How a Panic Attack on a Plane Forced Me to Finally Face My Anxiety
After a mid-flight panic attack, one woman finally sought treatment for her lifelong anxiety—and figured out what was really triggering it.
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I remember the moment I lost control. I had just finished running through a busy airport with my husband to catch an international flight. We made it to the gate and were waiting for our boarding group to be called, when I suddenly felt a chill in the lower half of my body. It started in my calves, worked its way up to my thighs, and finally settled in my stomach. I knew something was off, but didn't know what. There wasn't time to think about it, though, and we boarded the plane minutes later.
Our seats weren't next to each other, and instead I was sitting beside a younger man with headphones on. After the flight attendant closed the overhead bins and checked that everyone was wearing their seatbelts, she began to conduct the pre-flight safety briefing. And that's when it happened: I began to cry. Lip-biting, forehead sweating, ugly crying. In that moment, I realized it was the first time my husband and I had been on a plane together since having children. I couldn't stop thinking about the plane crashing, and if it did crash, what would happen to my son and daughter. Who would handle our outstanding bills and finances? Who would execute our wills? I tried my best to calm down, but couldn't. I didn't want to scare the man next to me, so I sat there silently, pretending my tears were caused by the overhead air vents.
A few days later, I went to see my doctor. I told her what happened and admitted there had been similar situations before, all prefaced by the same cold feeling in my lower body. When forced to reflect on it, I realized these situations had been occurring as far back as my childhood. I'd always chalked them up to the fact that I was a worrywart who was overly concerned about the future—I figured I was just the kind of person who thrived when afraid, on-edge, or overwhelmed. That's who I was.
But truthfully, I wasn't thriving in those moments of sheer terror. And through that honest conversation with my doctor, I was finally given a diagnosis: anxiety.
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Getting that diagnosis was just the first step. To overcome my anxiety, I needed to learn to become more aware of my triggers. The biggest one? Being a wife and mother. I'd frequently get nightmares after watching scary news segments, and I've had to learn to tell myself: "That probably won't happen." It doesn't always make the intrusive thoughts disappear, but it definitely helps give me perspective.
I'm now taking medication for my anxiety, which has made a big difference, as has finally opening up to friends and family about what I'm going through. Now, those close to me can sense when I'm feeling inadequate or about to get an anxiety attack. To help me through it, they'll say things like, "Chrissy, take a deep breath," or "You're in your head right now and creating fake scenarios that will never happen." They also remind me to step back and take some time for myself when I need it. Whether that means going to the gym, getting to bed earlier, or simply eating a nutritious meal, these little self-care tactics help me regain my sanity and my strength.