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Posts Tagged ‘mental health’

  1. Feeling Powerless Over Panic? How to Navigate an Attack

    January 8, 2017 by Diane

    People in retro style pop art. Girl screams in fear.

    Panic is the body’s language for “Watch out, buster, danger ahead!”  It’s useful if you’re headed down a dark alley where Jack the Ripper is having a smoke. It’s a bit more vague when it bursts out of the blue. From my experience, an unexpected panic attack is an alert that something’s going on in your life that isn’t so hot for your well-being.

    For me, it was a case of being overwhelmed, stressed out, and overextending myself.

    Last Tuesday, it was a rainy and windy night. Wind in itself is somewhat overstimulating for us Vata types (that’s Ayurvedic Medicine-speak for people who are thin, light, cold, poor sleepers, and tend to get anxious). Add the plethora of challenges I had decided to take on…

    the 14-day creativity summit

    the seven-day plant-strong eating program

    the 500-word-a-day writing challenge

    the 130 e-newsletters and webinars cluttering up my inbox. (Did I say 130?) Yeah. This, following an all-day inventory project at work that had its share of snafus.

    …it’s not surprising I had concocted the perfect recipe for panic.

    So the universe decided to give me a wake-up jolt, which is what happens when I ignore my body’s signals to GIVE IT A REST, HOLCOMB.

    Allow me to demonstrate how an outwardly calm and rational person can, on occasion, get hijacked by her emotions.

    I whipped together dinner in a hurry, every muscle tense. I felt dizzy. My arms felt tingly. Before sitting down to shovel in my food, I decided to dig out the blood pressure monitor and take a reading. It was a tad high. Did I tell myself: That’s not surprising, you’re stressed, your blood pressure will go down when you calm down? No. I convinced myself that I was headed for a heart attack or stroke or worse: Kaiser. I convinced myself that I would have to ask my landlady to drive, and if I didn’t ask in a relaxed, oh-by-the-way manner, she would freak out and drive off without me.

    So I decided to take another reading.

    It was higher.

    I took another.

    Bad idea.

    By then, I had shot into full-blown panic, body shaking, head buzzing, ears ringing. I knew I needed to calm down, but my mind was skittering around like a hamster on steroids in a maze.

    How did I go from crazy hamster to zen water garden gal? From blood pressure that makes cartoon characters explode, back down to a mellow 110/80?

    I used the tools in my “Chill, baby,” toolbox. When the first one didn’t work, I tried the next, and the next, and the next, until I found the right tool, or combination, that did the trick.

    If you ever find yourself up the panic tree, here are eleven tips to help navigate your way down. Don’t give up. One of them is likely to work.

    Prescription drugs: I headed straight for the Ativan bottle, something I take “as needed.” I had three pills left. I must have needed a lot lately. Hel-lo! I prayed that just one pill would work, and that I would survive the next thirty minutes before it kicked in.

    Prayer: What the heck, it didn’t hurt to ask for help.

    Movement: To work off the adrenaline, I shook my arms, gave my shoulders a roll, and paced back and forth, pausing periodically to check my blood pressure. A teensy-weensy voice inside my head shouted to stop checking. It may have been my doctor’s. I chose to ignore it.

    Smile: I’d heard that smiling will convince the body all is lovely in the world. If I hadn’t been obsessively checking my blood pressure, I might have believed it.

    Meditation: Yeah, right. If I had been taking my daily “meditation medication,” this could have done the trick. Alas, all those emails, those challenges, those webinars, took time I’d allotted for meditating. As I commented to a fellow blogging-buddy-reader-of-this-blog, there’s a Buddhist saying that goes something like: If you don’t have time to meditate for five minutes, you need to meditate for an hour.

    Without that steady practice, it was hard to tap into my still, quiet place on command, especially when my heart was racing like an out-of-control roller coaster. Still, placing my hands in the position I take when meditating was somewhat calming.

    Deep breathe: In for four, hold for seven, out for eight. Ten times. That usually works, but I still felt anxious. I switched to alternate nostril breathing. Ten times. That worked slightly better.

    Distraction: It occurred to me that my mind was the culprit here. If I could distract it, my body would calm down. (Yes, even in the midst of a panic episode, there’s a rational part of me observing it all.) I counted down from ten over and over again. When I checked, my BP had gone down five points.

    Soothing self-talk: I told myself, “I control my mind, it doesn’t control me. I’ve read the scientific evidence. We can change our brains.” My BP went down another five. But still higher than normal.

    Music: I turned the radio on to a classical music station. Mozart, I remembered, is good for the brain. And by focusing on the music, I engaged my mind in something other than considering a trip to the morgue.

    Visualization: I visualized myself in my safe place, lying on my blue picnic blanket on a field of grass under a sunny sky, hearing the ocean waves in the distance. This is another trick that works better if practiced in advance. Luckily, I had. I felt an immediate release of tension, as if an exorcist had pulled something immense from my chest. While I was at it, I visualized myself as confident and relaxed. And smiling.

    HeartMath: Here’s a technique developed by Doc Childre, founder of the Institute of HeartMath®. Visualize people or animals you love, and focus on that love radiating from your heart. Feel a sense of gratitude while you’re at it. Here’s a link that describes the HeartMath solution, and techniques to help you manage your emotions.

    I checked my blood pressure one final time. Score! It was in the mellow zone. One less challenge on my teetering plate.

    Whew.

    Next week, I’ll share what I learned from this impressive panic episode. Until then: chill, baby.


  2. How to Worry Well

    October 23, 2016 by Diane

    Last weekend, it rained. Hard. And steady.

    When it rains hard and steady in California, we stay indoors. We don’t know what that stuff is pouring down from the skies, and if we can’t go out in shorts and flip flops, we just don’t.

    So indoors I stayed. In my box of a playhouse.

    I felt like a caged animal, which is sometimes how I feel in my head. Imagine my delight when I discovered a program on PBS called The Healing Mind. I tuned in, and although my reception was spotty (because I’ve still got squirrels in the doohickey), I got the gist of what Dr. Martin Rossman had to say about worry. The good, the bad, and the huh? what should I do about it?

    Worry is something we all do, sometimes to the point of driving us squirrelly. But according to Marty, we can learn to worry well.

    A worry well? Where we drop our worries and make wishes?

    No. But that’s an interesting idea.

    Worrying well looks something like this:

    Take a sheet of paper, and divide it into three columns. Label the columns:

    Good Worries

    Bad Worries

    I Don’t Know Worries

    Then list all those nuclear nuggets rattling around in your head, all those worry thoughts.

    Is the worry something you can do something about? Then it’s a good one. Is it something you can’t do anything about? It’s a bad one. The rest go in the “I Don’t Know” column.

    Now, for the good worries, decide on steps you can take to deal with them. Brainstorm. Write down your ideas. Make an action plan.

    For the bad worries, visualize a positive outcome. Visualize what you’d like to have happen. This doesn’t guarantee that it will happen, but at the very least, it will help you feel better.

    For the worries you don’t know how to handle, ask your wise self for advice. According to Marty, we use only a small portion of our brain, thinking. The rest of it, the vast uncharted territory, is where imagination and wisdom resides.

    You don’t think you’re wise? Think again.

    If a friend asked you for advice about a problem, you’d have an answer. Where does that wisdom come from?

    Your wise self.

    So lie down, or sit in your comfy cozy chair, close your eyes, breathe deeply from the abdomen, relax your muscles, and visualize your wise advisor. Ask your advisor what you can do about your specific concern. And listen for the answer.

    I was eager to jot down my worries, and found that most of them fell under the “I Don’t Know” column. Just seeing them written down in their various columns lifted a weight from my soul.

    Our minds are tricky buggers. But, as Marty says:

    You are not your mind. You have a mind, but you are not your mind.

    There’s a part of us that can observe our thoughts. Which means, we have the power to choose what we want to think, or not think. We have the power to change our thoughts, our brain chemistry, and its wiring.

    We have the power!

    Here’s another interesting tidbit:

    Worry is a thinking activity. Anxiety is our emotional response. Stress is our physical response.

    To tamp down our anxiety and stress levels, we need to use our heads. We need to nip it in the bud at the source of the problem: our minds.

    So breathe deeply, relax, and go to your imaginary safe place, somewhere the rain don’t pour. And start visualizing.

    Wanna learn more? Get the book, The Worry Solution.

    Here’s a guided imagery by Marty Rossman.


  3. Today I’ll Feel Joy, No Matter What

    October 14, 2016 by Diane

    Start Each Day Like Its Your Birthday quote

    Today I’ll find a reason to feel joy. It doesn’t need to be a good reason. It can be real or imagined, big or trivial. It can be the smile someone sends me, or the smile I send to someone. It can be the penny I find, and the happy dance I do in celebration, or the unexpected gift of one thousand dollars (come on, universe!). It can be the time I spend at the ocean hand in hand with a terrific guy, even if that time is spent in my imagination. It can be the chocolate Javiva from Peet’s that I take to the park, along with a sigh-worthy romance novel. It can be the smell of a book, the taste of a cupcake, the hug from a friend, a new pair of shoes, the view of the mountains from a hiking trail, the sound of rain on the leaves at night, and the feel of cool, fresh, moist air through the window. Today I’ll find a reason to feel joy.

    Today I’ll find a reason to laugh. It doesn’t need to be a funny reason. It can be for no particular reason. It can be while sitting in my car at a stop light, or while walking in the neighborhood in the evening. It can be while folding laundry, washing dishes, taking out the recycling, slicing strawberries and bananas for my granola, or pausing in nature. It can be because of a screwy thought I have, or an odd comment I overhear, or a mistake I’ve made one too many times. It can be while watching an episode of The Dick Van Dyke Show on DVD, or while talking to my mother on the phone. Today I’ll find a reason to laugh.

    Today I’ll find a reason to shove my anxiety aside. It doesn’t need to be a big reason. It can be small or silly, real or imagined. It can mean setting aside, for five minutes, my worry over the weird pains in my head and the fact that I’m getting older. It can mean sending my short story to someone to read, even if it’s not perfect. It can mean driving over a bridge in the rain, or looking someone intimidating in the eye, or refusing to engage in the latest political discourse. It can mean observing, with great compassion, the adrenaline shooting through my nervous system, and not reaching for an Ativan. Today I’ll find a reason to shove my anxiety aside.

    Today, and every day, I’ll find a reason to feel joy, to laugh, and to set aside my anxiety, no matter what.

    This is my birthday wish.

    This is my birthday wish for you, too.

    Every moment, we’re born anew. And every moment is a gift, an opportunity to experience joy, merriment, and peace.

    Happy birthday, world!