I have been living with anxiety ever since I very suddenly lost a baby late in pregnancy a few years ago. I am doing better now than when it first happened, but I still suffer from bouts of extreme anxiety, and I don’t always know what is going to trigger them.
The best way I can describe what an anxiety attack feels like for me is abruptly experiencing the sensation that my feet are no longer planted firmly on the ground and instead I’m floating away and my body has gone numb. It can be hard to breath. I often feel as if I can’t focus on what is happening around me. If another person is talking to me, their words become background noise. I become disoriented, overpowered by this one idea: “This is not my life.”
Living with anxiety has been extremely challenging, and I definitely don’t have it all figured out. It’s also not always possible to pull myself out of my fog right away, but I have developed a trick that helps me regain control of my feelings in most situations. It’s all about checking in with each of my senses and doing my best to feel present.
I focus on feeling my feet on the ground. Sometimes I’ll even stomp to convince myself I am supported by the sidewalk, the floor, the grass, or whatever surface I happen to be standing on.
The first thing I do is try to stop that feeling that I’m floating and instead focus on feeling my feet firm on the ground. Sometimes I’ll even stomp to convince myself I am supported by the sidewalk, the floor, the grass, or whatever surface I happen to be standing on. Paying attention to all of my senses helps. I’ll force myself to hear, see, smell, and feel whatever is around me. I make a conscious effort to feel the breeze on my skin. I smell flowers. I hear traffic going by or my dog barking. I notice the heat of the sun on my neck, the birds chirping, that there’s music playing in a store. Perhaps my hand is in contact with someone else’s, like my daughter’s and I squeeze her hand. Maybe I can lean up against a wall or touch a tree trunk. If nothing else, I’ll tighten my abdominal muscles to regain the sensation of being in my own body.
Next, I key into my breath. I listen to it go in and then out — in and out, slowly, in and out; one breath at a time. The goal of keying into my body and breath is to draw myself back into the present moment instead of letting my thoughts spin out of control. Usually, after this exercise, I am able to calm down at least enough to think more clearly and make a decision about what to do next.
I practice this mindfulness technique many times each day. If I had an upsetting thought on the way to school drop-off or one of my children asked me a tough question about our loss or if I saw something that triggered a difficult memory. Calling on my little trick is practically involuntary at this point, and I’m glad I have a technique that eases the anxiety and prevents it from freezing me on the spot. I hope trying it out can help you or someone you know who suffers from anxiety.