Guest Blogger Spotlight: Mark Merphy – Overcoming Panic and Fear

Here are my tips and coping techniques for overcoming Panic Disorder and General Anxiety issues. If you care to read my story I will attach it to the end so as to not waste time getting to the important part of this document.

First we will start with the facts that you need to understand about yourself to effectively utilize the document.

You are not broken and you have control (though seemingly little at first)

The biggest thing I had realized from my experience that I wish I understood earlier was I was not a defective human. So many people go through this experience that you would never have suspected. But many people are terrified to share their experiences and understandably so. Our society does not deal with mental health issues well and people are afraid of stigma. As you talk about your experiences with others you meet more and more people who can relate and suddenly you are no longer weird, dying, or losing sanity. A huge turning point in my anxiety was when I had talked to my great aunt (grandfather’s sister) and she told me that she too had went through the same experience when she was young and that it eventually went away. Up until this point I had not met anyone who understood what I was going through or at least was willing to talk with me about it. And it was the first time I had had hope that it wasn’t permanent.

Trust in hope

This came to me much later, after loosing hope for longer than I would like to admit. I started to accept the fact that I would always have this issue and I would never be able to have a real relationship or career. It was a naive thought and a dark place in my mind void of hope. If I could meet myself in the past I would have explained that the suffering is temporary and my own fear is keeping me locked in the terrible experience. This information would have sped up my healing process a great deal. At the time I believed I would be stuck in the same place forever. Hope is what will get you out of that place. The hope that you will overcome the fear. The hope you will find what it is that is triggering you emotional response. The hope you will find that place of peace in your mind. Hold onto that hope and don’t doubt your ability to get there.

Your emotion fear and panic will pass

Anytime I find myself in an anxious panic state of mind I realize that that feeling of fear and discomfort will pass. What I like to imagine in my head is that I’m a sailor and I see the storm coming in. I have to drop my sails, drop my anchor and wait for the storm to pass. There is nothing you can do stop the storm from hitting you and that is scary. You can do things to help your ship make it through the storm more intact but you can’t avoid them at first. So you do everything in your power to be the most comfortable you can and once it’s over realize the next will be easier. Most of us want happiness and comfort all the time but life is constantly changing like the weather. Start to realize that these changes are good, they are the very reason you don’t need to stay fearful and anxious once you get control of your ship. Once the fear, depression, anxiety feelings pass (usually after crying) get up and do something. Go for a walk, paint a picture, literally anything. If you don’t the feelings come back.

Here are the coping techniques that have helped me and the people I have shared them with thus far.

First, find your sanctuary. It can be physical, spiritual, mental; whatever it takes to get you in a place of complete relaxation. I’m talking so relaxed that you accidentally fall asleep. I am a very auditory person being a musician, so I needed a music to get me there. But there is a catch; I love lyrics. If the song was in a language I understood it caused me to think about the meaning and words and I wouldn’t fully relax to that accidental fall asleep stage. So I searched until I found a Buddhist chant with soothing female voices that I could instantly feel my body relax. I couldn’t understand the language so my mind didn’t have to contemplate the lyrics. Now the reason I explain this in such detail is because so many people give up too early. You need to find the environment that completely relaxes you. Not just “kind of relaxed” but the feeling of absolute safety and relaxation. It may mean your bedroom with soft pillows. It could mean a room of complete darkness or a room full of light and color. It is all dependent on your person. We all feel comfort in different environments. You must search yourself until you find the environment you need to get there. Don’t give up until you find it. Try progressive muscle relaxation techniques/meditation.

Now that you know your sanctuary, you will slowly build confidence and control. The goal is have complete control of your bodies ability to feel comfort. At first you will need to escape to this sanctuary you created. When I was agoraphobic and having panic attacks every day I would lay in my bed in the position I felt most comfortable. I would put headphones in and wear shooting ear muffs that canceled out almost all outside noise if the house was too loud. I would put on a sleep mask if the light was too bright. And I would allow the music to relax my body. It was the same feeling I experienced from my lorazepam but it was drug free. My muscles would relax I would feel the calming sensation and I would allow the panic to pass through my body and I would unknowingly fall asleep. Now for a few weeks I had to do this every time I experienced panic. I had to leave to my sanctuary. Becoming familiar with that feeling I would attempt to reach that state of mind in my vehicle or a friends house anyplace outside the sanctuary. And I found I could eventually achieve that state of relaxation anywhere. This is essentially meditation and gaining back control of your fearful mind. Look at the progress you make. There will still be terrible panic attacks but you will more effectively make it through them. Every time you make it through a big panic attack while maintaining some level of comfort you will learn to fear them less. They no longer control you. Again I will reiterate… do not give up.

Learn to adapt to what your mind throws at you. There were times when my panic would change. I didn’t feel comfortable sitting still trying to breath. So through trial and error I realized that pacing or walking would make me feel more at ease through a panic attack. I still had to go through it but I would feel much less anxiety and panic if I was moving. So I would walk around my house or take a walking in the woods or go up and down stairs. Pushups, pullups and jumping jacks didn’t work. I had to be moving and experience the feeling of changing location. Again I am specific so you know you must try anything you can think of and then recognize what it is that comforts you. Then you develop your own personal tool kit to your specific type of panic. And every now and again when I felt like I had figured out how to calm myself my body would find a new way to make me feel fear. I would notice a pain or a flutter in my chest something new that I never noticed before. And I would have to find a different form of comfort. There were times I would be trapped in a car with someone and I would feel it and I would have to actively breath in while counting and breath out to make sure I would slowing my breathing down. I would panic through the whole experience thinking I could lose my control at any moment. If you just trust the process and realize it’s temporary you won’t lose control. Eventually your cognitive tool kit becomes developed enough that you know what you need for what situation. This is when it all starts to go away. You start to live in calm. And whenever you feel that panic coming you see it before it takes hold and you can escape the panic attacks all together. They go away.

Help others once you have gained control of your fearful mind. As you do and you hear their stories, by calming them you will strengthen your tools and state of mind. You will learn new things that may have not occurred to you that you can add to your tool box.

To wrap this up, I will list the things that have helped me just in case any of you are similar enough to me that I can save you time looking for solutions.

My Cognitive Tools

Walking/Pacing, Earplugs/Noise Cancellation, proper breathing, Proper posture, Stretching, Massage, Yoga, Being in Nature, Music (but only songs that relax me), Singing in my vehicle, talking to myself with comforting affirmations, Binaurl Beats, Various forms of Meditation, learning about the mind, learning about spiritual practice and various religions, giving up control in certain situation. Progressive muscle relaxation.

I hope any of this information can help you even if only in a small way.

My Story

I had my first panic attack when I was twenty-five and thought I was dying. I couldn’t tell if I was having a heart attack or my lungs were closing up. I ended up in the ER where the nurses and doctors thought I was on drugs until my blood work came back clear. They said they thought it was a panic attack which I didn’t really believe because I had when my whole life through many stressful situations without ever experiencing this. Now that I look back I realize it happened while I was visiting my friend at Fort Knox who was about to be deployed to Iraq. I had just lost one of my best friends from high school to an IED in Iraq three years prior. Although my conscious mind thought I was tough and it was no big deal my subconscious remembered the pain and fear. I had panic attacks every day multiple times a day for months on end. It was no longer about my friend it was the fear of dying and the fear of the next panic attack. I was agoraphobic for a brief period of time but I overcame this with the help of my sister and some techniques I discovered that worked for me. At many points I lost almost all hope of ever being “normal” again. I was given many self help books and videos to watch of people who supposedly had the answers but as I read and watched it was apparent to me it was usually a money grab on people who had real issues by people who had never experienced the real terror that comes with Panic Disorder. So now that I have found what helped me I would like to share this with as many people as possible. The less time anyone has to spend in that state of mind the better. I have been trying my best to help anyone I meet that is going through this. It is temporary and you can find peace. I suffered intensely for three years and as I developed my coping techniques, the amount of time I spent in fear and worry diminished on now I’m stable again. I haven’t had a panic attack in over five years and I have experienced things that should have triggered it. I honestly believe everyone is capable of getting here but it requires some work.

Although part of me wishes I had never had to go through this experience. Now being on the other side of it I am grateful. I am grateful that I can now help people in a way I had never been able to previously. I am also grateful because the same tools I needed to overcome this are the same tools I used to sing on stage in front of people for the first time in my life. I don’t know if I ever would have without experiencing something far more terrifying in my opinion.

There is always hope

If you want some extra advice feel free to message me on Instagram @markiemusic.


The Guest Blogger Spotlight is for shining the light on people that have used their mental health journeys as fuel to get them to where they are today. If you’d like to be featured, send an e-mail to Nicole@Husmus.co!

My Experience With Anxiety in School

I started school in 1993. Where I live, we go from Kindergarten up through 6th grade before moving over to middle school for 2 years, and then high school for a final 4. As someone who grew up struggling with anxiety, these formidable years were varying levels of traumatic.

I had an extremely rocky start to begin with.

Most kindergartners have issues the first few weeks of school; it’s most likely the first time they’ve been away from their home/family for a pretty long, scheduled period of time. For me, add in to this the fact that my 5 year old brain was trying to compute feelings an emotions that I had little to no way of expressing. I didn’t have the vernacular to say things like “Yes, I know that the structural integrity of this school building is sound and that the people here are nice and that should make me feel safe- but it doesn’t. No, I don’t feel unsafe as if a bad guy or a monster might come and get me, I just haven’t established trust with anyone yet, so I know I’m not alone in the literal sense but I feel very alone. I know Timmy over there felt better when he started playing with the Legos but that would just be a momentary distraction for me- it wouldn’t erase the underlying panic that I don’t really KNOW any of you and I don’t want to be here and I want to go home.”

So I would ask to go to the nurse. The nurse had 3 options for everything- Saltine crackers, ice pack, or lay on a cot for a bit. I didn’t know how to ask for just a little bit of time and space to breathe, that I was just mid-panic attack. I didn’t know what panic attacks were back then. Sometimes I would get so worked up that I would puke. The teachers and nurses would ask me if I was making myself do that. They would roll their eyes when I’d try to explain that something was just wrong. I always just got sent back to the classroom to sit at my desk and white-knuckle through the panic.

That was the worst of it.

Middle and high school were marginally better because I‘d learned through the reactions I got from my elementary school teachers and staff that I was better just dealing with things on my own. I was my own support system by then; I knew I could take a few minutes in the bathroom to breathe if I needed to. I just couldn’t try and explain why. There was no use. No one had the patience for it. The sad coincidence was that I had the least support and empathy from ages 5–11; arguably when I needed it most. I felt like a nuisance and a liar, even though I knew I wasn’t lying. I knew in their eyes I was a liar, which in my mind was even worse.

I didn’t tell this story for sympathy. I told this story because it makes me so sad to think that other kids could be going through what I went through. It tears my heart up to think about. I hope beyond hope that there’s more awareness around anxiety and other mental health issues for kids in school, because I can’t stand to think otherwise.

We all deserve allies, we all deserve to have our voices listened to, and we all deserve to know that even if we’re not understood, we’re believed.