THE 3:00 A.M. PANIC ATTACK… I try so hard to keep calm and carry on. I’ve read every positive psychology book on how to manage panic. I’ve been in every type of therapy, I thought for sure, I could ease up on some of the tension I felt. I had heard it all: let go, relax, and if I just keep calm and carry on everything will be honky-dory. I wanted to let go. I desperately tried to keep calm… but I couldn’t carry on because all I could hear was my heart beating- so loud that I didn’t hear my own thoughts telling me to be calm. Although the advice sounded wonderful, it never really worked for me. On rare occasions, it did help me through tense moments of panic, but it didn’t last long. I had to keep re-booting myself. When I woke up in the middle of the night worrying about my daughter’s inability to pay her rent because she couldn’t find a job… keep calm and carry on didn’t cut it at 3:00 a.m.
A hurricane was headed straight to Miami a few years ago. Our family, house, business and dog were in its direct path. I was in another country (seven time zones away), letting go did not work. I laughed in the face of the person who delivered those two words to me: let go…really? I guess you’ve never been through a hurricane! Of course, it’s great advice, but please tell me exactly how to keep calm and carry on. Just how am I supposed to relax and let go?
There was a time in my life when my 3:00 a.m. panic attacks were frequent. A panic attack is bad enough during the day, but like a child’s imagination, it is much worse in the middle of the night. Sometimes a few yoga stretches on the bathroom floor, or lying in bed with my headset listening to “relaxation music ” stops the vicious cycle of negative thinking. But some nights it just wouldn’t leave me alone.
The first time I was able to fall asleep during one of my middle-of-the-night episodes came when I applied the 12-step version of giving up control: Let go and let God. That made sense; I could do that- I’m a spiritual person. Since I was unable to resolve anything at that time in my life, and I couldn’t let go by myself, I had to give it up. I didn’t know how to manage it, but I knew God could handle what I could not. If I gave it to Him then it wasn’t mine anymore. In reality, there was nothing I could do about a hurricane or my daughter’s unemployment status, so instead of listening to my soothing music, I started talking to God. My worries were coming more often and so were my conversations with God. Soon I discovered, that our little chats soothed my out-of-control thoughts. I finally came to believe that I was not in control. I could not stop hurricanes, and I couldn’t find my daughter a job, but I knew God could. Slowly, I started to believe that I was not in control of anything (especially at 3:00a.m.) and that only God was. Surprisingly, through the discomfort of my sleeplessness, each night I drew closer to God, and when I did, the panic soon disappeared.
FAITH, TRUST, AND HOPE
Somehow (through prayer and repetitive statements of faith), I was able to believe that everything will work out fine -which comforted me- and proved to be true. The hurricane turned and hit north of Miami. The 150 mph winds lessened to 100mph (which makes a huge difference). I trusted that God would watch over me and my loved ones. I now have faith, trust, and hope that things will work out fine (even though it doesn’t seem like it at the time). My panic-filled nights (and days) taught me to have keep calm and let God carry on.