“The only journey is the one within.” ~Rainer Maria Rilke
Out of nowhere, my heart starts to speed up. I can’t get a deep breath; it feels like I’m slowly suffocating.My throat and chest start to hurt, I suddenly feel weak, and my thoughts race through my mind. A desperate feeling comes over me. I lose control, can’t think straight, and can’t stop shaking. I feel restless and don’t know what to do to feel better. And suddenly, this feeling fades away.
Afterward, I feel a little depressed, confused, and tired. Sometimes I cry; sometimes I just sit on the side of my bed, staring right in front of me. I may not fully understand why I just went through this, but I know it was an anxiety attack.
I’ve had anxiety attacks for as long as I can remember. Sometimes I’m pretty sure why they happen (lots of stress, an argument with a family member, or just a bad day); most often I have no idea.
Sometimes there are some warning signs (I feel touchy or overwhelmed or can’t breathe effortlessly), and sometimes it comes out of nowhere. I know it’s not dangerous, so why does it feel like I’m in danger anyway?
I know the theory; something happens, and that makes me scared (often, unconsciously). My body prepares the fight-or-flight response, adrenaline comes in my bloodstream, and that causes symptoms like a rapid heartbeat, shortness of breath, and tingling limbs.
I don’t always recognize those feelings in my body because it often seems like there’s no reason for fear, which confuses me.
After all these years and after countless anxiety attacks, I’ve learned to live with them as best as I can. Surprisingly, my anxiety attacks have been useful for me. Through them, I’ve learned four important lessons.
1. Ask the right questions in life.
When I was younger, I often asked myself why this happened to me. Why did anxiety ruin my life? Why did it make me feel terrible and insecure? Why me? But those questions didn’t really help me. They made me feel vulnerable, insecure, and unsatisfied with my life.
Through the experience of anxiety, I’ve learned to ask helpful questions instead, such as: What can I learn in this situation? How am I going to grow through what happened? What could be my next step? How am I going to cope with my feelings? What can I do to make it better?
These questions gave me direction and prevented me from getting stuck in my anxiety. Asking the right questions has helped me get through a lot of tough situations, like being jobless and dealing with relationship issues.
2. Live in the moment.
Life became unpredictable with all those anxiety attacks. I had so much to think about: Did it all happen because of something in my past? What would my future look like with all these fears? It didn’t make me feel happy, and caused a lot of stress.
I realized I had to live in the moment to feel okay, so I decided to live in the here and now. Yoga and deep breathing helped me focus on the present so I was less likely to dwell on the past or worry about the future.
I learned to enjoy the good moments and get through the bad ones as best I could without making them worse with my thinking.
3. What’s really important?
Anxiety attacks take a lot of energy, and often I felt tired afterward, so I had to carefully manage my energy. That brought me to the question: What’s really important in life?
There were a few things that were important to me, such as spending time with my good friends and my pets, practicing yoga, and playing sports. They gave me energy, lifted me up, and made me happy, so I prioritized these.
I also moved away from draining people and activities. The friend who always complained about everyone and everything is no longer part of my life. And I’m fine with that.
4. Believe in yourself.
My anxiety attacks made me feel insecure. I never felt like I was good enough or able to do simple things, like go out with friends or work in a foreign country. It took some time and therapy, but I started to see possibilities and worked hard to improve my self-confidence.
Last year I took the step to go to France for a few months, and yes, I had some anxiety attacks. But I did it anyway and I had a great time. You can do so much more than you think if you believe in yourself.
I always thought anxiety kept me from reaching my goals and living a great life. I now realize it was me. I cried a lot of tears, but kept on fighting and gave myself countless chances to grow and develop.
There are still times when my heart starts to speed up out of nowhere, but I know how to handle it now. My life is more than just fear. And yours is too.