Shortly after I was diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder with Obsessive-Compulsive tendencies (mostly brought on by stress), I joined a group counseling session at Ohio State. I was hesitant at first, but group sessions coupled with a few one-on-one sessions ended up being the reason I was able to break away from my obsessive behaviors. While I was in group, I met about 10 other people who were all over the spectrum of the disorder. One guy was a bit like me, a perfectionist struggling to find balance, and another girl was so sick that she couldn’t get through the 10-week session and went in-patient. There was one girl whose journey really stuck with me though. She was the daughter of an immigrant and her father’s paranoia had developed into a debilitating disorder that affected her life every day. And since life just seems to work that way, she had also developed the disorder. She had it rough- not as bad as some- but far worse than me. Her journey inspired me, especially after learning about her “others-first” personality. One particular event really stuck with me.
Our sessions were held in the same office where all Ohio State mental health services were held. While we were waiting for our session to start one afternoon, another girl was quietly sitting on a bench alone waiting for her appointment. Most everyone in the office was buried in their cellphone, myself included, and almost no one noticed that the girl on that bench was having a panic attack, but the girl from my session noticed. Without hesitation, she took a seat next to her on the bench, and talked her down from her breakdown. I knew how it felt to be in those shoes, feeling that quiet internal panic- I had been experiencing it often at that time- so I watched and listened and learned.
Fast forward over a year later, and I was at a concert with my almost sister-in-law. I was nervous about being there, because I absolutely cannot stand loud noises and big crowds, and we were in “the pit.” We managed to get front row, and became very acquainted with the girls packed in beside us. Just moments after the concert started, people were screaming and pushing and it was ugly. I was severely uncomfortable, but not as uncomfortable as the 16 year old girl standing next to me. She was there with her sister, and began to have a panic attack. Her sister had no idea how to help but I didn’t even bat an eye before I began to walk her through the exact same steps I had witnessed before. I don’t know why I remembered what to say, and only God knows why it worked, but she caught her breath, dried her tears, and thanked me. Her sister thanked me. A memory forever burned in my mind.
I want to share with all of you what I learned while waiting for my group session.
5 Simple Steps to Help Ease Panic Using Your Senses.
- Find something you can see. Look beyond what is right in front of your face. Look into the distance and fix your eyes on something pretty. Maybe a tree, someone you love, or something of your favorite color. Find something that incites a good memory.
- Find something you can hear. What is going on around you? Panic tends to force you into your own head. Make an effort to hear someone else. Music, a stranger’s conversation, or the ringing of a cellphone. Listen to the sound, not the screams inside your head.
- Find something you can touch. Ground yourself as if there is electricity actually coursing through your body. Don’t squeeze. Find comfort in a tender touch, the texture on your fingertips, and the reminder that you are here, in a moment, and you have control of what you feel.
- Find something you can smell. This might seem silly, but it forces you to breathe very deeply. Unless someone recently microwaved their lunch, or you happen to be in a room full of flowers, this one is gonna take effort. Multiple long deep breaths before you can really find something you can smell. Take in the scent, good or bad, and notice that you’re here and breathing. You are alive.
- Bet you thought I was gonna tell you to find something you can taste. Actually the last step is to Find someone you love. If you’ve just had a panic attack, you shouldn’t be alone. Pick up the phone, walk to your neighbor’s, or go find your dog. Find someone who loves you and talk about the weather. If you think no one loves you, you’re wrong. Universal, unconditional love that transcends and persists regardless of circumstance, aka Agape Love, is real. I’ve seen it in my own life, and I know you will experience it in yours.
Never forget, anniething is possible. Let’s fight the good fight- together.
P.s. I’m not a doctor so please don’t take this as medical advice. That would be dumb.