Three months ago I was in an ambulance having a heart attack. Or a diabetic episode. Maybe it was just high blood pressure. Honestly, I wasn’t sure what was happening other than that I was clearly dying. The ER doctor’s proudly declared that I was fine. In fact, despite the racing heart, shortness of breath, extreme dizziness and hands clamped shut, I was the picture of perfect health. How so? I was simply told, “You’re having a panic attack.”
Stress. It’s the most foul “s” word in the English language. It’s equated with cancer, heart disease, panic attacks, hives, wrinkles, hair loss, malnourishment, stubborn belly fat, tension, and migraines. I’m sure I’m missing a few but you get the point. Stress will kill you.
The anxiety attacks I experienced after the initial panic attack were like the after-shocks of an earthquake. I was having anxiety about having anxiety. In my desperation to get control of my life, I went to a doctor that prescribed low-dose Xanax (.25mg). Yes, good, a pill, anything to stop these feelings and mentally crushing thoughts. But, I hated the way they made me feel because they made it so that I felt nothing. To be a living, breathing, being that feels nothing was kind of creepy to me. Soon after feeling nothing, I would fall into a deep dreamless sleep. Not too shabby if you have trouble sleeping, but not exactly helpful if I’m trying to deal with an anxiety attack while at work.
Not to dismiss pills altogether, a combination of pills and therapy have helped many people. The way I saw it I had two choices; I could become a pill popping unfeeling zombie and sleep through life, or I could face the fear and work through it. I tossed the pills in exchange for the following:
1. Journaling – I journal about whatever is on my mind at the moment, whenever I get the urge to write. I don’t give myself rules like, “write once in the morning” or “write before I go to bed” or “list five things I’m grateful for.” I simply write, but I do add things for which I’m grateful. Sometimes my mind rattles off twelve items, sometimes there’s just one, but I find that removing the mental clutter is imperative and staying positive is crucial. I choose happiness.
2. Yoga – Most forms of yoga emphasize deepening and lengthening your breath. This stimulates the relaxation
Yoga is not a trend. It’s over 5000 years old with tremendous health benefits.
response which is the opposite of the fight-or-flight adrenaline boost of the stress response. I’m personally not a fan of going to yoga classes because I find that I get stressed out trying to fit a class into my day, not to mention that it can be pricey in NYC. My absolute favorite go-to yoga DVD for a home workout is Total Yoga. If you don’t have the time to fit in the entire workout, don’t beat yourself up about it. Do five sun salutations and call it a day. Try again tomorrow.
3. The Relaxing Breath — My doctor recommended this to me and it’s something I do every single day. Breath in for 4 counts, hold your breath for 7 counts, and slowly breathe out for 8 counts, and repeat three more times. The beauty of breathing exercises is that you can do them anywhere and they cost you nothing. Here is a good video demonstration.
4. Aromatherapy – I carry with me, at all times, my Stress Relief inhaler (a quick inhale of bergamot, eucalyptus, and lavender) and Stress Relief roll-on (I use this as my “fragrance”). Unlike Xanax, they’re pure essential oils that give me a boost of “ahhhhhhhh” so I can continue living my life, wide awake. You can get them both at Escents Aromatherapy, a great site for all your aromatherapy needs.
I love a nice hot cup of tea.
5. Herbal Tea — I was a coffee addict for a very long time. The day of my panic attack I consumed three cups of caffeine. As suggested by my doctor, I made the switch from coffee to herbal teas and realized that I didn’t need or crave coffee. At all. If the idea of this horrifies you, just switch to decaf. Chamomile tea with a pinch of ginger powder soothes the mind and an upset stomach in one cup of goodness. I keep fresh ginger in the house at all times and pretty much add it to any cup of tea.
6. Socializing — If there’s one thing I’ve learned about anxiety it’s that most people have experienced some form of attack and everyone is dealing with stress. I learned this by talking about my experience with friends and having them tell me that they’ve had a similar, if not worse, experience. It’s comforting to know you’re not alone and that this thing that seems to take over your life is not as powerful as you think. Spending time with people you trust alleviates stress and getting out boosts energy levels.
7. Laughing — Laughter really is the best medicine. You can’t not feel better after laughing. Go ahead, try it.
8. The Untethered Soul — Michael Singer’s book, The Untethered Soul, was a tremendous help in providing perspective and mental clarity. ”The Untethered Soul begins by walking you through your relationship with your thoughts and emotions, helping you uncover the source and fluctuations of your inner energy. It then delves into what you can do to free yourself from the habitual thoughts, emotions, and energy patterns that limit your consciousness. Finally, with perfect clarity, this book opens the door to a life lived in the freedom of your innermost being.”