It feels like a long lonely road when you have anxiety and experience panic attacks. You constantly isolate yourself in fear of becoming too anxious and having a panic attack in front of others. So you withdraw from people and try to steer clear of family parties, social gatherings, shopping trips with your friends etc.
It’s probably hard to imagine how on earth someone can enable their children to have a full social life and enjoy after-school activities when their mum is so anxious and suffers from panic attacks on a regular basis.
Well, I’m living proof that you can! It takes 100% more effort than it does for someone who does not experience this heightened level of stress on a daily basis – but if I can do it – then anyone can.
My children have a full schedule of after-school activities that require me to take them to and watch them, leaving plenty of time for other parents to invade my personal space and try to engage in several conversations with me. Usually when I really don’t feel like talking!
I have to take them to football, beavers, swimming lessons, rugby and then there’s the activities and assembly at school, parents coffee and chat (this proves to be the most fearful for me), children's parties to name but a few.
If you follow these steps you will be able to take your children to enjoy these types of activities so that you don’t feel guilty or as though you are failing your children.
To prevent heightened anxiety and panic attacks:
Have a plan in place
Before you even leave the house, you should have a plan: how long you will be out of the house for? How long you will stay at the event? And a backup plan, in case you feel overly anxious while you're there.
Take someone with you
This should be someone you feel very comfortable with, someone that makes you feel at ease. For me, this is either my partner, my sister or my mum. Plan who will be coming with you beforehand; use them as your “comfort blanket” to help you feel relaxed while at the children’s activity.
Take a book
If you go to the act alone, take a book to read. This is calming, as you find yourself getting lost in the adventure of the story. It's also a very good strategy if you don't want other parents to approach you, acting as a barrier (they can see that you're busy and will not want to disturb you). This also works well with a writing pad and pen (even if you're only writing your weekly shopping list out).
Take your music and headphones
If you're not fond of reading books and writing then try taking your headphones. Listening to music is soothing and helps you to relax. It will also act as a deterrent to other parents, that may otherwise try to talk to you and cause your anxiety to heighten.
Do not stay for any extra time
Stay for the duration of the children’s activity only. Another parent may ask you to stay after the class ends (for another reason such as a charity event, further activities etc). Politely refuse, until you are able to fully relax at your child’s activity.
If you experience a panic attack while out:
Take deep breaths
Focus on your breathing, taking deep breaths and count to 10. This will help to relax your body and stop the fight or flight response taking place.
Take yourself away
Try to get to a quiet area of the building or outside away from the children. If you think that they can see you this will heighten your anxiety further and will be harder for you to calm down.
Focus on an object/practice mindfulness
This is a very good technique for relaxing your body, resulting in the end of the panic attack. You need to focus on one object in your direct vision that you can concentrate on. Notice the color of the object, the size, any specific details that make that object different, its function, the noise it makes, if any.
You can add a few drops of lavender oil on a tissue. Keep it in your pocket when you are going somewhere that will heighten your anxiety and/ or cause a panic attack.
When you feel as though you may experience an anxiety attack, inhale the lavender oil from the tissue. This will help to feel relaxed to help stop the attack.
This technique takes some practice, but in my experience is the most effective once you can do it correctly DURING an attack.
Close your eyes and imagine you are on a secluded white sandy beach, with an ice cold drink in your hand while you watch the gentle waves and soak up the sun.
If beaches aren’t your things, imagine your favorite place.
Take a few minutes to ask yourself questions. Notice every single thing about that place. What does it look like? What does it feel like? What does it smell like? How many other people are there? Are there any animals? What makes you happy there?
Read these suggestions a few times so that they start to sink in and then start to practice these methods for the next few times you experience an anxiety attack. Each time will become easier for you to practice the methods outlined above.
If you find it hard to remember all of the methods, save this article on your phone so that you can easily bring up the information when you need it.