I experienced my first panic attack in April this year, my first full blown panic attack the first day I was in Paris, I had just overpaid a gypsy taxi driver way more than I should have, he practically robbed me, it could have been much worse than it was. I was so naïve. I had just arrived in a strange city, didn’t know the language, already anxious and tired. I arrived at my very small apartment and the landlord told me exactly how much I should have paid the taxi driver. I felt so bad. That gypsy had taken almost all of my cash! How could I have been so stupid! I looked around my small one room flat and felt like I had arrived at Cinderella’s attic. I was devastated, to tell the truth and I was going to be here two weeks! I wanted to turn around and go home right then and there. It was only 10:00 AM, I was exhausted and I broke down. I cried uncontrollably. Not just little sniffles either. I cried for hours, all night long. Made myself sick, texted my friends at home and told them I wanted to come home. I was all alone, no shoulders to cry on, I was miserable.
But, my friends said, “okay, when is the next flight?” and the reasonable side of me surfaced. I spent this much money to go home? I don’t think so. I hate wasting money. I may be miserable right now, but I was going to see Paris, whether I liked it or not. Yes, I talk to myself, I talk myself into many things. I used to talk myself out of many things as well and missed out on a lot.
I’ve discovered we do that, don’t we? We talk ourselves out of a lot of joy, adventure, and even friendships. Most of the time we do this because of worry and anxiety. We have let worry and anxiety get in the way of happiness and sometimes we even create larger health problems by excessive worry.
It’s normal for us to have anxiety when we are faced with the stress of something new happening to us or an upcoming situation. For example, a job interview or having to speak in front of a crowd, or even going on a first date with someone new. Or in my case traveling to a new country alone. You can worry if you are prepared enough for these events, or if you have forgotten anything. But excessive worry and anxiety can be a trigger for other problems. The caveman, “fight or flight” response is triggered and releases chemicals in our body that causes difficulty swallowing, dizziness, dry mouth, that fast heartbeat, headaches, irritability, nausea, and many symptoms that we experience.
I know it’s difficult sometimes to stop worrying. The last thing you need is someone to say stop worrying about that. Of course, when you hear it, you don’t stop thinking about whatever it is that is worrying you. I’ve spoken about mindfulness and meditation before. When we learn to focus our attention on mindfulness we become aware of the present, of the moment, not the past or the future. We relax and in doing so our body breaks that fight or flight cycle. The chemicals that are released during that anxiety state are decreased. We calm down.
Mindfulness and meditation take practice, so if you find that if your mind keeps wandering back to that worry, examine if the problem is solvable or not. If it’s solvable, think of probable solutions, if it is not. Then it’s not worth your worry. You let it go like a cloud. You can’t do anything about it. You need to release it. You can acknowledge your feelings, acknowledge that it makes you uncomfortable, but observe it like you would from a friend’s perspective. How would you help your friend through this? You are your best friend.
When you let your worries go, your anxiety go, and you take that deep breath. You realize that the sky is not falling and you can move on. You realize there are some adventures to be had, some friendships to be made and your life becomes richer, just because you became mindful.
Oh, and by the way, Paris offered me a wonderful experience, I met many new friends, tasted great food, learned the subway system (that scared me to death at first), shopped, and saw every sight there was to see. I met a pen pal I have had since I was 9 years old and even though we spoke different languages, we communicated perfectly with a translator app and had a great time. By the time I left Paris, I was navigating that city like it was home.