3 Strategies that helped me manage my anxiety and get on with life
What’s my story?
I was born with a congenital heart defect (CHD) called Tetralogy of Fallot (TOF). They fixed me at age 5, but according to recent studies, the surgical repair should be done between 3 to 11 months.
That means I lived 5 years with a heart that had 4 defects. One of the symptoms is “TET spells”. Blue skin, nails, and lips because of the drop of oxygen after crying or feeding. Also called cyanosis.
My parents divorced when I was about 9 years old and we had to move. My father was an alcoholic and on occasion, he would beat my mother.
I had trouble in primary school. Mostly connected to my heart issues and one of them was trouble keeping in my pee. Some difficulty adapting to a new school in a new city and so on.
I joined the Police force in South Africa. This was 1989 and just before Nelson Mandela was released.
Anxiety free until then
Until the age of about 22, I had a few small anxiety attacks, but I overcome them, and I never thought it would be a big issue. I did not even really know what anxiety attacks were.
My heart went into Atrial Fibrillation (AFIB)and I was troubled about my future and if my heart was ok. Would I die instantly at age 22?
Feeling how your heart races to over 200 beats per minute while you just sit messes with your head! You feel life going out of you, it sucks!
Fortunately, my AFIB troubles were mostly sorted out although the doctors were still experimenting with my medication. For the most part, I was very healthy. I was enjoying life as a 22-year-old.
I was hit by the big A
It was about a year after my AFIB trouble that thing started to happen. I struggled to eat. Worried that the food would get stuck in my throat. I exercised less. Then I stopped playing squash. Afraid that my heart would give in.
Getting out of the elevator I felt dizzy. From then I avoided an elevator as much as I could. I could not sleep at night, afraid that I would not wake up the next morning. I listen to my heart constantly! It was exhausting!
The climax came when I was standing in a queue and thought that I was going to faint for no reason. I hyperventilated. All that I could think was that I was going to die.
Thank you for wise doctors
My first thought was to get to a hospital ER. They would defiantly see what the problem with my heart was? The test said I was 100%. Nothing wrong and my heart was fine.
The conversation I had with a female doctor in the ER stays with me. I still hear it. “You had a traumatic incident last year?” she asked. Then she explained how a traumatic incident can cause anxiety attacks, even a year later.
This was just the start of my recovery. Would I rather say my management of Anxiety?
Nothing diminishes anxiety faster than action.
— Walter Anderson
My 3 “management” strategies
Simple but effective. You only get a split second to arrange your thoughts. Gather your thoughts, I call it #thoughtarrest. Sometimes I get it right, other times not so much. Breathing will help if you remember this.
Taking in deep breaths through your nose counting to 5 or 8. Keep it and breathe out for 5 or 8 seconds. I do it a few times. My aim is to change my focus and ultimately my thoughts which are going 100 miles per hour by now.
With this, you can also do the 3 rule or 5,4,3,2,1 exercise.
The 3 rule. Do 3 things with your face then your hands, and then your feet. Repeat it a few times.
Or the 5,4,3,2,1 exercise. Five things you can see. Four things you can feel. Three things you can hear. Two things you can smell and One thing you can taste. There is no hard and fast rule with this one and I usually start with the number 5, but you don’t have to.
The main thing here is the focus. Get your focus away from the fear.
You don’t have to control your thoughts. You just have to stop letting them control you.
— Dan Millman
As soon as I’m not consumed with fear and can start to think relatively normal again I give in. A better explanation is I play out the whole scenario.
For example. Feeling as if I’m going to faint. I do the following thought experiment. I will faint hit my head, people will rush to help me, then I’m alright. Or, I’ll faint make a scene be unconscious, and then I will start to breathe normally again, then I’m alright.
Or I faint, fall, die and that’s that. I am dead. But we are all going to die so let me use the time I have now and enjoy the moment. This may seem extreme but I have used this experiment. I believe in an afterlife with Jesus so dying should not be the worst thing in life.
Realize deeply that the present moment is all you ever have. Make the Now the primary focus of your life. — Eckhart Tolle
Don’t focus on self
My psychologist says that anxiety is mostly an avoidance problem but also a focus problem. Focusing too much on myself makes my world smaller but also keeps my thoughts focused on me.
Concentrate all your thoughts upon the work at hand. The sun’s rays do not burn until brought to a focus. — Alexander Graham Bell
What do I feel, what can happen to me, how will I cope, how will I react, and so forth. This may look as if it contradicts the 3 rule and the 5,4,3,2,1 exercise mentioned above.
The aim of the 3 rule and 5,4,3,2,1 exercise is to stop your thoughts from going in the fear, panic, and anxiety direction. Just trying to arrest your thoughts so that they do not run away.
If I’ve done that and I sort of have control of my thoughts I start to focus on other people and their needs and desires. This works. What can I do for my wife, how can I help my daughter, or what can I do for that guy.
Your energy is now focused on other people and not so much on your fear and anxiety.
I’m not a doctor, psychologist, or psychiatrist. I’m a patient.
This is my experience. Maybe none of these strategies will work for you. What do you have to lose? Try it.