and to weep. Let it all out. You might feel better afterward and you might not, but you’ll have let your emotions fly all over the place at least to try.
Fear is a common emotion in this chain of stress events. Every possible worry I have ever had floods my brain and seems insurmountable. It even provides additional crushing-the-lungs feelings! Crying helps emotions but it doesn’t help breathing clearly, not by a long shot. It is not uncommon to worry that you might cry yourself to death.
Sometimes the ambient sounds you can play do help with this level of stress. You can involuntarily begin focusing on one of the sounds and eventually it passes. I guess either the ambient sounds OR time are to thank for this. But either way, eventually you start to come out of it… OR READ ON.
Ack! So this doesn’t happen to me too often but it seems to happen somewhere around here in the timeline. Currently, today, as I write this, my upper right arm is covered in some hives. I’m itchy from eight million other things as well, so this isn’t helping. Other times it happened, the hives were on my fingers and hands, or on my torso. The itching doesn’t last terribly long (especially with some Benadryl) but the hives often stay visible for a few days.
For some reason, Dr. Internet claims that stress and anxiety doesn’t cause hives, but also it will say that the cause of hives that aren’t related to allergies are generally unknown. Also it will mention that women get hives a lot more often than men and that probably explains why hives aren’t known inside and out with easy cures to fix them, amirite. Pro-tip: reading about hives when you are anxious and wanting answers is not the time to read about hives.
Aside from Benadryl which will also bring healing slumber, I will sit in a bath or a shower. Amandoll takes baths and showers multiple times a day because just the sound of the water running will calm her down. This really doesn’t help me as much, but maybe someone out there will relate to her for this. Try everything!
This consists mostly of some of the above, plus rolling around in a hurried flail. I no longer need to go to the ER when experiencing a panic attack, as I have coping mechanisms (including medication) but it’s still an ordeal.
If you aren’t fortunate enough to have emergency prescription medication, really the best advice I can give to you is to remind yourself that you aren’t actually dying this time. And also that each time you have a panic attack you get a little better at weathering them, but it’s still awful, of course.