Yay it’s officially summer! It’s been super hot here in New York, which means beach days and barbecues and bike rides and… crippling anxiety.
Um, yeah. You see, I don’t love the heat (or humidity), and this discomfort has historically been one of my triggers for a potential panic attack.
Not to worry, I have not had a panic attack or even come close, but not because I’ve stayed inside in the air conditioning and avoided all potentially scary situations that might trigger me – because, um, that would suck and make for a very lame summer. Instead, I have learned what my anxiety triggers are and do my best to take care of myself so I can enjoy the sun and fun that summer in NYC has to offer.
Whether you’ve experienced panic attacks like me, or just get a little jittery from time to time, it’s useful to know what might bring it on and take extra good care of yourself when faced with these feelings. So here are mine.
Heat: Feeling like I'm overheating can make me woozy. I’ve learned that if I don’t find a way to cool down at least once a day (e.g. taking a cold shower or sleeping in the AC at night), it can kinda build up. But I don’t avoid situations where I might get hot, I simply plan for them: I wear comfortable and cooling clothes, bring plenty of water, and maybe even a hat. I’ll take breaks in the shade, and make sure to cover my bases with the rest of my triggers…
Hunger: After experiencing debilitating panic attacks years ago, I realized that the feeling of hunger is akin to the feeling of anxiety in my belly. When I feel like I’m starving, I can begin to feel faint and weak and talk myself right into that “I’m not okay” mindset, basically creating my own panic attack. I decided back then that I’d always rather be full than worry about eating too much. I bring snacks with me if I know I’ll be out for a while, and never push myself too hard. Skipping meals doesn’t do anyone any favors; you need to eat, you’re a human.
Crap food: Okay so maybe I should be a little more precise – eating crap food doesn’t make me feel like a million bucks, either. Although at times of discomfort I often want to turn to foods like pizza and ice cream, I know it’s not what my body needs. Science tells us that the foods we eat can affect our moods, so focus on the good stuff. Avoid processed and instead eat whole foods, making sure to get protein to feel strong and energized and FULL.
Caffeine: At the time my panic peaked, I was crushing a four-shot Americano every day. Yup, that’s a gross amount of caffeine. No wonder I was feeling jittery and my heart was racing, only to take an energetic nosedive later. I now avoid the stuff almost completely and feel balanced throughout the day.
Sugar: I know I recently went on a rant about sugar, but I really can’t say it enough: it is the worst. THE WORST. It hides in everything from cereals to breads to pasta sauce, and it causes a similar spike and crash like coffee. It messes with our insulin levels and leaves us feeling tired and bummed out. This is not the pick-me-up you need when you’re feeling a little off to begin with.
Alcohol: I know, I know, you think it relaxes you. Well, alcohol is a depressant, and while it might feel pretty nice at first, that aftermath can leave you feeling pretty low. My biggest and scariest panic attack ever came in the middle of a terrible hangover; in fact, for a while I thought it was just the weirdest hangover I’d ever had. A few drinks are fine, just try to avoid the hangover. (sidenote: other, um, “substances,” that you think relax you might actually be contributing to your anxiety as well.)
Sleep: Always, always, always get enough sleep. Please. All systems are basically down for the count when you haven’t been getting your beauty rest. I notice I feel hungrier when I’m tired (see note about hunger above), and tend to want to eat crap (again, see above), and just generally feel weak and not-so-confident.
It’s no coincidence that the ways to reduce anxiety are also the ways to just take good care of yourself in general. And while anxiety can go much deeper than these triggers, I find that as long as I’m feeling healthy and strong, I can pretty much tell myself I’m okay if any of those old familiar feelings start to crop up, and that’s really what it comes down to: mindset. You can always control your mind; so don’t let these triggers lead you right into a self-fulfilling prophecy, either.
Just this week I faced a potentially triggering situation, where I had only gotten one hour of sleep, barely ate, and took the subway at 3:30am into Times Square to do yoga with a bunch of strangers. I caught myself checking in: Am I okay? I’m tired and hungry and I’ll be in the middle of the city and far from home and nobody there knows me and will know how to take care of me if anything happens! I realized I could sit there and talk myself right into a panic attack, imagining the scene where I become stuck to my yoga mat in the middle of Times Square and totally ruin this awesome experience for myself, or I could imagine the opposite: a strong, albeit tired, version of myself, rockin out some yoga in one of the most iconic places on earth. I chose the latter, and as soon as I stopped focusing on it those jittery feelings subsided.
What makes you feel shaky or uncomfortable? How can you avoid those feelings, without avoiding life?
If you struggle with anxiety and would like some support, I’d love to chat! Hit me up for a 30-min discovery call to discuss your triggers and how working together might help you relieve your anxiety once and for all.
Find this post helpful or know someone who would? I’d love it if you’d share it using that ‘share’ button below!