It’s 4:38am, and I’m currently awake, experiencing what medical people would call a “nocturnal panic attack.” I don’t know what they are, where they come from, or why their onset is so random.
What I do know, however, is that I’m exhausted.
Have you ever woken up in a cold sweat, feeling like the world is crashing down around you or like you’re about to die? It seems dramatic, I know, but in the moment, the fear feels so real.
These vicious attacks used to last for hours, but through therapy and practice, I’ve managed to get the duration down to just a few minutes. The only thing I haven’t learned how to do is recover.
Bringing myself out of the panic and anxiety is the easy part. What I haven’t yet mastered is alleviating the symptoms of what I might call an “anxiety hangover,” or the period of time in which the body exhibits a set of symptoms in response to the hormone changes during an anxiety attack. Thought I’ve never had an actual hangover before, this is what I imagine them to feel like.
After spending a few minutes hyperventilating while everyone else is peacefully asleep (LOL), I go into ‘hangover’ mode. Chills, hot flashes, and trouble falling back asleep in fear that I might wake up in a panic again. I’ve tried laying in bed and hoping to fall back asleep. I’ve tried getting up and reading a book. I’ve even tried to drink warm milk, which was a terrible idea…0/10 recommend.
The hangover doesn’t stop there. Since I spent the entire night obsessing over whether or not to go back to sleep, I’ve ironically kept myself awake. Now it’s 7am, and I’ve got to take on the day with only 3-5 hours of sleep.
I’m still nauseous, shaky, and an overall wreck from the night before. I can’t even stomach the thought of trying to eat something, so I skip breakfast and sometimes lunch and dinner too. I barely make it through the day, but once I do, I just want to go home, shower and crash. Because of the physical and emotional turmoil that my body has endured that day, it doesn’t take long for me to fall asleep. And usually the next morning, I feel completely normal.
These episodes don’t happen as often as they used to, and I think I can attribute it to some minor lifestyle changes that I’ve made.
Firstly, I’ve worked diligently to identify the triggers of said anxiety attacks. I’ve realized that they happen more frequently when I go to sleep with my OCD on my mind. If I don’t confront the thoughts that I had before I went to sleep, I’m most likely going to wake up at wee hours of the morning in a tizzy. Learning to deal with my disturbing thoughts upfront–especially before bedtime–has greatly decreased the amount of sleep lost to these attacks. Some ways that I’ve found helpful in confronting my thoughts is to write about them. I write about how I’m feeling at the moment, and why I think I’m feeling that way. I make sure that I’m writing freely, not leaving anything out no matter how insane or irrational it sounds. No one’s gonna read it anyway, so don’t hold back. Your brain will thank you.
Secondly, I’ve cut back on my sweet tea consumption. As a true Southerner, I have had a sweet tea addiction since childhood. But as we know, sweet tea contains a lot of caffeine. And we also know that caffeine is a stimulant! Believe it or not, sweet tea was my alcohol. What I would turn to in order to feel calm. I don’t think it was an intentional thing, but as I think more about it, I’ve realized that sweet tea was a coping mechanism. Weird, right? So instead of reaching for a glass of sweet tea, I reach for some good ole water. Not only is my system flushed, but I don’t feel as jittery before bed because I haven’t had so much caffeine.
Lastly, I’ve kept myself busy throughout the day doing things that make me happy. For instance, I absolutely love being outside and getting fresh air. So when I have work to do, instead of sitting in my room, I’ll go to a place that where I can sit outside. One of my favorite places to go is Starbucks. They have free wifi, outside seating, and mango passionfruit refreshers. I get comfortable, and spend a few hours soaking up the sun while simultaneously getting my work done. By the time I’m done, I’m so mentally exhausted that I don’t have the energy to even think negatively. Of course I have other ways to spend my time, but this one is particularly popular nowadays since I’m back in school.
When it comes to self-care and recognizing my triggers, I’ve certainly come a long way. When it comes to coping during the attacks, I’ve come an even longer way. I no longer let myself spiral down to a point of no return. However, I’m still working to cope with the after effects of the attacks. No matter how long or short of a time I let the anxiety consume me, I still feel drained afterwards.
If you’ve ever had an experience like this, comment below. If you have any suggestions on how you cope with the aftermath, also comment below. We help each other, always.
Welp, it’s almost 6am, so I’m going to attempt to get some sleep. Until next time, loves.
Hugs and kisses,