{via Kind of Style}

I remember my first panic attack much like someone would remember their first kiss; with both sheer terror and fear of the unknown. B and I were 23, freshly married and were in the middle of changing jobs and moving 6 hours south. Because we didn’t have any extra cash flow we had to be very strategic with our paychecks — one job had to start the minute our other one ended. Since B got a new job, we were going from two salaries to one salary for a temporary but undefined amount of time. We were only starting to feel the effects of the oncoming stress; what could possibly be more stressful than finding a place to live 500 miles away with two weeks until move-in day. Without the help of the internet.  The town we were moving to was less than 25,000 people, so the supply of rentals was low to begin with and the medium of demand was drive around until you saw a rent sign.  For the second weekend in a row, we looked for two days and had come up with nothing. We had no more options than when we started. And so on the way back, two defeated newly weds drove in silence, completely unsure of our immediate future.

And that’s when it hit. Out of nowhere, I could feel myself starting to drown. I sat there in slight shock of what I was feeling, trying to keep my cool in front of my new husband. I could feel my chest starting to get tight and my first thought was heart attack. I couldn’t breathe and I knew I had to get out of the car. I finally choked out ‘pull over!’ and my sweet but terrified husband pulled over as fast as he could at a roadside stop. Once I was finally able to catch my breathe, I realized that my mascara was everywhere and my husband looked like he had seen a ghost. It had felt like a split second that this happened, but it had been at least 20 minutes. What the hell was that, I thought as I got back into the car and tried to pull myself together. I would wonder what happened for the next two years as I would have these little attacks at random times, seemingly out of nowhere. I would wake up at 5 am with an attack, or one would hit me in the middle of the day. My anxiety monster had awoken.

I actually didn’t realize what was going on with me until I heard a podcast with a woman talking about dealing with anxiety and panic attacks. It started to make sense. After researching, I realized I wasn’t having heart issues but panic attacks. And for the next 6 years I would take a journey of many panic attacks and sleepless nights to understand and to learn how to deal with my anxiety.

Within the last two years I’ve really learned how to deal with my anxiety instead of ignore it or let it explode. A few of these I’ve picked up either from health professionals, a counselor, friends, books and practices I have found work for me.

1. Ground yourself.

A few years ago went to the doctor for depression and one of my favorite pieces of advice my doctor gave me was to ‘ground myself’ when I felt like I was going to have a panic attack. This simply means to plant your feet firmly (but don’t lock your knees) and focus on feeling connected to the ground while breathing slowly and deeply. This physical motion sends a signal to your brain of security and support. It’s still something I remind myself daily when I can feel my head start to spin.

2. Focus on your breathing.

Another piece of advice I’ve heard from many professionals is to focus on your breathing. This is also helpful if I’m ever feeling nervous, stressed or anxious. There are many moments when I begin to focus on my breathing and I realize I’ve been holding my breath or breathing sporadically. If I take very deep breathes (count to 10 in, count to 10 out), I immediately feel calmer and more aware. This helps me remember to focus on what I can control, not what I can not.

3. Identify the source of the anxiety.

My husband, bless his soul, has seen pretty much every single panic attack I’ve ever had. But in the last few years, he started to calmly ask — where is this coming from? What truth is this grounded in? A lot of times, while I can’t control when anxiety hits or why, I can figure out where it came from. If you can identify what you were doing when your anxiety hits, a lot of times you can figure out where those feelings are coming from and this helps. Identifying your fears or anxieties helps confront them and figure them out. Control what you can, let go of what you can not.

4. Positive self talk.

This is such an important tool for me with anxiety. I have a great imagination that can really work against me at times and before I know it my anxiety has created monsters that simply do not exist. Learning how to talk to myself positively and identifying the truth is so helpful in dealing with anxiety. Negativity breeds negativity and while I’m not always Susie Sunshine, thinking in positive terms helps me curb my anxiety-ridden worry habits.

5. Know your limits.

This one is a hard one to conquer, but if you can become more aware of where your anxiety starts, you can understand your stopping point. I don’t say this so that you become a hermit and stay inside to remove yourself from all the stress and anxiety of the world, but to say that you can handle a lot more than you think. Knowing your limit just means you know when to fold them. For me, I lead a pretty stressful life, running two businesses, so I know that Sunday’s are my day. I clean, I grocery shop and I take it easy. If I don’t take a Sunday off, guess what? The next week falls apart. I know my limit and it’s 6 days a week of work. 7 days and my knot starts to fringe.

6. Find your peace.

My peace is a bath tub. When we moved into our new house, I realized that I’m very good at taking baths. It’s a skill I’m very proud of, specializing in bubbles. If I’m ever feeling overwhelmed or stressed or anything, a bath can take those feelings away and I can calm down or conquer, depending on what it is I need to do next. For others it could be running, yoga, talking with a friend, reading a book, playing a game on your phone, watching HGTV, meditation or prayer, listening to music — anything! Whatever brings you peace, whatever brings you back to a calm place, that is your peace. It doesn’t have to be a grand gesture, a bath certainly isn’t grand or sacred, it just has to help.

And I wouldn’t consider this a tool you can use, but turning 30 has helped tremendously with my anxiety. Something about your 20s kind of makes you spin with anxiety, but now I know that even if the worst thing happens — life goes on and that’s a very good thing. As always with any mental health issue, do not ignore it. Please seek help because there is always hope and always help.

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57 Responses

  1. As a psychologist and someone riddled with Generalized Anxiety Disorder, this is beautifully written and so help! Thanks for showing that mental health is relevant

  2. Wow, thank you so much for sharing this. You are so cool and so brave! I had a minor one yesterday and now I see that we use some of the same techniques to beat them! Grounding and breathing, it’s so simple but so effective. Glad to hear B always has your back and that you have your ways of managing them. After reading your blog for all these years I’m sure a lot of us feel like we know you – which, clearly we don’t, but you know – and I just want to say how happy I am to see you in such a good place that you can offer advice. 🙂

  3. I don’t get panic attacks myself, but I really enjoyed this post. Mental health topics are often so hush-hush in America, so I appreciated you talking about this and doing your part to make these discussions less taboo!

  4. This is beautifully written and very brave. I think a lot of us can relate to these kinds of feelings but don’t want to admit to them because it feels like a “weakness”. But I believe that facing those anxieties and discussing them takes exceptional strength. Thank you for sharing that strength with us.

    Fashion By Committee

  5. Thank you so much for sharing such an honest and candid post! Mental health is so often overlooked and stigmatized, so it’s really refreshing (and appreciated!) to see this topic incorporated so seamlessly into your style blog.

  6. I love when people are willing to share about their battles with anxiety. I too started suffering from anxiety attacks when I was 23. Its been two years now and I have learned so much about myself.

    While anxiety can be embarrassing due to social stigma, I encourage people to talk to someone they trust, and start recognizing patterns and triggers that cause anxiety. Most importantly don’t be afraid to go to a professional for help if it becomes frequent/ starts impeding your life. While medication isn’t the right solution for everyone, it can be a God-send for some people.

    Finally, “don’t let the fear of striking out keep you from playing the game.” Travel is one of my greatest triggers, but it is also one of my favorite things to do. I refuse to let my anxiety stop me from doing the things I love, so I just find ways to make it feel more comfortable. For examples I now review airport maps before I travel so I have an idea where I will be going and take melatonin with me so that I can fall asleep in the hotel faster and avoid the dead air that makes me start thinking and worrying.

    Thanks for always being open with your readers. We love you Kendi and can relate to you so much!

  7. This is such a helpful and enlightening post. I have suffered with anxiety for all of my life and have only begun to understand how many people truly suffer from it! Thank you for opening yourself up in this way Kendi!

  8. ah I’m going through a lot of anxiety at the moment. Honestly, reading tips from people like you (I’ve read your blog from years) helps a lot. Thank you, Kendi. Saving this one to read over and over on rainy days. <3

  9. So proud of you for writing this, Kendi! I remember all our long talks about anxiety & depression when we were in NY for the Redbook shoot and I think the more we talk about it, the less stigma there is associated with it. I’m sure you’ve helped so many women feel less alone in their battle by sharing your story.


  10. A very good post, thank you. I’ve had one or two panic attacks in my life but no chronic issues, and I’ve come to realize that even though I’m a fairly sensitive person, I really don’t understand chronic anxiety. I have several friends who suffer and I’m always looking for ways to understand it better so I can be a better friend to them. Definitely some good things to think about…

  11. What a wonderful post! You share some tangible solutions. I’ve dealt with panic attacks for about ten years. They get me less and less nowadays. Thanks for sharing!

  12. Thanks so much for sharing. I love all of these tips; following them really makes a difference. I agree that “know your limits” can be a tough one. Even if a source of anxiety isn’t identified, the rest of these tips are still really good to follow in life.

  13. This is a fantastic post. My panic attacks began in college over ten years ago. I’ve slowly learned how to deal with them but they have been cropping up more often recently. I’m definitely going to try to incorporate some of these suggestions into my other techniques. Thank you so much for covering such an important topic!

  14. Thank you for your post Kendi! Anxiety is such a big thing and for so many!

    I think your last sentiment about being 30 is actually pretty spot on! I’m only in my 20’s now but my mum said her anxiety/panic attacks decreased dramatically as she got older so its always good to hear tips to make it easier and for it to be more manageable.


  15. Hi – I just wanted to share an app that I discovered that has helped me with anxiety. It’s called “what’s up”. Check it out, it has everything you need to get through anxious moments.

  16. Thank you so much for this post, Kendi! I’ve never been a ‘stressed’ person, so last spring when I thought I was having a heart attack and was in the emergency room (and released with nothing on my EKG), I realized it was an anxiety attack. And I didn’t even realize I was stressed! It’s crazy how fast they can pop up, and how hard it is to deal with in the moment. Great advice; you are such a brave, and inspiring lady! xo

  17. So glad you were brave enough to post this today. I had my first anxiety attack a week after Rooney was born and it was the scariest time in my life. Just last week I had one come out of seemingly nowhere while I was loading the dishwasher. I wasn’t really even sure what I was so anxious about! My parents are getting divorced so that has escalated it, as well as having two kids. I’m always sure to say “I’m feeling anxious” to Eric ASAP and he helps talk me through it. Thanks for these tips – I will be sure to try them!

  18. I have never experienced one of these but you are very brave to analyse the attacks and learn how to deal with them!


  19. Sometimes having anxiety feels so lonely- like no one else could ever relate. It’s comforting to know there are people out there who do know. I’ve dealt with anxiety and panic attacks off and on since I was 13 (31 now). It crept up again very strongly last June when my husband and I decided we wanted to start a family. I became absolutely terrified of having a panic attack while pregnant and so we stopped trying in order for me to get a grasp on this new fear. We are still not trying but I am slowly feeling ready to try again. I’ve never let my anxiety stop me from doing what I want to do in life and this is no exception. Can anyone relate to panic attacks/anxiety pre-natal or while pregnant? It can feel very isolating when all of my friends are having wonderful pregnancies with seemingly no emotional issues (that they are talking about at least).

    1. For me, I think more than having anxiety attacks during pregnancy, I worry more about post-partum depression. But I think at the end of the day, no one can control what our brains and bodies will do during or after a pregnancy. From watching friends and loved ones go through all different pregnancies — literally every single one was so different — I’ve had to come to the conclusion that when I do become pregnant that I will have to release this need for control over what my body will do because it’s probably going to be out of my control. Hormones are a crazy thing. I know that I don’t know you personally, but I do feel like you will be okay. (Again there is no personal or scientific basis for this, just a hope basis.) Do you have a counselor or a doctor that you can talk to about this? I think probably your anxiety of having anxiety attacks while pregnant might just be surrounding your anxiety about being pregnant / getting pregnant / having a baby, etc. The normal worries of a new mom or someone wanting to be a momma. All that to say, you are bigger than your anxiety and I wish you the most luck with this. I hope you find peace soon, friend!

  20. In my own personal experience I have found it extremely helpful to not look for distractions that will take me away from what is going on at the moment. It took a little practice but I just focused my attention on where in my body I was feeling the anxiety or panic. Then just observed it. As soon as I did that the feelings began to dissolve. I’m happy to report I got very good at this practice and now I can stop my anxiety before it gets going. In physics, it’s called The Observer Effect. Sounds crazy, but it’s worked wonders for me.

    1. I love this. Such sound and great advice. I will add this to my list of practices. Thank you for sharing!

  21. Thank you for sharing this! I had my first panic attack last year when I turned 40. My doc prescribed Ativin, but just knowing I have it in my purse helps me feel stronger and I hardly ever need it; I draw on some of the techniques you shared, as well as my faith in Jesus, and the attack passes without needing meds. I so appreciate your bringing this into the light!

  22. Thank you for sharing this! I’m a 20-year-old who has been struggling with anxiety for a little over a year. I had no idea what was going on for the first couple months – I thought it was breathing troubles. It’s always nice to hear what other people do to help it, and simply to know that I’m not alone in my struggles, but that there are others out there who understand what I’m going through.

  23. Thank you for opening up about an issue that is still difficult for so many people to talk about. It is very helpful to know that there are successful, “normal” people that face anxiety and panic attacks. Just as a note, while it is always helpful to seek the source of your anxiety, sometimes there isn’t one. Anxiety itself can perpetuate more anxiety. Accepting that has personally helped me. Thank you again for being so open!

    1. Very, very true! I’ve been anxious by just being anxious. It’s a wild ride, this anxiety train. thanks for your thoughts, girl!

  24. Kendi, thank you for sharing! It’s really important and brave to talk about a subject like this. I’ve had a couple of panic attacks myself, and even though I recognized immediately what they were (maybe here in Europe we talk about them more?) it didn’t make controlling them any easier. And by controlling I also mean finding the real source and learning how to handle it better, like you wrote, too. Thank you again for this beautifully written piece.

  25. This was so great! Anxiety and panic attacks are something so many of us do or have experienced. These are fantastic, concretely helpful suggestions. Beautifully written, too, as always. 🙂

  26. I became a diehard reader of kendieveryday because of honest & heartfelt posts like this one. Thank you Kendi, for sharing parts of your “real life” along with your amazing style!!

    1. you are too kind! I will try to share more and more in the coming days! I’ve got them all hoarded over here because it’s still hard to share sometimes, even after all these years! I just had to get this one out first as my first leap! thanks for the encouragement 🙂

  27. Bravo to you, Kendi. Thank you once again for talking about this. All of these tools help me with my anxiety and panic attacks. I’d like to add that yoga and “disrupting the negative or panicked thought” by doing something else (go on a walk, call a friend) really help me. You are awesome!

    1. Yoga! Yes, yes, yes. I need to be better about practicing yoga more. It is basically made for anxiety sufferers! xx

  28. Your post about anxiety is soo helpful thank you. I’ve replied to you before about anxiety and it’s just the most scary experience. I’ve been doing really well for a few hours with lots of practice and putting interventions into place. Like you I have a great man. I was so upset though last weekend when out of the blue I had one, in the car, in a traffic jam with my girls I’m now scared it’s put me back. X x

    1. Oh you are not alone! You will be just fine with your practices in place. Much love friend! xx – k

  29. Wow! This was beyond powerful and quite relatable. You are strong and obviously very helpful. I will definitely keep these notes in mind. Thank you for such a beautifully written post.

  30. Your first panic attack story really hits home for me. My husband and I have done that twice in the last three years and it is currently starting to happen again. (changing jobs & moving) It is literally the most stressful thing. You think you’d get used to it but it is always so hard. These tips are great for handling stress and the anxiety that comes with it. (which I am all too familiar with) Thanks so much!

    1. “You would think you get used to it” — I’ve said the exact thing to my husband! 🙁 It’s always familiar and never friendly, is it? Here’s to handling the stress of a move and changing jobs. Take a breather when you can! Best of luck!

  31. Beautifully written and erudite advice, thank you! I’ve recently written a similar post – focusing more on anxiety connected with public speaking or job interviews but this has been equally as helpful! Thank you!

  32. I’ve been suffering for anxiety for more than a year. I have 2 amazing little daughters and sometimes it’s so hard to deal with this. It is not a choice. I want to feel good, to enjoy my kids, and be the best mom I can be. Some people still tell me just relax.

    Thanks so much for sharing this. Sometimes I feel like nobody really understands, not even my doctors. You are awesome!

  33. Thank you so much for sharing this. I have been having a tough week after my most recent anxiety attack over the weekend, and this could not have been more timely. All of these tips really help, but knowing others go through the same thing and are living and leading amazing lives with people who support them is one of the best things to hear. I’m lucky enough to have loved ones and friends who have either always been supportive or are finally coming around to the fact that anxiety isn’t about being dramatic, or causing trouble, its an uncontrollable thing that we deal with every day. Thanks so much for this.

  34. Thank you very much – I know this kind of attacks by myself. After several years I learned how supportiv and helpful it is to talk about anxieties to family and friends.
    It’s great to read posts like yours.
    Go for it, girl!

  35. I randomly stumbled upon this post today, and I feel like I was meant to find it. I have been a “somewhat anxious” person my whole life, but my “anxiety monster” was awakened recently and it’s a whole new, debilitating, overwhelming level of anxiety. I’m making some progress against it and appreciated hearing about what has worked for you. I laughed out loud at your comment about your imagination – I too have a wonderful imagination which has been a great gift my whole life. Recently it has really worked against me as I stumble down rabbit holes of imagined problems! I’m only a year out from 30, so hopefully I’ll experience some calm at that milestone! (Many of my friends have found that their 20’s have caused them to ‘spin with anxiety’ as well.) Thank you for sharing your experience.

  36. I’ve been reading your blog forever and I remember the first time you wrote about this. It was a big deal for me to see someone talk openly about it as I had been unknowingly battling depression and anxiety for years. Last year I had my first panic attack at work and I thought I was having a heart attack at 23 years old. I went to the doctor and my heart was fine, but she told me I needed to figure out a way to cope with my anxiety. I was like ohhhh, it was a panic attack?! Haha. Since then I’ve had a few more, but I see a counselor regularly and have been able to learn to recognize when I feel panicky before they happen (most of the time) which has been cool! So crazy, I never thought panic attacks would happen to me but it’s been a cool wake up call to prioritize my mental health. These tips are great! One of my friend’s tricks for calming panic attacks is to play Rock Paper Scissors. Silly but it helps! Thanks for this, and thanks for that brave first post on this topic that literally changed my life.

  37. One little thing that helps me too is to slowly count from 1 to 10. It helps me focus on something else, when I start thinking a little bit too much… !

  38. Kendi,

    I have loved and read your blog and you are always among the ones I check out first when I decide to give myself a break and check blogs. I remember reading your entries about depression and anxiety and I was deeply touched even if at that time that was not an issue for me. But it was an issue before reading thoe (or even know about you and your blog) and it is again an issue now. I have a particularly bad day, panic coming back to me in full force making me a wreck because I am nervous how am I going to handle my work, my life, my studies (I started studying while being home with my almost one year ond daughter) and how on earth will I be able to care about her. In this terrible morning your entries about your struggles were the first thing (and I tried many things – I am sadly not a beginner any more) that gave me some calm and comfort. I will come back and read what you wrote every time I feel there is nothing else that could help. Thank you.

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