I know this is very upsetting, but hear me out. Because I love coffee, so if I’m saying this, you know there’s a reason.
Last week, I attended a friend’s wedding in Jersey with friends I grew up with (some of whom I hadn’t seen since pre-pandemic) and had a great time. I was nervous about going for a few reasons (Covid/watching happy people in love, etc), but it was honestly so nice to just feel somewhat normal again. We danced, we drank, we laughed, and I didn’t cry! Even during the bride and groom’s first dance! I was shocked. Then I ended the night with a DiGiorno pizza in my hotel room. It really just doesn’t get better than that, does it? First wedding after a very painful breakup that didn’t end with tears in the fetal position? I’d say I nailed it.
The next day, I came back home to a beautiful NYC spring day (you know the type – light jacket weather, sun shining, etc) and I had a slight bounce in my step. Was it because I was walking to get a BEC from Depanneur? Maybe. Was it because I finally felt a little bit like myself again? Also maybe.
I picked up my sandwich and coffee (cold brew, mind you), sat on my balcony and ate my sandwich. Fuck that, I savored it. Egg, bacon jam, arugula and horseradish creme fraiche on sourdough…just perfect. I looked up into the bright blue sky and smiled. I took in the sights around me. Then I grabbed a book (Untamed by Glennon Doyle – don’t ask me if I recommend it yet but I’m sure I will) and read outside for an hour. I talked to a few friends, I talked to my mom, and I was heading over to my friend’s place for dinner in a few hours. Sounds like a great day, right??
WELP. WAIT FOR IT.
After I spent my day feeling like the poster child for the independent every-woman, I walked inside my apartment and felt lightheaded. Like someone flung a frisbee right into the side of my head. Then I felt nauseous. Then my hands started to tingle and shake. “Oh no”, I thought to myself. I knew what was happening. I just knew it. Panic attack. Mother fucking panic attack. For NO reason.
WHYYYY?! I WAS HAVING SUCH A NICE DAY. GOD DAMN YOU BRAIN!
I took a big, deep breath, sat on my couch and prepared myself.
Also, dramatics aside, the panic attack didn’t take away from the fact that I had a nice day prior, but it DID make me overthink everything and throw myself a little mental pity party. That’s just the way it goes.
Now, I suppose the upside of this is that I have plenty of experience with panic attacks, so I know how to manage them at this point. But this one took a solid 20-30 mins to fully dissipate. Here’s a brief list of what I did to help shut it down faster. And let me preface this by saying that if you’ve never had a panic attack before, they can feel VERY scary and alarming. So if you have someone around you, let them know how you’re feeling. Then show them this little cheat sheet to help you through it:
Calm the F down, a panic attack cheat sheet
- Do some deep breathing exercises (breathe in for 4, hold for 5, release for 6). Repeat until you start to feel steady in your breathing
- Shake your entire body to get the cortisol (stress hormone) through your system. Thanks to Amy Chan’s Breakup Bootcamp for that one! Love this tip and use it pretty regularly, even when I’m just feeling stressed out
- Say out loud in a slow, calming voice, “I’m ok, I’m safe, I’m fine, everything is going to be ok, this is going to pass, you will feel ok soon” or any iteration of those words. Because IT WILL PASS
- Sit down or lie down while deep breathing, especially if you feel dizzy. Closing your eyes may help too, but sometimes that makes the dizzy feeling worse (for me at least)
- Sip cold water, slowly
- Focus on your surroundings and notice the colors you’re seeing. Say them out loud too: “my couch is gray, my pillows are turquoise…” I know that sounds a little weird, but I swear it helps. It’s basically like practicing mindfulness. When was the last time you got angry or upset at yellow?? It will shift your focus and take you out of your own head
All that said, the biggest thing is the deep breathing, as well as the things you tell yourself. Don’t give in to the panic attack, but let it happen, if that makes sense? For example, I knew it was happening to me, but I didn’t try and fight it. You can’t. Just accept that it’s happening, accept that it’s going to suck for a little bit, and then just breathe your way through it. The only way out, is through.
I have no idea why this happened. The annoying thing about panic attacks is you never really know where they come from, but I told you this long story for one big reason, and if you’re like me, you probably won’t like it.
You know what you should avoid if you’re prone to panic attacks or anxiety?
I CANNOT STRESS THIS ENOUGH.
AND I LOVE COFFEE.
I’m sorry for yelling. But all caps are the equivalent of excessive caffeine. And excessive caffeine triggers the SHIT out of anxiety, potentially causing panic attacks. There’s an article here that breaks it down, but basically caffeine is a psychostimulant drug (yes, it’s evidently considered a drug) that affects our central nervous system. It blocks the depressant function of the chemical adenosine, and can also mimic the jittery response in our body that happens during a traumatic event (think fight or flight).
And in this particular study, you’ll see that it really just makes anxiety worse, it doesn’t necessarily cause it. So if you’re prone to anxiety, you should limit your intake.
I started to connect these dots after the breakup. I don’t know why it never occurred to me before, but I started experimenting with less caffeine (some days none at all) and I noticed a big change. So now, for the past month or two, I have one small cup of coffee in the morning, and then I have caffeine free tea throughout the day. And guess what?? My anxiety has been SO much better, in fact it barely flares up anymore in the afternoons like it used to.
I look back at that panic attack on Saturday and discovered the most logical explanation for it: the fucking large cold brew coffee. I’m sure my mental state had something to do with it too, but from what I remember, it was a fine day until that happened.
Here’s some additional helpful links on understanding panic attacks/anxiety attacks:
Keep calm, and try drinking caffeine-free tea.