Wednesday, 11 May 2016

Coping Mechanisms

Hello you gorgeous bunch!

Gosh a week goes by quickly doesn't it? I feel like I've only just written my last blog!
This week I had an exciting guest blogger lined up which has unfortunately fallen through, so I'm afraid you're stuck with me for another week!

I've been asked by a couple of people to share my coping mechanisms for anxiety and for panic attacks so here goes...

A technique I use the most is called 'grounding'. A lot of people I have met who suffer from panic attacks use this technique and find it incredibly useful so it's definitely worth a try!

To put it into context, when I (and many others) go into a panic attack (both minor and major), the strongest feeling I have is the feeling like 'I'm not really there'. This means some sounds get louder, some sounds get quieter/tinny and difficult to hear, my fingertips feel numb & I can't feel things properly, I suddenly become either very aware or very unaware of tiny, little movements around me, and it all feels exactly like being in a dream. This is obviously a very terrifying feeling when it happens to any of us...I get it almost every day and it can still be very scary no matter how used to it you are, but once you know this technique it can become MUCH less intimidating.

So when this strikes: GROUNDING:
        • Look around you.
        • Find 5 things you can see.
        • Find 4 things you can touch.
        • Find 3 things you can hear.
        • Find 2 things you can smell.
        • Find 1 thing you can taste.
Focus on all these things one by one, slowly, with however much time you need. And gradually, you'll find yourself calming and coming 'back into reality'. Sometimes I find I don't even have to do all of these things, sometimes just pressing my feet firmly into the floor or pushing hard against a wall is enough to ground me and bring me back to normal.
This is the technique I use most often. This 'losing touch with reality' is the feeling I get several times on a daily basis whenever I'm in a public place, and I can ground myself without thinking about it now. Sometimes whilst still maintaining a conversation. So the more you practice, the more efficient it is. I hope that one of you out there can use this and hopefully will help as much as it helps me!


BIG MYTH ALERT - deep breaths calm you during a panic attack.

Actually, no they don't. Sure, it helps when a person is just feeling a little bit anxious, but for those of us who suffer from panic attacks, a deep breath causes hyperventilating. It releases extra carbon dioxide so causes symptoms such as dizziness to worsen.
It's about steadying the breath and regaining control, which can be incredibly difficult to do when you're panicking. It takes a lot of focus which you don't necessarily have during a panic attack.
Everyone has different breathing exercises which help them as everyone's breathing pattern is different. Have a google around of different breathing exercises, listen to relaxation tapes, meditation tapes, and try them out and find what works best for you. 

Personally - the technique I use is called 7/11 breathing. You breath in to the count of 7, and from there, out to the count of 11. It works for me as I exhale more than I inhale when panicking, but it doesn't mean it will work for everyone.

As with most mental health issues, retaining a sense of control is incredibly important for those of us with anxiety.
My anxiety begins when I know have to leave my front door, which is obviously an unavoidable thing.
I therefore have very strict routines that I must stick to, in order to know that I am OK to leave. I struggle to be spontaneous as that's 'not part of the routine', and I feel all out of sorts if I don't know all the details of what my plans are.

The night before - I have to plan my day out the night before, I need to know exactly what time I need to get up, exactly how many hours sleep I have had, exactly what time I need to be in the shower, exactly what time I need to have eaten my breakfast by, how much time I need to leave myself to get to where I need to be, and what time I plan to be back safely in my own house by (and many other things that I've forgotten because it's so normal to me now). God help anyone who gets in the way of this routine. If anything goes wrong, that's my sense of control lost, and I am on edge for the rest of the day and my anxiety and panic attacks are all over the place.  

Before I leave - once the routine has been stuck to and I'm ready to leave, another routine begins. The mental checklist:
      • How much have I eaten? When will I next get the chance to eat and will that be enough to keep me going til then? Shall I take something to eat on the way just in case? Why don't I take lots of spare food in case of an emergency?
      • Have I got a full water bottle? Will there be somewhere to fill up my water when I get there? Or shall I take two just to be on the safe side? Have I had enough to drink? Shall I have a quick glass of water just in case?
      • Have I got everything I need? Check, check, and triple check.
      • Is there any windows open that shouldn't be? Doors unlocked that shouldn't be? Any plugs still switched on that could start a fire? Again, check, check and triple check.
And many more things that run through my mind. Things being in the right place, 'just in case', bringing extra whatever 'just in case', etc etc. It's a pain but it's what I feel I've got to do so I will.

I think it's important to retain a sense of humor about it though. Anyone who spends time with me knows I am incapable of travelling lightly, because of all my 'just in case' items. If I walk down my road or just round the corner , I still have to take a bag with water and food in!
If anyone is hungry while they're out with me, I am always the first point of call as they know I have my 'just in case of an emergency' rations.
If they're thirsty, they'll know I have a bottle of water somewhere close by. (though if you drink too much of it or leave it somewhere, God help you...)
And I think that humor is important. If it's just something you have to do, then it's just one of your quirks. My friends and family are used to my many 'quirks', and they respect it's something I need to do. There's no point seeing it as a negative, just take it and go with it.

Escape Routes

As my alter ego, Dory, would say, es-cap-eee.

A very personal coping mechanism for me is finding my escape route. The minute I enter somewhere new, I have to locate my easiest escape route in case a panic attack strikes.
It's very rare I have to use this escape route, it's just peace of mind to know it's there.
So if I ever go to the theatre or cinema, I try and sit on the end of an aisle, so I can make as little fuss as possible if a panic attack strikes and I have to leave. Although my recent challenges have been to plonk myself in the middle somewhere (so long as there's people I know on either side of me) and surprisingly, I've been ok with that so far.
At school this was such a bad thing for me I got to be exempt from school assemblies as I couldn't cope with not being in control of where I sat.

So as with most of us with anxiety, hell on earth is being in the middle of a crowd. I will avoid any crowded situation but if I really have to I  try and stay on the outskirts of the crowd.
Getting on the tube in rush hour is my worst nightmare, in fact, I just can't cope with it. I always end up being stupidly early to places (when I say early...I mean like, 3 hours early...) because I can't cope with getting on the tube at a crowded time. I would always try and stay on the end nearest the door, but me being 5 foot 2 and weighing very little, it's far to easy to be pushed into the middle where I can't get out or have people blocking me into a corner with nowhere to move.
This is something I need to gradually challenge myself too as it's not useful to avoid these situations, but that's an aim for sometime in the future.

Last but not least, resting.
Panic attacks are exhausting. They take so much concentration to control them, and so you've always got to be on the ball. I get very overly tired trying to fight off my daily panic attacks, and with the combination of that and the medication I take to control them (one of the most common symptoms being drowsiness), I could easily sleep for 12 hours or more every night if I had the time to do that.
So resting is so so sooooooo, important. Take time to yourself to relax. Know your limits. Sleep as much as you can. Recharge your batteries whenever you can.
If you have a busy week - power naps are a God send! If I'm tired, you can quite often find me in the corner taking 5 minutes to shut my eyes. Then I can just snap my eyes open and spring back with twice as much energy as usual.
So rest, rest, rest and rest! Don't push yourself and look after yourself. Allow yourself to be tired, it is exhausting.

So that's a quick round up of my main coping mechanisms.
I hope this has helped someone out there, and feel free to share your coping mechanisms with me too!

Still looking for guest bloggers with all kinds of mental illness - so please get in touch!

Until next week,
Suzy x
Twitter - @letstalkmhealth
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