The first time members of my local in home crisis therapy team visited me after my suicidal breakdown three months ago, they told me I’d need to find ways of coping with the physical symptoms of my anxiety.
‘If you can work to neutralise the physical manifestations of your mental illness, you’ll be surprised at how much easier it is to handle panic attacks or episodes.’
Coping skills. Physical manifestations. Episodes. My mind was in such a damaged state, I felt like I was only capable of processing buzzwords.
‘I’ve been this way for so long,’ I explained to the team. ‘It just doesn’t feel like anything will help me stop feeling these feelings.’
‘Okay, but have you ever really tried coping skills before?’
The answer was no, but I had nothing to lose by letting them try to teach me some. The first technique I learned were breathing exercises.
‘When you experience a panic attack, what are some physical things you feel?’
‘My heartbeat races, and I can’t catch my breath, and I feel really dizzy.’
‘Okay, so a way to handle this is to breathe through it. Find a private spot if you can, sit down if you’re able, close your eyes and breathe. Breathe deeply and evenly in through your nose and out through your mouth. Do this for about 30 seconds, and repeat if you don’t feel centered yet.’
About a month later, I got a phone call from a really volatile figure in my life that sent me into a spiral. I sat in the car, which was the only immediately available ‘secluded’ space, holding my husband’s hand and put the breathing exercise into action to calm down. I probably had to repeat the process four or five times before I finally felt my chest unclenching, but eventually it actually worked!
Another exercise they told me to try was holding ice cubes in my hands. I’m not going to lie. This sounded absolutely ridiculous… but then I tried it. When you hold ice cubes in your hands, it’s nearly impossible to focus on anything other than how badly you want to let go of them. This is actually one of the better techniques I’ve been taught when it comes to battling my anxiety.
After a few weeks, I began looking up different resources to help me moderate my condition. I found an app called Meetup, which connects you to literally thousands of different groups for different interests, ethnic groups, religions, and even mental illnesses. I linked up with a depression and anxiety group that has daily meet ups for lunch dates, movie theatre trips, and even a boxing class to help relieve pent up frustration.
But on the other hand, not all of the techniques have been 100% winners. Things like meditation and going for a walk don’t get me out of my head enough to help me overcome my bad moments. Nor does reading a book, or trying to do chores. This isn’t to say that these things won’t work for anybody, just that I’ve not found them distracting enough to be considered beneficial.
The whole process is a series of trial and error. Finding what works for you and what doesn’t. That exact sequence is unique to each person, and change isn’t going to happen overnight. It may not even be consistent. I still have a lot of low days, but with the help of these techniques, the medical professionals, and my family they’re immensely easier to cope with.