The past couple of years, my long-lost emotional companion, anxiety has reacquainted itself with me. Thankfully, I’ve “only” had a few full-blown panic attacks during my life. The last near-panic occurred during a February blizzard–something I normally enjoy.
I was able to ease out of the extreme anxiety by analyzing what may have caused it. It began as a subtle, garden variety of worry about the weather and its possible consequences. I had absorbed the worry other people had about the threat of severe winter weather. There is also the factor of hype–that is how local radio and television stations repeatedly warn listeners about severe weather. It’s the repetition and the breathless style they employ to warn us that can trigger even the most calm-minded people into panic mode.
Add to the public freak-out, the fact that I live alone in a house with overarching trees in the yard and what 60-miles-an-hour winds can do to trees. Would the roof collapse because of a downed tree? How would I react with the sudden rush of subzero temperatures and snow into the house as I slept?
Well, I would just deal with it.
I remembered the full-blown panic attack that happened in the summer of 1995. I was behind the wheel of my 1986 VW Quantum Sychro, driving towards Minneapolis, Minnesota. I pressed the button to release the cruise control in order to exit the freeway. Nothing happened. The car maintained its speed. The cruise control did not cancel. Shutting off the cruise control did nothing either. Even pressing in the clutch and brake pedals (which are designed to override the cruise control) did nothing. In fact depressing the clutch caused the engine rpms to increase rapidly under no-load conditions–the sudden engine roar and high tachometer indication helped spike my anxiety.
This is not a condition for a car to have in an urban driving situation. I acutely felt the adrenaline rush and the onset of severe anxiety. As a last resort, I slammed my palm onto the steering wheel. Instantly, the engine rpms decreased and the car began slowing down. Unfortunately, the car had long since passed by the correct exit. The car was in an unfamiliar part of the city. Somehow, I found a city park with a lake. There, I decompressed and took a walk.
Ironically, the memory of the malfunctioning cruise control calmed my blizzard anxiety. I was able to relax in my favorite chair and enjoy watching the severe storm develop.
In my totally non-professional opinion, the reason the cruise control memory calmed the near panic attack about the blizzard is knowing that I’ve handled frightening, dangerous situations before, so the blizzard should be no different. Because, I love winter and have previously experienced several blizzards, the latest blizzard should be a piece of cake. This is related to the pithy saying, “Feel the fear and do it anyway”. When we run away from our aversions, we become weaker.
One of the beautiful rewards of tackling intense anxiety head-on is the feeling of sublime calm, afterwards.
As a disclaimer, these situations are only my personal experiences. These should not be taken as psychological advise. If you experience extreme anxiety or panic, it’s best to seek professional, medical attention.
The Blue Jay of Happiness quotes novelist Graham Greene. “Writing is a form of therapy; sometimes I wonder how all those who do not write, compose, or paint can manage to escape the madness, melancholia, the panic, and fear which is inherent in a human situation.”