- Mental Health
Tips for Dealing with Anxiety and Panic Episodes
As "Serious" as a Toothache
An anxiety or a panic episode - which are only different by their intensity while basically start from the same nervous excitation - for all their alarming experience are not anything more serious than a toothache.
Just like a tiny nerve at the bottom of a tooth may give us an exaggerated feeling as if our jaw is "falling apart", so an anxiety episode may give us that doomsday sensation, with that exaggerated feeling that we are about to lose control and go crazy. So, before we get any further, it will be of a great help to memorize this fact about anxiety - it's nothing serious, regardless how "serious" it may be presenting itself.
However, since an intense panic episode usually mimics the symptoms of a heart attack, it's important to know if our ticker is in a generally good condition, or if we are a likely candidate to have a heart attack - so that we don't mistake its signs for a panic episode and ignore them. Many folks with anxieties naturally rush to see their doctor, who then sends them for a battery of tests to rule out a heart failure.
Coming as a Nasty Surprise
One of its most unpleasant features is that anxiety episode may be triggered by just about anything and come in any situation. We may be watching a hilarious TV program, or have a great time at a party, enjoy our favorite music, or be in a middle of telling a story to a friend when it chooses to come out of nowhere and take us by an unpleasant surprise to spoil it all.
Even as we sleep, it may wake us up, with heart pounding in our throat, with a cold sweat and that sinking sensation in our stomach pit, or any other of those alarming symptoms in its repertoire. So, the trigger doesn't have to be something like a screaming kid at a busy mall while you are stuck in a lineup.
If you are a sufferer, you already know all this too well, but I am merely showing you that I understand, and I am not trying to size it down to hick-ups as I say how anxiety is not to be taken for something "serious". I know it's been serious enough to you - so far.
Nerves that Generate Anxiety
I have no way of knowing how familiar you may be with the nervous system, but to avoid some boring lecture, suffice it to say that beside our central nervous system which means our brain, we also have an autonomic nervous system containing sympathetic and parasympathetic network of nerves.
The former one is basically attached to our survival instinct and its fight-or-flight mechanism - making us ready to deal with threats or any unpleasant situations. It works in tandem with stress hormones, notably cortisol and adrenalin.
Since I promised not to turn it into a lengthy lecture, don't mind my omitting neurotransmitters, neuropeptides, and other boring stuff. Knowing that sympathetic chain of nerves excites you, while its counterpart - parasympathetic system calms you down is all to know for our purposes.
Two Shots of Adrenalin
It's useful to know something about adrenalin that pertains to anxiety. There is something like a "primary and secondary" shots of adrenalin that we get during our anxiety episode. The primary one happens at the very onset of it, and at this point it's good to remember the saying: "It's not our emotions that hurt, but our resistance to them".
Think about it. As that first sign of anxiety shows its ugly face when we least expect it - do we tense up in that natural reflex reaction to something unpleasant, or we just accept it and let it run its course? It's all about retraining our nervous system, so we can skip that secondary shot of adrenalin by putting a Mona Lisa smile on our face, chin up, dropped shoulders - while acting as if nothing is happening at all.
Remember, anxiety is basically an alarm coming from your survival mechanism, and as false as it may be, it has to be dealt with and shut down. By acting as if nothing of a threat is happening you are rewiring your brain to take those alarms less and less seriously. Until one day when they disappear altogether.
On the other hand, when you tense up and take it seriously, leaving a party, going to bed, pecking on tranquilizers - you keep that response trigger-happy.
Time to Loosen Up a Bit
So, how do we make our sympathetic nerves so trigger-happy? For the starters, some of us are either by nature or by upbringing with an overprotective mother hovering over our wellbeing made overly sensitive. By sensitive I mean a slight lack of adaptability to new situations.
People normally switch their nervous responses relatively smoothly from one frame of experiencing to another - and others are a sort of "stuck" at the previous one, as if unable to move on, so that any new frame of experiencing hits their nervous system as a surprise. Those are usually the folks who get startled easily and are prone to hypochondriasis, or an exaggerated concern about their health.
This is one of the possible causes, and it can be relatively easy to correct by toning down our general muscular and nervous tension, as we stop spying on our wellbeing - mamma's style - and stop seeing our health as so "fragile and delicate".
Sugar - Not a Sweet Friend of Yours
Quite often anxiety is caused by our real sensitivities to certain foods or drinks. First on that list could be consumption of sugar. Many, or should I say most folks can't metabolize sugar properly, triggering blood-sugar spikes partially characterized by a hypoglycemic reaction.
That is, the ingested sugar gives us an initial boost of energy only to drop our good blood sugar (glucose) too low, as we get a squirt of insulin in our bloodstream to counteract that white sugar. It's a little more complex than that, but again - no long lectures.
Anxiety is a very typical symptom of hypoglycemic reaction to either sugar or too much of white flour in our diet. So, it goes without saying - it doesn't matter what else you may do to improve your anxiety situation, if you keep your sweet tooth, you'll keep your anxiety, plus a whole list of other possible problems caused by it. In dieticians' circles sugar is often called "white death". Something to think about, even if your anxieties are not of a high intensity but simply a nuisance.
There are Sensitivities and "Sensitivities"
There are other possible food sensitivities, and so called "orthomolecular psychiatry" could give you a long list of them - however, it's really up to you, the sufferer, to take time and effort to keep a journal of what you eat and how that food is affecting you, including drinks.
You may have food sensitivities that you would never suspect. We all have our biological individuality, and just because your sister or friend could eat all corn she wants, it doesn't mean that you can.
But again, many food sensitivities may also come as a result of an unintentional self-suggestion stemming from something that your overly protective mother used to say, or even something that you have read in a magazine. Health food industry are making profits just like Big Pharma - by advertising sicknesses and sensitivities, so - be a prudent consumer when your health is in question.
A Short Medley of Other Causes
Of other causes of anxieties that are worth mentioning is a lack of sleep, dehydration, overwork, abuse of alcohol, caffeine, and tobacco, not even to go to recreational drugs. While we are at drugs, some prescription drugs or just their dosage could cause it, in which case that's something to report to your health care provider.
Then, it could be some real marital problems or problems with kids. That's a big area to be covered, but a simple advice can still do - work on your stress management. Love yourself more and don't allow people and situations to push your emotional buttons.
See the physical reality of it - you are divided by space from all those "stressors", and what's happening in your personal space is only of your own make, no one else's. No one can "make you" feel anything other than by an act of violence.
Junk the Idea of "Genes"
If by any chance you are inclined to believe that "anxiety nerves run in your family and so it's all in your genes" making you "helpless" and without a choice, I may have a little surprise for you.
Namely, it has been scientifically established for a fact that we can overrun just about any genetic predisposition by a different mind style and life style. The chances are that your mother was a panicky type, exaggerating hardships and adversities of life; and growing up in that emotional environment you, an impressionable kid, simply picked it up as a "useful strategy of survival".
You see, as kids, just like the young animal offspring, we are like little sponges learning the art of survival from our parents; and lacking the power of discrimination between fact and crap we take everything as "the way life is and how to deal with it". If mother said that you are up to many disappointments and hardships because life sucks - that was true to you.
Thus, it's a good idea to make a little emotional inventory of your childhood - just to see what could be some pure emotional junk that you don't need at all. Using our own mind can by itself produce some wonders in our life.
Breathe for Calm
Now, don't be surprised when I tell you that something as silly as a bad habit of shallow breathing, or even suppressing it for some seconds, may bring about an anxious or panicky mentality.
We never really think that much about it, but our nervous system, aside from our heart, is the biggest consumer of oxygen. You can go without food and water for quite a while, but only minutes after you have stopped breathing, well, you know it---it's the beginning of your end.
Our body does some crazy tricks to spare us from negative experiencing, and one of them is this shallow breathing or suppressing it. By depriving the brain from its vital food, oxygen, we tone down our emotional reactions. By the way, we do the same by overeating, as most of the available body energy goes down to digest that food, making us slightly drowsy. Hence that need for a nap after a rich meal.
But, back to our breathing habits---a big part of our solution should be in cultivating a habit of breathing abdominally, slightly deeper, and regularly. Look at a sleeping person, how regular and deep is their breathing---while they are in that relaxed state of mind. That should give you an idea how important your breathing is for your emotional equilibrium.
Also notice babies how all of them are breathing abdominally, with belly-out at inhalation, and belly-in at exhaling. As we get older and more nervous, we start breathing with our chest, chest out at inhaling, chest in at exhaling.
Think about it. Just this habit of breathing properly could retrain your overactive sympathetic nerves to stop producing anxieties and panic episodes.
Some Natural Stuff to Consider
If you are prone to anxiety or even panic attacks - please note that I have been omitting panic only because it's actually just a more pronounced anxiety - it could be a good idea to try supplementing with two or three things that you can obtain from your health food store.
One of them is magnesium glycinate or bi-glycinate, which is one of the most absorbable forms of this mineral. Many people are deficient in magnesium resulting with overactive sympathetic nervous system, anxiety, high blood pressure, insomnia, etc.
It can be taken together with taurine, an amino acid which gives similar benefits of magnesium glycinate. Keeping possibly the best for the last, try lemon balm, a herbal remedy coming in both capsules or a tincture. Tincture may work better.
As for a Disclaimer
Tips having to do with health problems with symptoms that could stem from something potentially more serious - usually end up with a disclaimer, so here is mine. I am not a doctor of any kind, and I am not even peeking into some of those smart books to re-word their text. It's all from my general knowledge about the human nature - so if you choose to check anything out - be my guest, it's your health in question.
Really, the most important in all this is whether the good doctor has given you a "clean bill of health" and called it all "just emotional". In that case, my information and tips in this article may be quite useful to you. So, my last words would be - remember, it's just as innocent as a toothache, it just feels lousy, and I am sure you can deal with it.