3 Dorky Methods I Use to Prevent Tweaker-Style Anxiety Attacks

Just think of a bunch of little puppies, playing.

May 24, 2013 at 1:00pm | Leave a comment

I like to say that I'm laid back, and I've heard a few other people say that I'm laid back, but the truth is that I'm kind of a head case. I don't stress over lots of things, like the length of my skirt, or being on time, or if we're splitting our bill at dinner even-steven, or paying for our fair share? (Either we're splitting it evenly, or I'm throwing down my card and looking up at the ceiling. I hate that shit.) 

Anyone who knows me, like REALLY knows me, knows that I can be a total tweaker. My mind gets flooded with, "What if?"s And once it starts, I have a tough time stopping it.

One time, I freaked en route to a lovely spa on Great Jones Street, aptly named Great Jones Spa, 'cause the subway wasn't coming, and what if it never came, and the staff of the spa hated me, or shunned me, or told me to get lost? 

Or what if the subway came eventually, I got on, and got mugged or killed? 

Then I got on the subway, went to the spa, had a massage, with my mind screaming WHAT IF [THIS AND THAT AND THIS AND THAT]? the whole entire time and I basically wasted a whole lot of money.

(Better or worse or equally eye-roll-inducing/snobby than the panic attack I had while getting a gel manicure at a nail salon near my work? I ended up doing shots by myself at a nearby pub -- during one of my many weeks I had an agreement with my therapist to temporarily stop drinking. The warmth of whiskey washed over my body, calmed me, I started breathing normally, and then I thought I should probably get some help. Next week I was off to rehab, heyyyy.) 

So I've gotten some help, and on top of all those familiar tactics we've heard of to reduce stress like exercising and getting massages(?) I've added all of these kind of embarrassing methods to my daily routine to prevent unprecedented freak outs. 

And it's funny 'cause, yes, of course, I've been getting those, "Wow, you over-share," comments from many real-live people in my life since writing for XO. But it's like, I don't really care that you know I queefed during hot yoga, or got constipated after taking opiates, or a DJ came in my eye.

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Not cool.

FINALLY, though, I really DO care about people knowing I do these things. Because I want to be cool. And I'm really just a big dork. Let's do this. 

1) I SET ALARMS IN MY PHONE REMINDING ME TO BREATHE

Fun story time: When I was on my way to meet Emily and Jane at xoHQ for the first time, I was FREAKING OUT. Lots of my friends knew about the meeting, since, remember, I share everything.

As I walked down 5th ave, I got three texts from individual friends:

"Breathe."

"Just breathe."

"Remember to breathe!"

My first instinct was to say, "Fuck you, friends! I know how to breathe, dammit." And then I actually started focusing on inhaling and exhaling. I felt calmer. And it worked. (Yet, I still did bounce around excitedly in Jane's office and probably talked really fast and made bad jokes.) 

Now, instead of relying on my friends to send me texts, I set alarms in my phone that just say: breathe. 

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I started with one, and upped it to two times a day. (Mid-morning and late afternoon are key stress times for me.) When it chimes, I take a 4-second inhale and a 7-second exhale. It forces me to intercept whatever I'm doing with a calming breath, and to reset my system a little.

2) WHEN I WANT TO SNAP, I THINK ABOUT LOTS OF PUPPIES, PLAYING

The first week I got back from treatment, I went to an 18-and-over show, which was probably a HORRIBLE idea. First, the lead singer in one of the opening bands was the biggest douche imaginable. (When they finished the set, he said, "You're welcome," and sneered. They sucked!) Plus, all these 19-year-old were on a whole lot of drugs around me.

You know how once you do drugs a bunch, you develop the best drug radar? You're able to look around and think, "She's on molly." "He's been blowing coke." "He's just a sloppy drunk." "She's on A LOT OF MOLLY." There was a lot of that happening in my head that night.

These young, baby girls behind my friends and me were drunk and stoned and leaning on us. Even though there was plenty of room! (They were just messed up and couldn't stand up straight.)

"ARE YOU FUCKED UP OR ARE YOU JUST A [expletive I'd rather NOT share here]?" vibrated on the tip of my tongue. I inhaled and thought about puppies. Just a bunch of puppies, playing. I felt happy, and no longer wanted to punch someone in the face, or destroy their self esteem with my words. 

3) I ENVISION ELLE WOODS FROM "LEGALLY BLONDE" IN THAT SCENE WHERE SHE WINS THE COURT CASE AND IS LIKE, "YES!"

OK, stay with me: My therapist says, "Close your eyes, and envision a time you felt accomplished and successful." Or something like that. I always flashback to this time I won an award for a play I wrote, and I went up on stage to get it. The problem with that memory? I was super high!

When the announcer called my name, my friend hit me in the arm, and was like, "Jesus, Caitlin! Go up there!" So I wasn't feeling authentic feelings, I guess. It's not like I feel bad about that time, but I'd rather not envision that particular moment.

So instead, my therapist asks me to think of a scene in a movie when a female character accomplishes something major and feels really good and successful. And I think of that scene in "Legally Blonde" when Elle Woods wins the court case defending Brooke Taylor-Windham by getting that girl from "Freaks and Geeks" to confess that she murdered her father! Man, I love that movie.

Wait, what just happened? OK, well. Um. Whatever! Envisioning that scene makes me feel so strong and ready to slay some shit! I close my eyes and play it through my head, and try to feel the thoughts Elle felt, when I'm going into a high-stress situation, like a JOB INTERVIEW. (Who out in L.A. is going to hire me, by the way? Hi.)

How do you prevent unwarranted freak outs? Someone go get my Klonopin. 

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