As just a person with experience, and not an expert or professional in the mental health field, here is a breakdown of how I handled my anxiety attacks described in yesterday’s post. Maybe someone else will find these tactics useful.
First, I took myself to a safe place. For me, that means a place that is quiet and where I can be alone so I don’t have to deal with extra stress from feeling exposed or drawing attention to myself.
My thoughts were chaotic of course. I was starting to hyperventilate, so I tried to focus on just one thing – my breathing. And since my attacks were triggered by doubts over my dancing, I also inserted the positive thought of “I’m a good dancer” and repeated that to myself in my head.
Once I started regaining control over my breathing, I made myself think encouraging thoughts. “You are ok, you can do this, you are not alone, you are a good dancer, etc., etc.” My logic is a good tool here because logically, I know I won’t ever be perfect and there is always more to learn, but I have a track record that shows my hard work pays off and I can consistently correct mistakes and improve. And as long as I keep trying, I won’t be a failure. I used thoughts like these to reassure my demons that were triggering the anxiety.
Once the physical attack had passed, the key for me was to move forward, meaning not dwell on the thoughts that triggered the attack to begin with. Before I left the bathroom, I splashed a little cold water on my face and made myself look in the mirror. When the demons are out in full force, it’s difficult for me to make eye contact with anyone, even myself, because my instinct to hide is so strong. So looking in the mirror was an important step before returning to the group class.
The last step for me is always to “get back on the horse.” I did return to group class. I went to the studio the next day for my private lesson. It’s important to get back onto a positive track. The doubts and fears will always be there, so instead of focusing on trying to extinguish them, I focus on the tasks at hand, the things I want to do despite the doubts and fears.
My private lesson started with me explaining to Teacher what happened the night before. He knew I had freaked out, but he didn’t understand what triggered it. Then it was right back into the dancing! Teacher is all about getting back on the horse. We went through all four dances and addressed the triggers from the night before. I left the studio feeling more stable and capable.
The final tip I have to offer is something I still struggle with but is critical: ask for help. Teacher was quick to point out that he could have helped me during group class if I had just let him. Granted, by the time he had told me to wait, the attack was already starting. But if I had said something to him five minutes earlier, instead of keeping it to myself, I might have avoided the breakdown.
Every step of this journey leads me to a new lesson. I’m accustomed to taking care of myself and handling my own issues. It’s difficult for me to accept help, let alone ask for it. I’m still amazed at how much ballroom dancing is teaching me beyond the dance. I’m learning to trust, to give myself a break, to not put so much pressure on myself, AND to ask for help.
Who knows what I’ll learn next?