October is here — That means the changing of seasons is in full swing and that it’s Breast Cancer Awareness month, which means we shine an even brighter light on the fight against life-changing diseases and learn to open up about our own challenges. Victims of any disease, whether physical or mental, are brave and courageous to stand up and push back, tell their stories and come face to face with some of the darkest moments they have ever been through in life. It’s a different journey for all of us, for sure. In honor of this month, Stage is turning October into Pink October in recognition of Breast Cancer Awareness Month and they will be helping to raise money for the Breast Cancer Research Foundation (BCRF) by hosting activations and give back initiatives. I wanted to write this post and challenge myself to open up and share a little of my journey with panic and anxiety. I want to turn my dark moments (that I’ve never talked about) into something helpful and positive and share 5 ways that I deal with anxiety when it rears it’s (very) ugly head!
+ Talk About It
When I was a child, I went through various periods (around age 9 – 11yo) where I began having panic and anxiety, triggered at night. I used to call my mother up to my room after I had gone to bed and I would tell her how my heart was racing and that I thought I was going to die. I would hyperventilate, close my eyes tight and hold on to her while she tried to calm me down. It was so terrifying, especially for a little kid who had no clue what panic and anxiety was and was too young to understand that the origin of the problem was what was going on in her family life. I remember night after night, if I would relax my arms on my chest, I would feel panicked because that’s how I imagined people would lay in their coffins. I would be able to feel my heart beating and become scared that I might feel it stop if I left my hand over it any longer. I would quickly fling them off and find another way to settle into my body for sleep, try and calm my racing thoughts. It was so heavy and I can’t even write about it easily. This was my first rodeo with panic and anxiety. One of the things that used to calm me down (and still does today), was talking about it with someone. At the time, my mother was my go-to because I was a kid and she was (and is) a safe place. Nowadays, when I feel vulnerable and on edge, I tell my husband and closest friends straight away. Definitely surround yourself with patient and understanding people because it’s important you’re supported through the darkness rather than having people treat it like a “no big deal, you’re overreacting” thing. Someone inside an anxiety attack is really there. They can’t easily (or at all) control how they are perceiving things. Their feelings and thoughts are distorted by the overwhelming feeling of anxious and nervous energy. It’s hard enough to be in that place, so having some solid go-to people you can trust and depend on, is key. Even if you can’t express exactly what it is you are anxious about, you can always just let people know you’re going through a panic or anxiety attack. That’s a good place to start. You’ll often be surprised how others will open up to you about how they’ve had these kinds of moments too and you’ll feel less alone.
One of the most important resources I use when I’m anxious is creativity. The body and brain are somewhere so foreign when you are in such a state of mind that often grabbing my guitar and playing, writing a song, journalling, crocheting (yes, this really blocks out the world!) helps me to distract and flow through the rollercoaster feelings of fear, disorientation and loneliness. I visualize my anxiety and panic as extra energy flowing through my body and mind that needs a channel to escape out of. It needs to be a healthy channeling or else all you’ll be doing is sweeping it under the carpet and making it worse for yourself later. When I had an awful year of attacks in 2012 (huge life changes that year), my father told me he has a mantra he repeats to himself when he’s in overdrive, too. I can’t remember what it was now, but mine is saying “it’s OK. you’re OK.” softly and rhythmically to myself. I feel like that helps to control my breathing too as I speak through the two phrases. Let the energy come out as it wants to, I know it can be a terrifying experience but it’s the path to clearing it completely.
+ Search For and Understand Your Triggers
This is such a huge one! Your panic and anxiety is always triggered by something. Once I learned what triggers my attacks (mine is exhaustion and prolonged overstimulation/stress), I began to be able to see it coming on the horizon and avoid them altogether. The attacks I had as a child were all to do with the energy in the family, in the house, what was happening around me that I was subconsciously absorbing but not able to consciously understand. That caused me to feel and manifest it all into panic and anxiety attacks. I came to understand all that, accept and close the chapter when I looked back on it from adulthood. My trigger was night time because that was when I was the most exhausted and the overstimulation of school and unstable home life was able to take over my mind. I went many years without having another period of attacks because I was distracted by my teen years with music, boys, friends, discovering who I was and so on. In 2012, I crashed out of a toxic relationship (think possessiveness, controlling, untrusting partner etc), and began to deal with the aftermath of being exposed to that kind of relationship exhaustion. It wasn’t just the actual break up, but it was also the price to be paid for spending a year (of a 4 year relationship!) tolerating this level of toxicity and intense highs and lows. I paid that price. I fell very ill a month after the break up and was hospitalized for a day or two undergoing tests. I was convinced I had something heavy going on. Turns out, everything came back completely clean. Chest was totally clear despite the worst and most painful cough I’ve ever had. Heart was fine. Blood, fine. My diagnosis was extreme exhaustion. Through 2012, I was touring a very successful DJ single with a lot of all-night travel and club performances, started a new relationship in completely different circumstances, was working through my grieving and closure of the last relationship and healing. I remember my first trip to Asia to play a big festival in Singapore was my lowest moment. My exhaustion was amplified by the insane 8-hour jetlag and I was completely out of it. For a very long time, I couldn’t even think or talk about Singapore without immediately triggering feelings of anxiety. So, I guess 2012 was the first time I had a proper run-in with panic and anxiety as an adult. It was so hard. I felt numb and apathetic yet was hyper sensitive to any emotion. My family were confused, worried and upset. I remember that sleeping was my only relief because I wouldn’t be awake to remember how I felt and how I thought it would never ever end. Seriously, I thought I was losing my mind. I was scared at how out of control and out of body I felt. I had a long talk with Rod (love of my life, hubby, papa of my baby girl, stood by me through it all with love and patience) and he encouraged me to start going to therapy and work through this really dark time.
Therapy changed my life. It was odd at first to talk to a total stranger, tell them who you think you are, your life story, your intimacies and thoughts. I worried she might judge me, think I was crazy and prescribe me some pills right away and that really wasn’t what I wanted to get out of going to therapy in the first place. I wanted to truly get to the bottom of what was causing all this and find out what my triggers are. It was the most healing experience to sit down once a week with her and have that precious hour or two to simply open up about my life. So refreshing. To the point that I can’t believe that we don’t all have a mind-doctor/mentor/coach we trust to sit down once a week and work on ourselves with. It is so important. To this day, I cannot wrap my brain around the stigma there is about seeing a therapist. We have no qualms sharing we’ve got a doctor appointment, that we have a headache, that our back hurts or that somehow we are tending to our physical health. Wake up and smell the coffee: Mental health is a part of physical health and is AS IMPORTANT. I am a strong advocate for therapy and will always be because I see how it absolutely changed me and can totally change the course of someone’s life. And I’m not talking mushy movie cliche therapy, either. I’m talking taking an hour or two out of your week to sit down and look at the whole picture of your life with someone who can help you understand it in another way completely, see things maybe you didn’t see before, keep you on track with goals and vent to about anyone and anything in your life without fear of being judged or told you shouldn’t feel what you feel. I resolved a lot of my aggression problems that I had learned in my last relationship as well as other nasty habits I realized I picked up from some of my parent’s attitudes growing up (I forgive them and love them, of course). I found clarity and came to some really important conclusions about the way I perceive life and my own behaviors. Find the right therapist for you and the money will be the best you ever spend. Don’t let taboos and social opinions get in the way. Some people in my family openly didn’t really see the point, don’t believe “in that kind of stuff” and that’s perfectly OK with me. Other people have their own (often really unhealthy) ways of dealing, fears, mambos and ugly bottled up stuff that they have to contend with. So let them do them and you do you.
+ Let It Run Its Course
I know it’s hard as hell. The amount of energy that traversing a panic or anxiety phase demands is monumental. But surround yourself with the right tools, the right healing energy and I promise it gets easier over time. One of my best friends got stuck in a bad phase of anxiety attacks and I remember feeling awful for her because I knew exactly where she was. I tried relentlessly to help her stay focused on healing, letting it just run out of steam by itself, create distance from the trigger and to surround herself with helpful resources. Sometimes the trigger is something that can be distanced, sometimes you are exposed to it on a daily basis at work or home (you can read more work/life balance here). It’s never easy, but it’s possible to bring it under control and to prevent it eventually. Some other things to try are meditation, Valarium natural root tea or capsules (a good calming plant root I use) and anything that is safe and helps to calm you. This summer, we lost a close family member to a very tragic death and it triggered a week of anxiety and panic attacks for me which I fought off as much as I could using all these tools.
Sharing your stories can be the positive change in both yours and someone else’s life. Someone might read your inspiring battle story and gain great strength from it. It can resonate so much that your words can be all it takes to get someone motivated to address or speak on something they’re going through. Hopefully my personal stories and tips are constructive and positive, that’s all I can hope for!
Hands-on initiatives are happening over at Stage, whether in-store or online. 50% of the sales of “Pink” items go straight to the BCRF. In addition to that, for every hashtag of #ipinkican on Facebook or Instagram this month, Stage will be donating $1 to the Breast Cancer Research Foundation, which is HUGE. You literally just have to hashtag that and you’ll be helping a very important cause. Find out more at Stage.com/IPINKICAN. Let me know your story in the comments below.. have you ever suffered with panic and anxiety attacks? What cause is close to your heart? Thank you guys so much for tuning in and see you over on the ‘Gram!