Story time! A few days ago my car broke down in the middle of the left turning lane at a light near where I work. During the lunch rush. Bless. I am incredibly ill equipped to handle situations such as this. I automatically get overwhelmed and I shut down… and cry. Not cute tears either. BIG UGLY tears. The kind where it makes your body shake, and speaking coherent words is a no-go. So the car just shuts off in the turning lane, on my way to the Fresh Market to buy cheap chicken, and I immediately turn into a puddle in my car. I try to turn it on over and over. I let it sit for a minute, then try again. STILL NOTHING. At this point I’m in full on panic attack mode. A kind and well meaning woman comes up to the side of my car and asks, “Is it not starting?” I told her no, that it would just not start, it shut off on it’s own and we just replaced the battery, and I have no idea what it could be. She tried to coax me out of the car, but it wasn’t happening. I called Steve and through tears managed to tell him that the car turned off in the middle of a turning lane and I didn’t know what to do. He told me to call Allstate Roadside Assistance. So I did. And they told me, “Sorry ma’am, you’re not on the policy.” More tears follow. “What do you mean? This is his car, shouldn’t the policy cover his car?” “No ma’am, it covers him, no matter what car he is driving.” More tears. Finally she communicated to me that I could be added to the policy, she just had to call Steven to verify that it was ok with him. She did that, and by this time a police officer had shown up, only adding to my anxiety. Finally a tow truck is ordered, about 20-30 minutes later it shows up and brings me where I thought would be best. Well, it wasn’t really where it needed to be so then I waited for 3 more hours for the next tow truck. Now poor Winslow the car is in the shop awaiting his new distributor.
Needless to say, it was a very long and mentally/emotionally exhausting day. I think the main part that created the anxiety was this feeling of helplessness. I felt stuck, I felt in the way, and I didn’t know how to get out of it. I was in unknown territory and my brain/emotions did not know how to handle themselves. Thus all the tears. I literally cried to six people. SIX. Bless. Luckily I was going to counseling that night and Whitney shed some light on my predicament, and gave me some tools for the next time I experience something like that. She told me the goal is not to never hit “ten” on the panic meter, but instead it’s to know how to get myself down from that high place. That made a lot of sense to me, and today I was able to test out some of the tips we had gone over so I know that they can be helpful. Actively taking your thoughts captive and replacing them with reality actually works. Who knew??!!
Have you ever experienced that kind of panic? The kind that shuts you down and paralyzes you from making the moves that need to be made? I feel like I can’t be alone here, and because I know that knowledge is power I thought I would share some of these handy dandy tools with you.
Identify the emotion you are feeling, or what words you are using to describe yourself. For me I felt helpless and in people’s way. I felt like I was upsetting people that were trying to go about their lunch break without getting stuck behind a broken car. It’s important to identify this part, because you can’t replace it with anything if you don’t first figure out what exactly you’re replacing.
Ask yourself, “What is the evidence for and against this thought?” For me the evidence for being helpless was that I was stuck in a car that wouldn’t start in the turning lane. The evidence that I was in the way was that I was literally… in people’s way. The evidence against me being helpless is that I had a cell phone to call my husband and roadside assistance, I have a wonderful husband who helped me, and I had roadside assistance to send a tow truck for free. The evidence against me being in the way was that people were easily able to get around me, and even if they were annoyed that was unreasonable of them and not my responsibility.
Ask yourself, “What would I tell a friend with this same situation?” If a friend texted or called me and they were like, “I’M STUCK IN THE MIDDLE OF A TURNING LANE!!! STUCK I SAY!” I would be like, “Friend, you are not stuck, you are not helpless! Let’s call you a tow truck, this happens to people, it’s not your fault but you can do hard things!” In fact, once I had calmed down a little I texted my friend Leigh, and she told me that if I can make it through this I can make it through anything. And then later that night she told me I was a warrior! I felt like a mess, but she told me I was strong. It was my daily reminder that the way I see myself isn’t always reality.
Ask yourself, “What’s the worst that could realistically happen? How bad would that be?” That day, the worst that could happen was that I would get a ticket for obstructing traffic, and I would spend the whole day stranded with my car in various places (which did happen… and I survived.), or the car could be broken beyond a repair that we could afford. If any of those things happened, the world wouldn’t end. It maybe wouldn’t be pleasant but I would (and did) make it through. Sometimes when we are in a state of panic or fear we automatically go to the worst possible thing that could ever happen ever, when the reality is that it probably won’t come to pass. It’s good to live in reality and remind yourself that the situation isn’t usually as bad as it feels!
Ask yourself, “What can I accept about this situation?” My car broke down, that was that and there wasn’t a ton I could do about it. I can’t fix cars… honestly I don’t even know how to check the oil in a car. Bless. So I had to accept the fact that I was stuck with that blessed hunk of junk and all I could do was look to other people to help and make the next right choice. Maybe you are stuck in a bad relationship and you have to accept that it’s not getting better and it’s time to leave. Or you are in a job you don’t love and you have to accept that there is no other option on the horizon and you have to make the best of where you are. When we can acknowledge and accept that which is unchangeable or outside of our control, it’s easier to make peace with it.
Now this list is by no means exhaustive. Whitney gave me a paper from Specialty Behavioral Health and that is where I got the questions from. There are more on the sheet but I didn’t want this post to go on forever. I feel like this is a good starting place for the times when your feelings threaten to overwhelm you. Remember that emotions are just indicators, when you start to feel panic or fear or anger it’s pointing you to something in your life that needs to be addressed. It doesn’t make sense to dismiss or avoid what you are feeling. That’s like ignoring the “service engine” light on your car. If you don’t service the engine… it’s going to stop working. If you don’t acknowledge and address what your emotions are telling you… well you’re probably going to have a breakdown. The above questions can help you work through what you feeling and also bring you back down to reality. I know that it is helping me, so I hope that you will be able to take these questions and use them to help you too!
*just a disclaimer here… I am NOT a counselor or mental health professional. The above is just information that I am finding useful throughout my time in counseling. : )