Panic Attacks? It could be your food
Don't panic, Mr Mainwaring!
It's not a nice life as a battery hen,
all of the time spent cooped up in a pen,
That was the opening of a poem I wrote when I was nine years old - I know, I know, you're here for panic attacks - so what's with the poem? Well, although it was clear to me then that my future was not as a poet, I never imagined I'd have the same future as the battery hen.
You see panic attacks will make anyone their prisoner - whether you're top of the pecking order or not, we're all the same once we're in that cage. It's not a nice life as a panic attack sufferer - in a way, you are cooped up, and sometimes it seems like there's no way out.
I've had panic attacks for years and though I can't say I've had them constantly there have been periods when I've felt trapped.
First of all I can't claim to be an expert. So why should I bother reading this article? you may ask. Well, a crucial part of understanding panic attacks is having first hand experience of them and my resume is a few pages long. Yes, psychologists and so forth perhaps can help but in the end it's you who has to resolve the problem. As my friend once pointed out to me - first and foremost you have to learn to understand your own self - going to someone else is like asking a mechanic to fix your car over the phone. You have to learn what's under the bonnet.
Lift up the bonnet? But I don't want to delve around in there! Well, you may not have to. Before you do anything, try looking at what fuel you're putting in the car. If it's not the right fuel things aren't going to run smoothly.
Wanted. Have you seen this confidence trickster?
So that's my first piece of advice. Look at what you're eating - it's amazing how it influences us and we never even realise it . All right, most of us realise that if we eat too many sweets or drink too much tea and coffee we may get hyper active or irritable - but that isn't all. Many, many types of food may effect us - and not just our moods, our, how can I put it? well, consciousness.
Take the onion, for example.
The plain old, innocuous onion. Is it possible that our dear old mate is sneakily filling us with negative waves? And not just when we breathe on people? You see onions, according to Yogis, make the mind restless and uncontrollable as they're Tamasic.
Of course, the concept of food having a subtle effect on our mental wellbeing is not widely known in the West but it's something Yogis have known about for thousands of years. In a nutshell, food is divided into three categories - Tamasic, Rajasic and Sattvic - the culprit of the three being Tamasic food as it brings about negative energy. A few members of the Tamasic gang are onions, garlic, red lentils, alcohol, drugs, meat, fish and mushrooms.
If you suffer from panic attacks, anxiety, depression, etc, you might want to look at the list of tamasic and rajasic foods that could be hindering rather than aiding you. But not only that, the way you eat is an important factor. Even if you're eating good quality, natural food - bolting it down or eating while stressed, anxious, bored or after quarreling will probably not do you any favours.
South African Rooibos tea
Happy days are here again...
Now, it's not all doom and gloom. The good news is that there's Sattvic food and that's the nice friendly one that fills you with positive energy. Fresh fruit, vegetables, milk, butter, cheese (not processed obviously), wholemeal bread...you get the picture. All things Mother Nature and her good friend Daisy the cow have to offer (preferably as uncontaminated by man as possible). This food, according to Yoga, nourishes the body and keeps the mind peaceful.
Now, of course, it's not quite as easy as that. Firstly because, to feel the full benefits of this diet you should really be practising yoga and meditation but nonetheless, it's a big step forward. And that brings me to the second difficulty.
It's a humungous step for many people.
It means drastically changing diet and getting off foods that we have been used to for a lifetime. Over sugary, over salty, packaged foods are in our blood - giving them up is about as easy as giving up hard drugs.
But you don't necessary have to go cold turkey - a gradual switch can work just as well, if not better. If you do want to get off the 'negative' food here are some tips:
- limit yourself on the 'negative' food and always eat/drink it in the morning so its effects are rapidly burnt off,
- if you do get cravings for chocolate and sweets buy good quality ones - not necessarily the most expensive but anything made with natural ingredients and brown sugar or honey but nonetheless keep yourself to one a day (again, best in the morning),
- if you have a weakness for salty snack food try making your own at home and if you can get hold of Himalayan salt then you're laughing (but go easy on it, all the same). Home made popcorn (the real corn, not packaged stuff) made with olive oil and with a touch of salt is scrum-diddly-umpscious or if you like it sweet, pour on some caramel (made with your own fair hands and brown sugar of course) chopped carrots, cucumbers, celery etc with a sprinkle of salt are just as good as crisps, (well, perhaps not as addictive, but all the better for you),
- try an alternative to the 'negative' food that you're most attached to - instead of tea try Rooibos (it's delish with milk, good for you and packed with antioxidants), instead of sweets and chocolates do a batch of homemade cakes and biscuits (avoid using white sugar and cheapo white flour, oh and of course eggs - recipes here if you're interested), instead of coffee try barley and milk (it really is rather nice) or try carob powder which is a subsitute for cocoa and very tasty but without the caffeine ,
- pin up notes reminding yourself not to eat certain foods and try to keep in mind the reason why i.e you don't want to be slave to your panic attacks/anxiety/depression anymore,
- if you feel peckish try drinking water mixed with a squeeze of fresh lemon - firstly because a lot of the time we think we're hungry when we're actually thirsty, secondly because it's an excellent thirst quencher and also helps keep hunger at bay and thirdly because it actually cleans your insides (although in truth, as a cleanser it's best first thing in the morning on an empty stomach),
- don't overeat on the 'good' foods - overeating will bring on similar negative thoughts. Iron-like discipline is the key - just keep the potential benefits always in mind.
Right, well, if you've got steely will power and an open mind then you should reap benefits. And if just reading that was too much for you then your knees are really going to start knocking at what I'm about to say. If you're not sitting down, perhaps you'd better do it now.
The 'f' word
I'm going to have to say it.
The 'f' word.
It's not a word you'll often see written and even rarer it is to hear it spoken. But it's got to come out. Whether people like it or not.
There, I've said it. And the reason I say it is because it's actually very beneficial. Now, I'm not advising you to go off and fast, that would just be irresponsible. All I ask is a moment to, well, hear me out.
They call it Ekadashi.
According to Yoga (and various religions), twice a month the moon is in just the right position to be very beneficial to the mind and body if one fasts.
Ok, now I'm going to run and take cover - I realise I put 'moon' in my last sentence and that automatically conjures up images of me doing Kate Bush-like dancing in fields, hugging trees whilst wearing flowing skirts and head scharfs.
I know, I know, rule number one - whatever you do, don't mention the moon - it's a sure fire way to lose credibility.
But there's no hiding from it - the moon is up there and it does have an effect on us. The point is though that fasting on Ekadashi purifies the body and mind and, more precisely, soothes anxiety. Not only that, you get rid of a good load of toxins in your body as well. True, it's not easy but neither is climbing a hill. And the view when you reach the top makes you forget the rest. As for panic attacks during Ekadashi - you can forget them (well, all you can think about is food).
Ok, so I'm dangling this nice, juicy carrot of a fast in front of you but not recommending that you try it. Well, I know you're desperate to get off and have a good old fast but I have to stop you - in the interest of 'safety' I would advise you do it under the guidance of someone experienced in Yoga (the real Yoga not the fashionable kind). I can tell you this though - harmful, it isn't (at least in my experience but take into account I don't smoke and am not on medicine). If you are interested you should contact Ananda Marga which is a global organisation dedicated to the physical, mental and spiritual development of all people - there are centres all over the world and you'll find one near you.
Ok, just one last word on fasting and then back to the comfort zone - should you feel daring and if you tend to get panic attacks towards evening or in the night you could try skipping your evening meal.
In an (organic) nutshell
A few tips for dealing with panic attacks:
- take a good look at your diet and work out if there's something or things in there that could be at the root of your panic attacks,
- this may sound obvious, but avoid drinks with caffeine in the afternoon and evening - not only do they disrupt the mind but they mess up your sleep and bad sleep patterns are no ally to a peaceful mind,
- eat your food slowly and when you're stressed or tense put it aside until you feel calmer,
- don't overeat and if you do, do it at lunchtime (that way any 'negativity' will be burnt off during the day),
- avoid tamasic and rajasic food or at least try it for two or three weeks to see if it helps,
- try sticking to set eating times (if the stomach is digesting all the time, the mind can get restless),
- perhaps needless to say, don't take drugs - and not even the legal ones prescribed by the doctor if you can help it - they render you a slave as much as any panic attack will,
- try to learn the patterns of your panic attacks and understand what is underneath them - if they come in the morning it may be a fear of the day ahead (perhaps you don't like your job/a certain person etc), in the evening it may be a fear of darkness (and therefore you may have a fear of the unknown, the future, even dieing),
- try humming - keep your mind on the melody and put your heart in it,
- listen to soft music (best instrumental, nothing with lyrics - they can perturb the mind),
- if an attack comes, let it come - besides, you know you've got through them before,
- try not to see yourself as a panic attack sufferer or declare yourself to be one - once your mind believes you're not a sufferer then you're half way there.
If you're interested in learning about Sattvic food types you can easily find them out there.
Of course, it's always good to have supportive friends and family but do be careful as too much safety can cage you in - it can become a steady rhythm of bouncing between panic attacks and loved ones' comfort without ever bouncing out.
But you can get out of it.
Of course, you don't turn your back on your loved ones but once you venture out without their protective gaze you'll feel stronger and, what's more, they'll be happier. Take up new pastimes, meet new people. New acqaintances won't see you as a sufferer and therefore you won't feel like one.
Remember that you're the one that holds the way out of that cage. The battery hen can't get out, but you can.