What To Do When You're Freaking Out
I recently had a very intense freakout. My accountant overestimated the quarterly tax payment for the practice, and to prevent boring you with accounting details, just know that the “overestimation” was somewhere in the realm of bankruptcy. I knew it couldn’t be right as soon as I saw it, but it didn’t stop my stomach from doing an actual somersault and lodging itself directly under my lungs. It was awful. So, here’s what I did about it. And here’s what you need to do the next time you freak out.
Step 1: Freakout
Yeah… That’s not a joke. Look, I know feeling your anxiety and allowing your mind to catastrophize are not pleasant experiences. But ignoring your problem and pretending things are OK is not going to help. I let myself freak out. I felt that horrible pit in my stomach, I broke out calculators, and I recruited my husband to help me google shit about accounting. I did that for about an hour.
I acknowledged my terrifying thoughts:
- what if I go bankrupt?
- what if the payment is late?
- something terrible is going to happen!
And I acknowledged my physical sensations:
- Pit in stomach
- Pain in chest
- Tension in shoulders
Step 2: Breathe, strategize, & accept
I took 5 deep breaths. After those breaths, I noticed right away that my stomach started to relax and settle into its normal human position. The pit was still there, but my breathing improved.
Next, I identified what I can do about the situation and what I can’t. My brief foray into “accounting for dummies” quickly alerted me to the fact that I don’t have a damn clue how taxes work. That’s fine. That’s why I have an accountant. And a plan quickly materialized: wait for my accountant to get back to me with the updated numbers.
Things I can do:
- Wait for the accountant
- Find the phone number of a backup accountant if needed
Things I have no control over:
- How much money I have to pay
- When the accountant will get back to me
- My feelings of anxiety
I did what I could, and accepted that my anxious feelings will hang out until the issue is resolved.
Step 3: Self-care
I ate dinner, poured a glass of wine, and watched the season finale of Big Little Lies (it’s SOOO good you guys). I cleaned the kitchen because a clean house always makes me feel more relaxed. Then I began my nightly bedtime ritual of showering/taking meds/ reading non-stimulating material. Refer to this post if you have no idea what I’m talking about.
There were also some good puppy cuddles in there. Yui is a champion snuggler and can always put me at ease. I’ve thought a lot about training her as a registered therapy animal because she truly has the best temperament for anxious people. I think it’s going on my list of future goals.
Step 4: Reevaluate the problem later
I felt significantly less panicked by the time I went to bed, and when I woke up, my anxiety decreased to a dull roar. I accepted back in step 2 that my anxiety was not going to go away until the issue had fully resolved. So I wasn’t surprised or upset about the low-level anxiety I felt the next day.
A good night’s sleep gave me distance from the problem, and I was able to realize that even if my unlikely worst-case scenario of bankruptcy occurred, I would still be OK. Anxiety has a special way of making the most extreme scenarios seem possible. Cut the severity of your worst case scenario in half and examine what that problem looks like. For me, it meant paying a little more money than I originally expected, but not enough to cause actual harm to my life.
Step 5: Tend to your needs and emotions as needed
Remain extra observant of your mood and self-care needs. Do regular check-ins throughout the day and rate on a scale of 1-10 how intense your emotions are. My stress was higher than usual that second day, and I paused once per hour to assess my stress. Increasing my self-awareness during allowed me to make a couple of important observations:
- The stress decreased my appetite. Decreased appetite does not mean your body has a decreased need for food. It just means my brain wasn’t picking up what my stomach was laying down. I made sure to stick to my normal meal schedule and feed my body what it needed.
- I was really tired. I haven’t fully adjusted to a normal sleep schedule since returning from Europe and my body is more exhausted than usual. Exhaustion doesn’t play nice with anxiety and the two tend to egg each other on. I made sure to let myself sleep in over the weekend and payback some of my sleep debt.
The number one mistake people make in this process is getting stuck in step 1. Do you remember when I said I let myself google info about accounting for 1 hour? That hour was necessary for me to feel my feelings and acknowledge that I felt horrible. But that googling wasn’t productive. Productivity came from getting out of my head and paying attention to how my body felt (pit in stomach, muscle tension, etc). Then I moved on to step 2 and worked toward accepting my crappy feelings.
If you get stuck in step 1, ask yourself: what am I doing to feed the anxiety? It’s probably an attempt to fix an unfixable situation. Even though googling tax info seemed like the solution, it really wasn’t. No amount of googling was EVER going to provide the expertise needed to solve my problem.
The next time you get stuck in a freakout, stop whatever you’re doing and check in with your body. Focus on self-care and accept what you have no control over. It’s OK to let the problem sit there for a bit. You’re not going to solve it while having a panic attack anyway :)