I used to have panic attacks.
After checking myself into an ambulance (quite certain I was in my final moments), I was in denial when the nurse said what had happened. “Nope”, I said, “I’m not stressed and there’s nothing wrong in my life – couldn’t have been a panic attack”. I saw it as a weakness for the weak. Not me.
My mom recommended I take yoga classes in my University town to relax because I also used to frequently wake up in the middle of the night gasping for air with a pounding heart. VERY scary. But after several tests, there was zip all anyone could find. The yoga was good for me when it happened, but I never made it a priority.
Three more full-blown daytime attacks later and I finally accepted the truth. It took me a while to recognize the common denominators closely enough to pinpoint what I was (or wasn’t) doing that triggered these fits.
I guess I’d been doing something right, because I was free of any episode for two years, but last Sunday, after a weekend of partying, little sleep, terrible eating and little physical activity, I had a small “night-gasping” episode. Alas, I’ve been reminded: Lindsey’s body doesn’t like late night partying, caffeine, Doritos and no-yoga.
Whether you experience panic attacks or not, I figured I’d share the things that keep me panic-free (look at how basic they are!):
I don’t think yoga is the only cure, but I do think listening is (and yoga is what helped me get there fastest). When I finally made it a routine it changed my life. On my mat it’s an hour and a half of awareness: I hear my muscles, organs, breath and thoughts. I honor them. Of all yoga aspects, the breath and stilling of the mind have been most influential in my still-young practice. These two things are gold in keeping me sane and calm. Breathing also happens to oxygenate every cell in our bodies from the brain to the organs. A proper, relaxed breath should deep and slow – I love a big belly breath where you push your stomach out as you inhale and suck it in as your breathe out. I don’t just practice it in yoga class either – techniques can be done any time and oftentimes I do them just to check-in. I wrote about the Power of the Breath from the Yoga Journal Conference here and Pravassa (the site I often write for) has a basic breakdown of techniques here.
It’s no news that water is important – duh. Personally, I’ve learned that coffee and alcohol attract my panic attacks like sugar does ants in our Brooklyn apartment. I’ve cut back considerably on coffee, allowing myself two “treats” a week. Always a small ;) I know there’ve been recent headlines on why coffee may be moderately good for us, and it does taste so darn good. But by now, I know my body, and I know that water is what it really wants. With every cup of coffee, I better have 2 cups of H20 to follow.
This goes hand-in-hand with hydration, but oftentimes, what I don’t stuff into myself is not as crucial as what I do put in it. I’m not a health-expert, but I can literally feel how eating tons of plant foods calms me down, increases my vitality, improves my breathing and just makes me feel amazing – body and mind. Doritos, which I love by the way, do not. Lance Armstrong’s Livestrong Foundation has more to say about veggies and anxiety here.
What have I learnt along the way? No one’s invincible. We all have our sensitivities. More importantly, we should listen to our bodies more; they’re wise and they know what’s up! What’s yours communicating? It could be weight gain, unhealthy weight loss, acne, depression, indigestion and so many hundreds of other things. Once we hear, then we can work toward change, one small lifestyle tweak at a time.
As for me, I’m taking the night off tonight and getting a good Friday’s evening’s rest (with maybe a glass or two of wine) :)
*Note: This isn’t medical advice. If you suffer from constant panic attacks, I recommend talking to a doctor.