Yesterday was rough. Sam texted me (as he usually does throughout the day) to let me know he was okay, but he was having a panic attack. This one was more severe than others because of how drained he was after. I felt helpless as he texted me about his state: he was sweating through his shirt, he was shaking, he was afraid to drive (but thankfully was with a colleague who could get him back to the VA), and he was just trying to be in the present, stay focused on the good, calm his heart rate and also get to a level where he could try to relax.
How do we reduce anxiety? How do we work through panic attacks? Honestly, I don’t know. We try a lot of techniques, tips, remedies, and sometimes they work, sometimes they don’t. Each panic attack is totally different from the one before, but there’s usually one element that remains the same: heart rate goes up. For Sam, it is all about trying to become grounded.
Things we have learned about anxiety and those dreaded panic attacks:
1. Stay in the present moment. There’s no rule that says you have to be doing a million things at once. However, most days we may feel like we are doing just that, a million things at once. Our house is busy, our lives our busy, our jobs…well, they demand a lot of us. We can’t worry about things that haven’t even happened yet, so staying in the present is key.
2. Avoid analyzing the situation. If you know my husband, you know this is a challenge for him. It seems that if we start to analyze every single thing and every single situation we create an imaginary outcome, and that’s just not good for any of us. I’m going to keep telling myself “read number 1 again” when I start to stress or think of all the solutions.
3. We have to accept that there’s only so much that can be done. Boy, is this a hard one. I know I can’t control everything, I can’t go back in time and change things, but I have to be focused and in the present for myself, for Sam, and for the kids. I always say “there aren’t enough hours in the day.” Yep. Because I try to do all the things. My body lets me know when I need to slow down and at times I ignore those “warning signs” and try to push through. That is not good for anyone, especially myself. Slow down. Take time to do what you can, and try not to worry about all the things.
4. Find beauty in every moment, even the hard and horrible ones. The upside of the panic attack (if there is one) is that Sam can go to a “happy place” in order to try and calm himself down. He can find music that can soothe him, he can love on Memphis. I was so proud that Memphis sensed, picked up, and knew something was off with his favorite human. Memphis can help Sam return to the present. I think that’s beautiful. Sam can focus on something else, try and slow his mind down (because it races all the time with all the thoughts), and he can go back to number 1, staying in the present moment.
I don’t have the answers. I feel helpless at times. I know that Sam’s job is a major trigger, and I know there’s anxiety he faces in every single day. But…I do know that practicing mindfulness and trying to reduce the anxiety when we can is incredibly helpful to us.
I read a quote that always pops up in my mind when I get a message or call from Sam about a panic attack. “Anxiety happens when you think you have to figure out everything all at once. Breathe. You are strong. You got this. Take it day by day.”
So that’s just what we try to do. Take life day by day.