Don’t Panic

Anxiety attacks are a frequent occurrence for many people at music festivals.  Often these are caused by large crowds, lack of sleep, sensory overload, and dehydration. Some people deal with the problem by taking pills or whatever extracurriculars they enjoy to stave off the attacks, but if you are looking for a way to deal with the problem without drugs I have some advice to offer.

The first time I experienced a panic attack was a few years ago when I was in college.  While walking to class I suddenly felt weak at the knees and my eyes started getting blurry fuzzy spots.  All the blood rushed out of my face, and a cold sweat took over my whole body.  My heart started to race and I felt like I could throw up or lose consciousness at any time.  It was terrifying.  The problem persisted for years, and it took me a long time to discuss it with anyone else.  I have generally been known as a laid-back, together person, so I didn’t want to admit that something was wrong.  I thought having a panic disorder made me a psycho or meant that I couldn’t handle my life or something.  Once I finally opened up to someone about this problem I found that it is far more common than I could ever have imagined.  Many of my friends suffer from panic attacks, and once I stopped ignoring and avoiding it I found a system for dealing with them that did not involve denial, drugs, or feeling like a psycho.

Different situations cause panic attacks for different people, but many things at a festival can cause them.  For some it is the large crowds, others it’s dehydration or lack of food, and for others, it is sensory overload and sleep deprivation.  You are putting your body and mind through a lot so taking care of yourself can help with the anxiety.  Remember to eat, even when you are in a hurry to get to the next set or when it is too hot to feel hungry.  Keeping your body nourished is so important because you are likely doing a lot of walking and dancing, and burning tons of calories which need to be replenished to keep you feeling good.  Staying hydrated is even more important.  Heat exhaustion and dehydration can put a quick stop to your fun festy weekend and the faint feeling it can cause could lead to a panic attack.  Knowing that I have eaten and drank enough fluids helps me relax and feel less anxious, so try this first if you know you have a tendency towards anxiety.

The large crowds are inevitable, so if this is a panic trigger for you then you have to develop a system for dealing with them.  For me I always make sure I have something cold to drink in my hand.  I’m not sure if it is the distraction or the cold but something about this is comforting for me.  I also splash some cold water on my neck and stomach to cool me off when I start getting that feeling.  After that I sing a song in my head.  I tune out all the clamor around me and just focus on remembering the lyrics to the Phish version of “Roses are Free”.  This is a song that is ridiculous and silly, and for some reason focusing on that reminds me that I am in the happiest place on Earth, and my only job this weekend is to party my ass off and enjoy some music.  No reason to panic.

Some sleep deprivation and sensory overload is also inevitable, but there are ways to deal with these as well.  One way is to set up some shade outside your tent where you can get out of the heat for a while to take a little cat nap.  Sleep whenever you feel like you need it, even if it is for just a half hour in the middle of the day.  When there is not a set you want to see and the campground is sort of quiet, take a snooze.  If you want to drown out the campground noise try some earplugs or put in some headphones and listen to some mellow chill music to relax you.  If I am feeling especially anxious I put on some Dead and sit in the shade and read a book for a minute.  I feel like this helps decompress my brain and put it on autopilot for a while to rest up from all the partying, people watching, and raging out from the days before.

My last piece of advice is to tell your friends about the problem before it turns into a full blown attack.  During the period where I hid my panic disorder from everyone, it was not until I was sitting on the ground with my white face and cold sweats that someone knew I was in trouble.  At that point people all crowd around you trying to help but ultimately making it worse.  The more people tried to help the more panic I felt.  Now I go ahead and warn my friends about the signs.  I tell them in advance that if I get a little quiet and walk off or start going pale, just leave me be.  Don’t talk to me or ask me if I’m okay, just hand me some cold water and give me a minute to calm down and get myself out of it.  Because they have been warned in advance, they already know that when I start to panic we may have to chill in the back for a minute before pushing into the crowd and getting buried in a sea of people.  Having this conversation used to be really awkward for me but I have found that most people understand and have even experienced a similar problem at least once in their lives.  Letting them in on the situation also helps me relax because I now know that I don’t have to explain it later when I am starting to feel anxious.