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Posts Tagged ‘panic’

  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. When Panic Attacks, Duck! Ten Tips for Surviving the Holidays

    December 11, 2016 by Diane

    With the holiday season upon us, I decided to roll out three blog posts this week to help ease any anxiety you might be feeling. This post, from December 2015, offers ten tips to tamp down the jitters.

    Santa Claus

    Holidays can be stressful whether you struggle with anxiety or not. But with a sensitive nervous system, all the hustle and bustle of the season can be the tipping point that sends you into full-blown panic. Here are my tips on how to survive the holidays, and what to do if panic does attack.

    1. Pace yourself

    Christmas is a time of giving and receiving. Don’t give all of your energy to buying and wrapping presents, standing in lines, driving from mall to mall, and attending every party you’re invited to attend. All of these activities will zap whatever energy you’ve got if you don’t allow yourself downtime. Here’s where the receiving comes in. Receive the gift of slacking off in front of the television with a bowl of popcorn. Receive the gift of letting other people do some of the shlepping around. Receive the gift of taking a nap, or a long hot bath, or drinking a glass of wine, your feet in slippers, a good book at hand. And forget about perfection. Kick that demon to the curb. Whatever gift you choose, whatever meal you plan, is good enough.

    2. Take care

    Are you eating well? Exercising? Getting enough sleep? Are you spending time in nature, or some other sacred space? You’ll need to make an extra effort to take care of yourself when the stress of holidays is upon you. Sweets are plentiful, but limit the sugar, as it feeds anxiety. Ditto for caffeine. Cold weather may keep you indoors, but you can still do some stretching, Tai Chi, Qi Gong, calisthenics, or just dance around the living room in your pjs to release tension. Maintain a sleep schedule, and include a pre-sleep ritual like turning off the tv, cell phone and computer a half hour before you slip under the covers. And try to keep the volume down on the radio. Noise batters the nerves, too.

    3. Slow down

    Tis’ the season to feel rushed. What’s a body to do? Sloooooooow doooooooown. Make all of your movements slower. Walk, talk, whatever it is you’re doing, at a more leisurely pace. This will help to calm your heart, unclench your muscles, and lower your blood pressure.

    4. Be mindful

    Instead of thinking about all of the tasks ahead of you, bring your attention to the present moment. Focus on what you’re doing, like a camera zooming in for a close-up. Time will seem to expand, and you’ll feel less overwhelmed.

    5. Ask for help

    Don’t try to cook the whole meal, hang all the decorations, do all the dishes, or anything else involved in setting the scene, all by yourself. If others offer, accept their help. If they don’t, then prod those lazy duffs off the couch and march them into the kitchen. Many hands make for light work. And it’s a lot more fun.

    6. If panic attacks, duck

    Not under the table into the fetal position. Duck out—to the bathroom, for some deep breathing. Step outside for some fresh air and a larger perspective. Take a walk, play with the kids. Or just start in on those dishes in the kitchen.

    7. Express what you’re feeling

    It’s probably not a good idea, as you’re serving the ham, to announce to the room: “I’m having a panic attack.” But you might want to seek out someone you trust and tell them what’s going on. Why? It lets off some of the pressure that anxiety builds up. You don’t have to suffer alone.

    8. Talk to somebody who’s sympathetic

    Not the family member who’s liable to say: “Snap out of it!” Not the relative who’s uncomfortable with his own emotions, let alone yours. Instead, find someone who understands what you’re going through. It’s a good bet that over half the people gathered together (probably more) deal with anxiety. You only need to find one of those fellow sufferers to talk to. Pull that person aside and say: “I’m feeling anxious right now and can’t seem to shake it.”

    9. Distract yourself

    Count how many red and green objects are in the room. Juggle the Christmas tree ornaments. Take notes on how your family behaves after a few stiff drinks (you can use the information in your next novel!). Find someone who looks more frazzled than you, and do something to make them feel less so. Try not to make it all about you, or your anxiety, even though it feels that way.

    10. Be the observer

    Observe the action going on around you as if you are the calm, still center of the storm. Observe your panic go up and down in intensity. Observe yourself observing yourself, as if you are standing in the back of a movie theater, watching yourself in the third row, watching your life on the screen.

    Remember, this too will pass. The anxiety, the day. And when it does, pat yourself on the back for having survived.


  3. Same Baggage, Different Location

    July 14, 2013 by Diane

    Tired Man Sitting in Traffic

    There you are, stuck in traffic on one of those misty mornings on your way to an eight hour shift at the Great Eats Deli, and the eats, truth be told, ain’t so great. But it’s a living, right? And you’ve got twenty bucks and change in your wallet. Maybe it’s not sandwiches you slap together; it’s car parts, or marriages. Whatever. It’s a road you feel stuck on, and you see a hole in the traffic and you wonder if you can disappear into it, end up somewhere else, somewhere free of it all. So you angle the bumper in, let the gray fuzz envelope you, and you lean into the steering wheel letting out a semblance of a howl. You’re moving, man, and you don’t know where you’re going but you’re full up with the skin crawling, heart pounding, sweaty stuff. You’re sick of it; sick of living small. You punch the gas, the mists part, and there, crouched at the side of a long empty road trembling for a ride, is Panic.

    Your shoulders slump. You slow down, pull over and let it in.

    “Back seat,” you bark, and it cowers in the corner.

    A mile down and you see a blur in the rearview, something pounding after the car. You speed up but it gains momentum, dogged in its pursuit, panting, reaching out, stumbling, clawing at its throat, bug-eyed. It’s Hypochondria. You sigh. Slow down. Let it into the back seat.

    It pleads, “Can I feel your pulse?”

    At the gas station, after filling up the tank and doing your business in the restroom, after scrubbing your hands with antibacterial solution and using your elbow to open the restroom door, you see Obsessive Compulsive Disorder filling the trunk with boxes of rubber gloves and tubes of wipes and rolls of paper towels and bottles of water.

    It gets in the back seat.

    You get that squirrely feeling in your stomach; that feeling that settles in when you want out, fast. You look around for another pocket to escape into but it’s just a long unraveling of gray highway and vast stretches of land. You strap on your seat belt, crank the engine, the passenger door opens and Depression heaves itself in. The car sinks under its weight, the tires flatten, the carburetor hacks one final cough and the car dies.

    “That does it!” You fling off your seat belt and lunge from the car. “This isn’t my baggage,” you lash out at the heavens. Maybe not. Maybe your baggage is Anger, Jealousy, Low Self-Esteem, and Judgment. Or maybe your baggage is Perfectionism, Worry, Attention-Deficit Disorder, and Impatience. Or maybe you don’t have baggage, you’ve dealt with it, you’re not hauling it around. Congratulations. Walk away. Stop hauling other people’s baggage. But if you take an honest look at the foursome in the car and you recognize any of them, forget about trying to escape this moment to find another, “better” one; your baggage, whatever it is, will come along for the ride. Might as well accept their presence, listen to their stories, thank them for their lessons and let them go.

    But don’t take my word for it. Go ahead, stomp off down that long empty highway heading west of Anxiety as the voices babble hysterically from the car: watch out! Put on some sunscreen! Don’t touch anything! Wah, wah, wah, fading away to an ever-present buzz.