Joining F45 was one of the best decisions I made in 2017. As a self-employed professional who sometimes goes full days without speaking to anyone, this particular gym has offered me discipline, motivation, community and comradery – all of which help get me through the working day. Plus, I’m physically fitter than I’ve been in a long time.
Yesterday, while at the gym, my heart was racing at a million miles an hour. It also felt like it weighed 100kg. I was sweating profusely, had trouble breathing and felt my throat closing up.
This is pretty normal for a high-intensity circuit class workout. But the class hadn’t even started yet at the onset of those sensations.
I knew in an instant what it was: anxiety.
The irony of yesterday’s events is that I actually started my working week by making multiple achievements. It should have been a day of celebrating wins, rather than feeling pain. But given how my stress levels have been accumulating in past weeks (for a litany of reasons, which I won’t go into here), it just so happened that my anxiety took over in that moment.
Suffering anxiety means thinking you haven’t locked your car, and constantly running back to check that you haven’t left it open. Suffering anxiety is like watching a scary movie and thinking a monster is going to pop out and scare you, but even when it never does, you still wait for it to happen.
Jodi Picoult summed it up nicely: “Anxiety is like a rocking chair. It gives you something to do, but it doesn’t get you very far.”
It’s an all-consuming, debilitating affliction. And while I was able to be reasonably productive, my Monday was plagued by subsequent lethargy, low mood and despondency. Even writing this now, I’m still a little bit wound up.
I am – both fortunately and unfortunately – well-versed in responding to such situations. To combat to overwhelming anxiety I was feeling yesterday, I did the following:
- I spoke to my Mum. Outlining what I’m feeling – even if that proclamation goes only as far as saying it out loud – is helpful, as it gives voice to what’s going on and allows for assistance that otherwise wouldn’t be available. Luckily for me, my parents have always been on hand if and when such ill-health manifests.
- I did something fun for myself. I turned off my phone and laptop and switched Netflix on, so I could watch a few episodes of Brooklyn Nine Nine. While this strategy may seem like a deflection, or distraction, I found it relaxing as it allowed me to laugh and disconnect from the stress of the working day.
- I made a strong pot of tea. I’m a big believer in the idea that a cup of tea solves everything. Such a pronouncement is hyperbolic, of course, but a lemon, ginger and herbal brew always has a soothing effect on me.
- I breathed deeply. No matter how laborious this process may seem, controlling my breathing with deep, deliberate inhalations does help me calm down. Especially when one of the primary symptoms of an anxiety attack is sharp, shallow breathes.
- I let my emotions wash over. While it can be painful to allow negative feelings to rise to the surface, I think it important to have them expressed rather than supressed. Letting the hurt and distress boil over sucks while it’s happening, but I always feel rejuvenated once they’ve been given room to breathe.
- I wrote this blog post. I’m not great at verbalising how I feel, even with close friends and family. Writing is, and always has been, how I communicate my innermost thoughts and emotions. Putting pen to paper for this blog post meant I could rationalise and appreciate why I felt the way I did yesterday, thereby allowing me to move forward.
There are dozens of ways that I, or you, can respond when experiencing an anxiety attack. The ones outlined above worked well for me yesterday, and if and when I suffer a similar sensation, I’ll employ tactics that are similar if not the same.
What’s important for you in this kind of situation is knowing how best you can react. My strategies and solutions work well for me; some are universal and some cater to my idiosyncratic needs. You need to figure out what works best for you, and what won’t.
But any approach must also be coupled with the knowledge that the anxiety, no matter how severe, will pass in time.
Know that it’s not the end of the world, and that you will get through it. Just as I do.