When I was in the 1st or 2nd grade I remember sitting in class crying as a thunderstorm raged outside. When the teacher realized I was upset she asked me what was wrong. I explained that I was afraid of being struck by lightening while walking home. She assured me I would be fine and gave me the advice to avoid puddles. Thankfully, the rain stopped by the time school let out that day.
That is my first memory of feeling anxious about storms. Since then my anxiety has only grown to encompass even a light rainfall.
I didn’t always feel this way, in fact one of my fondest memories is when I was about 4-years-old watching the rain fall on the road and thinking that the tiny droplets of water splashing down looked like dancers.
Being a self-analytical person I have tried to understand my reaction to precipitation but have come up with only a string of unrelated events. Perhaps it is my naturally worrisome disposition that has created my anxiety because it seems the more I know the more panicked I become. My daughter explained this as classic conditioning, a response the body has to a stimuli due to a past experience.
Whatever the cause, what I do know is that I have no choice but to keep going despite my desire to just hide under a blanket until the storm passes. Here are a few tricks I utilize when these panic attacks threaten to overwhelm me.
1. Deep breath. It all starts with keeping my breathing steady. Focusing on breathing steadily and evenly is also a great distraction for the mind while helping the body to relax.
2. Distract the brain. Instead of focusing on the rain I will start reciting vocabulary words, song lyrics, or story ideas…anything to divert the attention of my mind. This usually works and can even help put me to sleep if the attack occurs at night.
3. Find a comfort object. I have discovered that a textured item such as a palm sized squishy animal works best for me. I can not only squeeze it during intense moments of stress but the texture helps distract my brain. During really bad moments a bigger object such as a pillow or stuffed animal may be needed. Recently I received a weighted blanket to provide a sense of comfort and calm even. Find what works for you and then keep it near by if possible. I have comfort objects everywhere, in my purse, vehicle, bedroom…because you never know when the attack will come on.
4. Talk about it. This is actually a bit more difficult than it sounds because opening up while feeling anxious makes your already vulnerable position even more exposed. However, I have found that I always feel better if I can have somebody talk to me while going through it as they can distract me as well as lend comfort.
5. Get help. Sometimes all our homeopathic and Zen practices are just not enough and that’s okay. Don’t be ashamed or afraid to talk to your doctor. Not all anti-anxiety meds make you a zombie. Talk it over with your caregiver to see what is the best fit for you.
Overall, it is trial and error to see what helps you but it is worth exploring. It is also very important to know that just because you have anxiety it does not mean you are “weak” or “broken.” It just means you process things differently, some of that may be due to past experiences, some may be due to basic fear, no matter what the cause, there is no shame in it.
I know I usually feel silly when I’m crying in my bed over a bit of rain, after all, I’m an adult, but at the end of the day my feelings and emotions are real to me and thus my fear is real. I don’t need anybody else to understand it or validate it, but a bit of empathy goes a long ways. I get frustrated with my panic attacks, angry even, but I have also learned to be gentle with myself and forgiving.
If you need to talk about your anxiety or have ways that you cope with it, please share in the comments below. You never know who may be helped by your words.
Here are some links to other resources that may help.
How to Cope with Anxiety
How to Deal with Anxiety: Crisis Text Line