I messed up….and I did it again. Oh, and there’s mistake number three. Could this day possibly get any worse? And then it does: with a panic attack. This situation happened to me a couple of days ago at work after some very stressful circumstances. The day didn’t start off right, and the afternoon fared even worse. I made two gigantic mistakes and then had a panic attack in front of my supervisor, which was both traumatic and embarrassing. But wait––how in the world did this lead to a panic attack?
I’m not sure if it’s the same for all anxiety sufferers, but here’s what happened: my biggest fear is disappointing others, myself, or both. Plus, I often make a mental list of all the things that go wrong during bad days. Now, combine both of those. I already felt somewhat anxious because the day progressively became worse every hour, and then my supervisor found me later. That sparked the waterworks, and then the hyperventilation followed––during that moment, I knew I had a panic attack.
Why exactly does a list of things going wrong cause anxiety, as opposed to just a bad day in general? First, it’s because focusing on all the negative things accumulates worry, which can turned into anxiety if left unmanaged. In addition, the majority of panic attacks occur during very stressful moments, according to Calm Clinic. Having several things go wrong in a day, or even over several days, can definitely result in stress.
Let’s venture back to my day. I was stressed because I felt like I couldn’t do anything right––why in the world did I remember those particular things incorrectly, and why do I always seem to be the one causing a bunch of problems?
If I look back at the past five years––from my senior year of high school through my undergrad education––I have a history of falling short. The student magazine rejected me three times, and I didn’t even get the position I wanted on the fourth try. I applied for three different positions for the campus newspaper, and I didn’t get any of them. I’ve broken my toe, had a color guard rifle hit my head, and have had several other injuries. I was bullied in high school because a girl thought I was too quiet to achieve anything. One high school teacher even made me cry after she yelled at me for no reason. I missed errors when I edited papers as a TA, and I’ve messed up several orders at the coffee shop I work at. I’ve even caused my parents grief at times––they told me one thing, and I completely misunderstood it. I could list even more things, but these are the basic issues.
As a result, completely dropping the ball a couple days ago––unintentionally––made me A) feel like an idiot and B) remember that I never do anything right. Although lists of “wrongs” that day made me anxious, ultimately, the list of “wrongs” from the past few years is what caused the panic attack. The memories all flooded back, and I realized that I’ll never measure up. Anxiety about the downsides of the day also produced jealousy over how well my coworkers perform (at any of my jobs). I wondered, Why in the world do other people only make small mistakes, and here I am, making tremendous errors?
After that happened, I started rethinking how I could have changed the day, if I could have gone back in time. In doing so, I did what Cognitive Behavior Therapy calls “rumination.”
Rumination, another form of obsessive thinking, is the uncontrollable preoccupation with the past. Rumination is experienced as guilt, regret and anger, over perceived mistakes, losses, slights, actions taken or not taken, opportunities forever lost, with irreversible, catastrophic results. Rumination is accompanied by condemning, all-or-none criticism, and the overwhelming belief that if things had been different then existing and future misery could be avoided.
As a I kept a record of mishaps throughout the day, I went back and felt all those emotions––guilt over my mistakes, regret that I didn’t catch them earlier, and anger at myself. Actually, on that note, my supervisor asked me what I was upset about. My answer? “I’m upset about me and how I always screw things up.” Even during my panic attack, I was ruminating. After the panic attack happened and I got off work, I kept beating myself up. I called myself a bubble head at least 10 times.
Yes, I realize nobody is perfect and we all make mistakes. However, it’s difficult when you unintentionally cause chaos wherever you go. I’m trying not to focus on the negatives lately, but honestly, it’s so hard when everything falls to pieces. I’m trying to avoid keeping a list, but it’s as if the list just sticks to my mind. I don’t know if I’ll ever get over the fear of screwing up, and my heart goes out to those of you who feel the same. Know there are better days, but life is tough.––hard things happen to even the best and most hard-working people.
If you find yourself panicking about a horrible day, please, find someone you can confide in. The worst thing you can do is bottle it up, keep replaying the events in your mind, and let the anxiety monster eat you alive.