Sometimes we all need to take a step back and continually reevaluate our lives to make sure we are still on task and haven't fallen into a new pattern. I'm still learning too.
Today is not a post about how to do this, or why this is good for you. Today is me being transparent, sharing something with you that maybe opens your eyes to a lesson or nugget that can help you.
Recently, I experienced my first ever panic attack. I’ve never experienced anything like it. It took me completely by surprise.
I’m a healthy guy – I exercise, eat right, and try to manage my stress.
But even the healthiest people can have a health condition sneak up on them. It’s not easy to remember that when you think you’re doing all you can to stay healthy and in shape.
Let's go back a few months.
My wife Jodi and I started watching This Is Us. I know, I was thinking the same thing...This Is Us? I am not going to watch that. But give it a chance, it's pretty good.
There was an episode from Season 1 that really stuck with me when Randall experienced multiple debilitating panic attacks.
The portrayal was heart-wrenching. I felt sympathy for the character, but I didn’t honestly understand everything he was going through.
Well, I can tell you that now I know what Randall felt like on that episode.
However, I have to say there’s a silver lining with this experience since I always try to look for the positive.
What I’ve discovered is just how much our food, exercise, and self-care decisions impact how our body reacts to stress.
Debilitating Panic Attacks – What Brings Them On?
One of the first things I did after my panic attack was to research what other sufferers had to say about what brings them on.
Basically, panic attacks are caused by anything that contributes to physical, mental, and/or emotional stress.
And when we have stress, this can create anxiety. Yes, they are different.
Dr. Jeffrey DeGroat, PhD is a clinical psychologist and Roger S. Gil, MAMFT shared their take on stess and anxiety on Lifehacker.
Put simply, anxiety is a sense of fear and apprehension that puts you on alert. Biologically, it's meant to put us in a heightened sense of awareness so we're prepared for potential threats. Unfortunately, when we start to feel excessive anxiety, or we live in a constant state of anxiety, we're in trouble. Our bodies never turn off our fight or flight response, and we live with the physical and emotional effects of anxiety on a day to day basis, even when there's no reason or cause for them.
On its face, anxiety can look like stress; but the reality isn't so simple. Anxiety can arise as a result of stress, but stress can manifest in other ways. Stressors can make a person sad, angry, worried, or anxious, while anxiety is specifically that feeling of fear, dread, and apprehension we mentioned. You may never even know what's causing your anxiety, or in some cases, it can manifest on its own, without any real "trigger" or cause. Stress is often caused by external influences, while anxiety is an internal response. That's part of what makes anxiety intrinsically different than stress, and also what makes it so difficult to manage.
Prior to experiencing my attack, I had been on the road a lot over the last year and a half driving my son to tennis training in Fredericton 4 times per week and tournaments on the weekend. In between tennis, I was trying to run my businesses and keep up with family life at home.
During this time, I was still sleeping well. But, now that I look back, my mind was always racing on what I needed to do next.
This all came to head when my 13 year old son at the time decided he wanted to move away for his tennis. He was moving to Halifax and was going to live on his own with another family, while we stayed in Quispamsis.
I brought him there and stayed with him for the first week. During that week I was constantly thinking...
How is he going to make out without his parents?
How are we going to make out?
What if something terrible happens?
Are we doing the right thing?
Can we afford this?
Because of all this "thinking," I was hardly sleeping.
Then BOOM! It happened.
I was in full throttle, panic mode. I did not know what was happening and I thought I was going crazy and was going to die right then and there.
What was happening to me? Up until these moments, for the most part, I was feeling great, still exercising, eating well. What did I do wrong?
Now that I look back, these are classic building blocks for anxiety and, by extension, panic attacks.
Some others include:
- Negative thinking
- Stress within a relationship
- Work stress
- Lack of nutrients
- Lack of physical movement
- Feeling misunderstood or not supported.
Now that I know what causes an attack, the next step was for me to figure out how to prevent this from happening again.
How to Prevent a Panic Attack: 6 Steps I Am Working To Help Ease the Pain
Yes, that’s right – pain.
Panic attacks are exhausting and can lead to muscle pain, heart palpitations, stomachaches, and headaches. They can cause hyperventilation and make you feel like you’re having a heart attack. That was me. :-)
Thankfully, there are some things I discovered and we can do to prevent debilitating panic attacks. Here are six steps that can help.
1. Take Time to Meditate
I actually practice meditation 4 to 5 times a week and daily meditation is a great way to stop the mind from going haywire. It forces you to slow down, take deep breaths, and focus on the moment.
However, I was doing it more because "everyone" said I should. What is really important is understanding your breathing and how you are breathing. When you become stressed and anxiety creeps in your breath may become shallow. It is important to try and breathe from your stomach and in and out from your nose, not your mouth.
There are different types of meditation. You can just focus on being still, quiet, and focus all of your attention on your breathing.
You can also try active forms of meditation, like visualization. This practice helps you to focus on an end goal, a happy result. Not only will this practice reduce stress, it will get you excited for the projects ahead of you.
I am a big fan of the Headspace app.
2. Practice Mindfulness All Day Long
Throughout the day, we get so busy that it’s easy for our mind to quickly spiral into negative thinking. Before we even realize it, we’re stressed out and feeling like crap.
That’s why we need to periodically take a breath and make sure we’re living in the moment instead of focusing on the million other things we have to get done.
As they say – focus on one step at a time.
Another way to look at is to let yourself "play" more. Charlie Hoehn has written a book about how letting himself play cured his anxiety. When you think about it, as adults, some of us can become "lame and boring" as Charlie puts it and we forget about what it's like to be a kid.
If you saw a kid doing any of those things, you would laugh and wonder what the hell was wrong with them. Kids don’t run to get in shape; they run to feel the grass beneath their feet and the wind on their face. Kids don’t have a chat over coffee; they pretend and make jokes and explore the outdoors. Kids don’t go to work; they play their favorite games. Kids don’t network; they bond with other fun kids while playing. There is no ego. There is no guilt. There is no past to regret, and no future to worry about. They just play.
For me, I have decided to find more ways to "play" and take better self-care. Whether that is getting a massage, playing more tennis, going to the movies, grabbing a beer with friends, it is going to become more of focus.
3. Get Plenty of Rest
This was a big one for me. As mentioned, up until my episode, I slept like a baby and still do now. When life gets crazy, we tend to burn the candle at both ends and neglect our sleep. When I had my panic attack, I really wasn't neglecting sleep, but I just couldn't sleep.
Whatever might be causing your sleep issues, regular sleep is vital if we’re going to keep our sanity and accomplish everything we want and need to get done.
Plus, more sleep can help reduce blood pressure and provide the energy needed to exercise safely and effectively.
Who knows, I may even decide to start taking naps again. Why not? Kids take naps. :-)
4. Make Healthy Food Choices
Healthy food choices are really important. For the most part, I feel I have this area covered, but what I did learn is that there are some foods rich in nutrients that build the body’s natural defense system, allowing it to react healthfully to stressful situations.
Foods to include in your diet:
Foods that drag your immune system down include:
5. Don’t Forget to Exercise
My favorite way to beat stress – which can be kind of difficult to do while on the road – is exercise. To combat stress, I workout five days a week and make sure each session is vigorous and heart-pumping. It’s also best to exercise for at least 30 minutes every day.
I am grateful for the fact that exercise has been such a big part of my daily routine. If I wasn't exercising like I was, my body may not have recovered as easily as it did from this episode. That is one of the main reasons why I exercise...to make sure my body is ready for any attack that may happen. This is why I will continue to exercise at least 5 days a week.
6. Get Support
We all need support, especially from those closest to us. If you’re suffering from high anxiety and panic attacks, let your partner know. Don’t be afraid to ask them for support and show them what you need from them when going through an attack.
I reached out to my family, I have spoken with my Dr. and I am sharing with you. Make sure you find ways to get help. Don't be tough and try to do this all on your own.
Another tool that I have recently started using for support is the app, Welltory. Welltory takes a measurement of your energy and stress levels using your heartbeat. Heart rate variability (which is NOT your heart rate) is a method that has been used in healthcare and professional sports for decades. It is also featured in 20,000+ research papers on PubMed.
I have been using this app for a little over two weeks now. You can sync it with other apps and devices, which I haven't done. What I do like about it is it gives you a good snapshot of what you are feeling like at that moment. You can then refer back to your history and see what things maybe causing you more stress and whether or not you have the energy in place to handle the stress.
In the end, it doesn't matter how healthy, or how much it looks like you have your shit together. Panic attacks, anxiety, stress can get the best of anyone. If it does get the best of you it does not mean you are weak.
You are not the only one. Actually, there are over 40 million people in the US who are affected by anxiety.
Even the great Tony Horton, of P90x fame has had some recent health issues, which he most likely links to stress.
Fewer, Less Intense Panic Attacks – It’s All About Self-Care
I wish I could say that by following these tips I’ll never experience a panic attack again. Unfortunately, I don’t think anyone can make that claim.
The best thing we can do is to do our best to prevent them and to ensure they’re not as intense.
And one of the best ways to do this is with daily acts of self-care.
Exercise, sleep, healthy food choices, and monitoring our thoughts and feelings are some of the best things we can do to live a life with fewer panic attacks.
And there’s a bonus – these forms of self-care are the components needed to live a healthy life in general.
If you suffer from debilitating panic attacks, please do all you can to follow a daily self-care regimen and don’t be afraid to ask for help and support either. Even leave a comment below and I will answer. I am not sure if having anxiety and having a panic attack makes you an expert, but I do know what it feels like and how I have reacted since.
I’m here for you, my friends. Together, we can provide a community of support, happiness, and healthy living.
Oh and thank you for reading and letting me share this with you. It has been therapeutic.
Do you suffer from panic attacks? Let me know in the comments below or on my Facebook page what you’ve found to help you work through them.
Other Resources I Am Looking Into
As you know this is all new to me, so I am still looking into other resources to help with this. Here are a few that have been recommended to me by my Doctor.
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