|Overcoming anxiety - p2|
Thursday, 05 September 2013 00:00Written by Guy SInes
Page 2 of 2
Before I get into the self-care portion of this article, a word needs to be said about this controversial topic. I first need to state that I am not a doctor. However, I have found in my own experience that a typical medical doctor has a poor general understanding of this condition, and they are after all trained to treat symptoms of a condition versus treating the person as a whole. The medical establishment is under the control of pharmaceutical companies, which are simply businesses who rely on your continued suffering. If you are cured, they make no more money from you. In my work in the mental health field, I have never seen anyone who was on an antidepressant for a prolonged period of time who did not end up requiring larger and larger doses, before eventually having to move on to a more powerful drug. I've also observed these subjects developing worse conditions over time as their brain chemistry gets scrambled from constant artificial manipulation of their neurotransmitters. Nevertheless, this is a controversial and intensely personal topic, and you must arrive at your own conclusion as to how you will address it.
My own experience with psychotropic drugs was fortunately a brief one, one which provided temporary respite while I went through the process of making the lifestyle changes which I required. It began at a time when I was working a very high-stress job. Even though I'd been able to partially get my panic "disorder" in check a few years before, with the stress I was under it began to return. With it came a myriad of health symptoms such as severe, chronic fatigue, acne and digestive problems. After my doctor had treated me for a variety of conditions with no success, he started me on Zoloft, which was new at the time. The relief I felt was instant. Unfortunately, the way in which most of this variety of drugs works is to make you simply not care about things, and this became evident in my work life. I was fired from my high-stress job as a result, which was actually a blessing in disguise.
The relief that Zoloft provided was immediately evident to me and those who were close enough to me to see the difference. Unfortunately, it had side effects that I didn't care for. It gave me cottonmouth, caused me to sweat profusely, softened my stools to the point that I always had to be near a rest room, and all but eliminated my libido. However, it also rendered me nearly completely apathetic to these symptoms. Fortunately, I never lost the wherewithal to see that apathy was probably not a good thing in the long-term, so under the supervision of a naturopathic physician, I began the process of weaning myself from the drug.
I had also begun to exercise once again during this period, something which I'd neglected for a number of years. I began to make the connection that during the times in my life when I was the most physically active, I also experienced the least amount of unnecessary stress. A few years later, I was given a prescription for the sedative Xanax to control my flying anxiety. Eventually, I found that simply having the Xanax in my possession gave me the security to not even need to take it. Today when I fly, I need nothing more sedating than a glass of wine, my Ipod and a big, fat magazine or a good book.
So this is the part you really wanted to get to, isn't it. I apologize for putting it at the end, but I feel that it's more effective if you have an understanding of the physiology of the condition. The adage "Know thy enemy" may come to mind, but I would suggest altering your perception to "Know thy enemy, and embrace it." Never forget that stress is a gift! It is a life-saving tool which you must simply learn to control and channel appropriately. Like everything else, when out of balance it is a monster. Here's how you can tame your monster.
Your person is composed of matter and the energy that moves it. Physics tells us this; that matter and energy are both finite and exclusive. Matter does not create its own energy, and energy does not create matter. One however, can manipulate the other. Form follows function in nature, in other words, your body follows your mind, and your mind lives in your body. Therefore, you must use the approach of balancing your mind with your body. This isn't mysticism, it's physics. Simple physics.
A word of caution; if your symptoms are more severe, if you are in poor health or if you are already on medication, I strongly suggest that you seek the advice of a naturopathic physician to assist you in this process. Some may require counseling as well. While there are many good allopathic physicians who are sympathetic, I recommend naturopathic physicians simply because they are trained to heal the whole person, versus simply treat symptoms. They are also trained to interview and listen to their patients. I have also had the best results with them when dealing with chronic conditions, as they tend to have more of a "camel's back" approach, i.e. they strengthen the system as a whole, while eliminating troubling symptoms. For panic/anxiety conditions, this is the most appropriate action one can take.
In dealing with the mind, or energy part of the problem, you need to examine yourself and the conditions that lead to your attacks. If you have difficulty finding this, or if there is past trauma that's too painful for you to deal with on your own, you will need to find a counselor who you can trust. Ask your naturopath to recommend someone who they have worked with before. For me, it was a matter of simply examining the worst that could happen. That always ended up being death, and so I had to come to terms with death. I had to begin accepting it as a natural and cyclical process in the order of the universe. Once I was able to do this, everything else went away. In a recent stress survey in a men's health publication, I scored "The epitome of at ease", which I can tell you came as a tremendous shock to the formerly very-highly-strung me. It was no surprise to my co-workers however, who simply brushed it off with a casual "Yeah, you're a really laid-back guy. That's why we like working with you." Amazing isn't it, how we sometimes only see the changes in ourselves through the eyes of others.
On the physical or matter side, as I previously stated, movement is life. And if you didn't skip the boring physiology part of this article, you understand why. If you frame houses or stack bricks for a living, I seriously doubt that you're reading this article at all. You probably work at a desk, or don't work at all and have a sedentary lifestyle. We animal organisms are designed to MOVE! Being sedentary is an affront to nature and will lead to stagnation. For this reason, getting an appropriate amount of exercise is absolutely crucial. You need to be breathing deeply and circulating your blood and lymphatic system on a daily basis.
Exercise in and of itself is a very broad subject. Choose a mode that works best for YOU! For me personally, high intensity exercise works best, as well as activities that either have or mimic an element of danger, such as skiing, climbing and martial arts. These activities in particular are highly neuromuscular, and require a balanced mind/body connection. They will also initiate an adrenaline response while allowing you to use up your adrenaline appropriately. Recent studies have indicated that this type of activity is highly beneficial for cardiac health. For others, simply going for a daily walk will be all that they need. The important thing is to find an activity that you enjoy and that stimulates you physically, and then do it consistently. If I find myself in a situation where stress is quickly building, I'll find a quiet corner, and do a set of pushups or squats til exhaustion. That is, until my muscles won't perform the action any more and I'm gasping for breath. If it's convenient, I'll go outside and run a few hill sprints.
When approaching the subject of the physical, it is also necessary to take nutrition into account. Are you eating right? Are you eating enough? Are you getting enough of the proper nutrients in your diet? Processed foods should be avoided as much as possible, as they tend to be loaded with substances that can trigger panic attacks or contribute to poor health in general. Vitamin B-12 is an adaptogenic nutrient which helps your body cope with stress. It is contained in meats, organic dairy, eggs, fish and dark, leafy green vegetables. You may also want to consider taking a supplement which contains high doses of Vitamin B. Simple sugars and caffeine are stimulants, which means they will trigger your sympathetic nervous system, which may lead to a "fight-or-flight" response, or panic attack. They're also acidic, and your levels of stomach acid are already elevated during stress. Prolonged use of these acidic substances combined with stress can lead to ulcers or other digestive ailments.
While there are a variety of supplements and formulas available that promote relaxation, there is no magic shot in the arm that will cure your condition. YOU have to do it, and you do it by finding the root of the problem and reversing it. You are your best physician in dealing with this condition, as your symptoms are largely subjective, and therefore immeasurable to others. For this reason, I avoid supplements that promise to relax me, promote a good sense of well-being, etc. Although I do eat foods and drink teas made from substances that are historically known to do this.
As a general rule, a person should not eat when they are under stress. Your digestive system is already effectively shut down, and combining food with the cortisol your body has released can lead to weight gain. Wait until you are relaxed and in a good mood to begin eating again. You should also avoid trying to calm yourself down with alcohol during a stressful period, as this will only further constrict your circulatory system and raise blood pressure.
What to Do During a Panic Attack
When you find yourself at the outset of a panic attack, you're going to notice a lot of negative self-talk in your head. Turn this around immediately! Instead of saying things like "Oh no!" or "I'm going crazy!" or "I'm dying!" (I know you've been there, that's why you're giggling), tell yourself "I'm okay, this is a normal reaction, it will pass soon". Try to think of something that makes you happy. Engage your mind. Try counting by multiples of two: 1, 2, 4, 8, 16, 32, etc. By the time you get to 131,072 you'll have forgotten you were having a panic attack. Panic attacks usually only last a few minutes, and seldom go on longer than 20-30 minutes. Remind yourself that the one you're having will also be short-lived.
Be aware of what's going on with your body. Is your chest tight, breathing rapid and shallow? Are you short of breath? You're only hyperventilating. Start taking slow, deep breaths. And by deep, I mean not just into your lungs. Breathe DEEEEEEEP down into the bottom of your belly. Imagine you're breathing all the way down into your heels, as if your body were a huge balloon that you're filling with air. When you've taken as deep of a breath as you can, pause just briefly, then fully exhale. Repeat. This alone will "re-boot" your parasympathetic nervous system so to speak, and you should be feeling much more relaxed by your third breath. Is your heart racing? That's tachycardia, which will also return to normal along with your breathing when you perform the above exercise. Your shoulders are probably scrunched up to your ears as well. Let them relax, and drop them down and back to where they belong. This will further free up the constriction you're feeling in your thorax.
If you need to, and it's convenient, exercise vigorously at this time. You can probably run faster than you ever have with all the chemicals that are flooding your system. Use em up! Sprint, swim, do pushups, lift weights or whatever it is that you do. Just do it until you're tired and your attack will be gone.
Sounds easy, doesn't it. Well it is when you begin to put it into practice. Just start small, wherever you are, doing what you can without overextending yourself. Be consistent, and always watch for the signs that your stressors are building up to a level that needs to be dealt with. Better yet, be consistent in your health regimen and prevent them from building up at all. Replace negative self-talk with positive self-talk. Talk to yourself about accomplishments and goals, about things you or others have done that make you happy. Focus on the positive. Know that you are not crazy or experiencing mental illness.
When I suffered my first panic attack over twenty years ago, not much was known about the condition. It was, and still is, erroneously considered to be a psychiatric disorder, which is how it has been treated. Again, I state that this is NOT a psychiatric disorder, but a result of our living conditions in modern society, and our failure to evolve fast enough to keep up with the gains of the industrial/technological revolution. Just knowing this and being able to put it into perspective has helped me tremendously.
I had to find a solution for myself, and the process has led to a lifetime of studying natural health practices, and for that I am thankful for the condition. I have condensed what I have discovered and what has helped me into this article, and I hope that it has been a blessing to you as well. Know that you can beat panic attacks naturally, on your own, and for good!
Wishing you the best in health and well-being