Whoa, heavy hitter post. Coming Up Roses is always meant to be a positive, uplifting space, where we can all blossom and grow together. But here’s the thing: Life isn’t *always* coming up roses. Roses have thorns. And while Coming Up Roses will always be happy, it’s also gonna be real – always. Because I believe in us always growing together, and true growth only happens when we have the courage to be vulnerable and accepting of our own + others’ realness.
ICYMI, I struggled a lot with anxiety in college.
Like, a lot.
It felt completely debilitating at times, and it was one of the first times in my life where I felt powerless, hopeless, and so totally in-your-face flawed all at once.
So today, I felt compelled to share a bit about how I personally deal with panic attacks or anxiety attacks if/when they come, along with techniques from college and now so that you and anyone close to you can hopefully feel more prepared and at peace with them, too.
My first panic attack scared the shit out of me.
In college, my anxiety was largely derived from feelings of incompetence and worry surrounding anything academic. At Wharton at UPenn, the environment is always pretty high strung and intense, and it can be cutthroat. It wasn’t uncommon to feel stressed every waking hour, and it often felt like everyone around you was constantly on their game, sprinkling success on their morning Cheerios and rearing to rock their next five interviews at the biggest firms on the planet.
I never fit into that bubble. I was never the finance or accounting type, I could not care less about consulting firms that make you work until 3 am, and I didn’t give a hoot about name-dropping my list of prospects. I was always the creative one with the analytical flair. Ask me to figure out a regression of something and I’m clueless. But ask me to whip up a full advertising campaign, a comprehensive brand book, a competitive analysis, a 30-second pitch, or literally anything else, and I’m your girl.
At Wharton, this translated into an intensely self-pressurized bubble where I expected to #slay in every marketing, consumer psychology, or behaviorally based class known to man. I figured if I couldn’t feel confident in these intensely quantitative, Wall Street-worthy classes, the least I could do was be the absolute best in my own realm.
Typical perfectionist attitude.
UPenn is often noted as being the best collegiate marketing program period.
So I was essentially setting myself up in my head to be the best graduating marketing girl in the world.
LOL. Cue the anxiety.
If I got any sort of marketing-related project or exam back with less than my own expected mark, I was sent into a panic-induced hyperventilation.
My first panic attack came with a grade in one of my all-time favorite classes: Consumer Behavior. My heartbeat was already racing as I opened the online grade report, and the attack began almost as soon as I processed the grade not being my own set ideal. I only realized what the heck was even happening to me mid-attack, because I couldn’t catch my breath or stop the tears – this made matters worse. I was just a heaving ball, gasping for breath, thoughts racing through my head without pause about my own certain failed future and sure incompetence in my dream field of expertise.
Rational? Nope. But is anxiety rational? Does anxiety follow rules? Is it logical or sensical? Nope.
The worst part? I internalized this newfound anxiety as a personal flaw, deeming myself broken and unworthy of future successes until I could “fix” this whole panicked breakdown thing.
And how crazy is that? Hint: pretty damn crazy.
The panic attacks I experienced in college were almost *always* tied to academia. While I did go to therapy for it while in school, I honestly don’t know if I have diagnose-worthy anxiety, since I don’t think I’ve ever had an attack around anything but my career. And as an ambitious college student in the 21st century, who the heck *isn’t* majorly wigging out about jobs?? But it doesn’t matter.
The point is this: If you experience anxiety, you are not a flawed person. You are not broken. You are not lesser or unworthy or incompetent.
You have anxiety the same way some people have diabetes. There’s not necessarily a “cure.” Some days are better than others. You might have flair ups, and you might not. You just take active steps every single day to keep living your life as best possible, and you vow to not let this “disease” define or control your life.
So, in the spirit of all of the above, I’m sharing how I personally deal with panic attacks, as well as a few tips to hopefully help you, too. If you experience them yourself and/or if you know someone who does, and you’ve found yourself being the uncomfortable one trying to somehow make it all stop, this is for you.
When it’s you…
- Remember – it’s only a panic attack. Nothing worse. You’re not having a heart attack. You’re not dying. You can (+ will) get through to the other side of it.
- Start taking deep breaths – but only after you’re OK with the fact that you’re panicking. Obviously you’re not happy about it, but once I accept what’s happening, it’s easier to begin coping with it. I HATE when people start shouting JUST BREATHE!!!! at me, and it makes matters worse before better. However, when you can let your body relax, un-tense your muscles, and begin taking a few deep belly breaths, you could see good change.
- Focus solely on the inhale and exhale you’re making. This is always hit or miss for me. Sometimes focusing on my breath makes it WORSE and makes me stress out even more because I’m trying to catch my breath and just physically can’t. But when it works, it works like a gem.
- Pay close attention to what makes you feel genuinely better during the moment. It’s all about the moment, when it comes to panic attacks, and getting through to the next one. For me, I feel like I’ve tried everything at this point, and there’s ONE thing that works: Prayer. Specifically, the verse “Be still and know that I am God” somehow works miracles on me mid-panic attack. I find myself just repeating it over and over and over until my breathing settles, and it really feels powerful.
When it’s someone you care about…
- Ask what they need. It’s so much better to make sure you’re giving what someone needs instead of what you THINK they need, especially in a moment of panic. Don’t be afraid to literally ask, “How can I help you right now?” It’ll be better + easier for both of ya.
- Don’t panic yourself. The worst thing you can do within someone else’s panic attack is panic yourself. Stay calm, keep it cool, and be level-headed enough to guide him/her out of it.
- For me (and for a few of my friends who also experience panic attacks), praying together or praying over someone is a beautiful thing that works to help calm your breathing. The whole “focus on your breathing” tip is hit or miss for me, like I said, because sometimes it makes me panic even more – counterintuitive, I know. But if you can figure out some alternative method to slowing down breathing and regaining calm, just do it.
- Just be there. Sometimes just having someone there as support works wonders. Even if you have no clue what to do, don’t leave your person alone. Be there. Be a friend. God bless J for his willingness to just sit next to me and hold my hand through it all. Even if you don’t have an answer or a fix (hint: you won’t), just showing you care enough to stick through it together really makes a solid difference.
How do you deal with panic attacks?
Have you ever experienced one yourself, or have you witnessed one? I’d lovelovelove to hear your story, because I really think that’s how we all grow. Let’s blossom together, shall we?
P.S. If you think this post is helpful, would you share it with someone who might also think it’s a worthwhile read? I know so many of us suffer from panic attacks – something silently – and being able to just know you’re not alone is sometimes the most helpful feeling!