It was Spring, 2020. I was moving laundry from the washer to the dryer. I was exhausted from another 60-hour work week at a previous employer and adjusting to pandemic life. Lexi, my then 10-year-old daughter, had a soccer game later that day. How was I going to get everyone fed before we had to leave? Was this the game my parents were coming to watch? I couldn't remember. The noise of helicopters flying overhead got increasing louder. My head was pounding, and I felt dizzy. I dropped to the cold, hard white tile floor with my head in my hands. That was the first time I had a panic attack.
Talk about it with others
Initially, I was embarrassed to tell anyone I had a panic attack. Showing grace under pressure is part of my personal brand. If my work colleagues knew I had a panic attack, would I stop getting assigned to big and complex projects? Would my family and friends think I am weak or fragile?
I'm lucky to have a strong group of friends I've known since college, a loving and supportive husband, and a sister who works in the medical industry. They wrapped me in their love. My husband and I identified tasks he could take off my plate, like sharing the responsibility of driving the girls to school and cooking. My sister hooked me up with access to Learn to Live, a site that offers online Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for anxiety, depression, and more. I took a quick quiz and confirmed what I already suspected: anxiety was affecting my life, and I needed better ways of coping.
Tools to manage stress
Three years later, I've learned a lot about how to manage stress, although it can still overwhelm me from time-to-time. When that happens, I use the tools I acquired over the last few years. I find it helpful to shift my focus from what is causing me anxiety to objects in the room as I count backwards while silently naming each object and its color. I also continue to get Mindfulness Moment text messages from Learn to Live. I don't click through the links to learn more like I used to, but I do enjoy reminders and tips like: Expressing gratitude strengths our emotional wellbeing. What are you most thankful for today?
I am thankful that in April, my family went on a much-anticipated vacation to Argentina to attend my step-daughter's wedding and spend quality time with family abroad. It was relaxing, and not just because it was vacation. They way of life in the Argentine countryside is different. Most stores don't open until 10am. Businesses close in the mid-afternoon for siesta. Meals can be hours long. I returned with a renewed commitment to live my life in a way that lets me hold onto the peaceful feeling I had while there.
I'm a work in progress. Between meetings, I try to get outside to spend time in my garden. If the weather is nice, I will take a meeting or two from my back patio. When working from home, I prefer to eat lunch outside. Incorporating fresh air and movement into my day helps my mind and body reset.
I try – not always successfully – to set boundaries in my workday and align my schedule to when I feel my best. If I close my laptop at 6pm, will whatever I am stressing over then feel as important in the morning light? Often, the answer is no. Time away gives me perspective. I have learned I am often at my best in the morning, when my energy is not yet depleted, and can work through things more efficiently.
Living with anxiety has made me realize that nobody has it all under control, and that's OK. What is under my control is the decisions I make to manage stress and allow me to live the life I want to live. My life is full, and I would not have it any other way.