Am I having anxiety attacks? What do I do if I am?
First, that's painful to be experiencing- both the physical and mental aspects of it and it makes sense that you would be considering therapy now. I'll do my best to setup a guide for you on how to start to work on it and hopefully help you on the path to reducing or eliminating these sadness and anxious symptoms that seem quite powerful.
One thing that I like to start with is giving you a tool that helps with reducing the onset of the symptoms through reducing the vulnerability to the physical symptoms. One way to do this is Tip Your Temperature. It's a skill where you can use a bowl of cold water or ice pack and can "dip" your head into the water to kick in your parasympathetic nervous system or the system that calms your body. If you're using an ice pack you would hold it up to your forehead and lean you head forward like you're diving into water or bobbing for an apple in water while holding your breath for up to 30 seconds. The reason why it's important to do something like this is that you're calming your body instantly so your mind can catch up. It would be like we need to treat a cut with a band aid, rather than ignore it and continue to do whatever it is that you were doing.
Other ways you can do this is put your head in snow, drink ice water, put a cold ice pack on your neck, put an ice cube up on your neck, etc.- you can be savvy about this part.
The next area would be starting to notice when sadness hits for you- it does sound very intense and what we can do is often take the "shock" out of it. If I notice it comes from feeling sadness or when you think about something, do something, then it can be helpful to notice that and that you'll likely experience these intense symptoms. I will say something like, "don't be surprised when an emotion hits, if you notice a pattern or know the feeling here." This can be helpful with noticing what the other experience looks like without the added element of surprise- which often makes things 10x's worse.
One more idea I have that is usually very helpful when anxiety and depressed or sad feelings hit quick is to use a technique called square breathing. Square breathing is keeping in mind the look of a box and counting to 4 with each step. The steps are 1) breath in for 4 seconds (with your nose/ this is optional). 2) Hold your breath for 4 seconds. 3) breath out of your mouth for 4 seconds (make a whoosh, if needed) 4. Let your breath sit for 4 seconds. Now repeat this for a few minutes and continue to do as needed. This is often very helpful for panic and anxiety attacks and usually a primary treatment method for those areas as an important skill.
I hope these 3 ideas give you a start and I can understand how debilitating things can feel and if you need help, feel free to reach out here or through BetterHelp. I hope you get on the path to the healing you're looking for and I think it's courageous for you to reach out as well.
Mitchell Daas, MA, LPCC