DIY: Stop a Panic Attack.

Everyone (from my Starbucks barista to my family) knows that I am the queen of anxiety. I started having panic attacks in nursing school, but my overzealous brain told me that it was something physical. My brain interpreted these strange moments of adrenaline to be a deviating physical aliment such as a rupturing aortic aneurysm or a heart attack. It was a combination of knowing too much about the medical field and deep dark dives into google that led me to believe my pounding heart was the end. Fortunately, nursing school also exposed me to this concept called anxiety (typically common among the wealthy suburbanites that do not have real things to worry about). I kid, I kid. Fast forward a few years and a few hundred dollars in therapy and I arrive at the present day…with an arsenal to defend against the dreaded anxiety attack. I am humbled by many late nights spent surfing Amazon for self-help books and streaming TED talks on Youtube. I have developed a few successful tips that can help you get through a panic attack after years of self-study.

  • Engage your 5 senses.
    • what do you see? Name 2 items you see.
    • what do you hear? Name 2 times you hear.
    • what do you feel? Name 2 items you feel.
    • what do you smell? Name 2 items you smell.
  • Belly Breathe
    • the core of calm lives in our bellies
    • inhale for 1-2-3-4, hold it 1-2-3-4, exhale 1-2-3-4
    • when you inhale, feel your belly pushing out as if you were preparing to sing a high note in chorus (shout out to middle school chorus and the awkward pubescent moments of doom and acne)
  • pick your manta
    • “I’ve been through this before and I survived/thrived”
    • “Let it go”
    • “I am calm and compassionate”
  • Seek gratitude
    • in the midst of panic, finding something you are grateful for is a challenge, but it makes all the difference
    • say one thing in your mind that you are grateful for
    • the shift from fear/panic to gratitude is a powerful and beautiful moment

Panic used to make me feel spaced out and strange. I would feel dizzy and disconnected. By focusing on my senses, I would feel grounded and connected to the earth. Sometimes, I would smell peppermint oil to really jolt me back in the present moment. Mantras work well for me also because it stops the continuous negative thought pattered and replaces it with something positive. Our brain has this miraculous area called the limbic system. It has allowed us to survive for thousands of years and outrun tigers /prevent us from burning our houses down etc. It is a bad ass emergency system. Unfortunately, we live in a state that has the limbic system switched to “on” most of the time, resulting in hypervigilance. This explains why you might be in line at Target and the next thing you know, you are sweating and feel a desire to run out of the store. Thanks, sympathetic nervous system. By utilizing the techniques listed above, we can counteract this overstimulated response system and begin to engage our parasympathetic nervous system. I fondly refer to it as the chill the f*** out system. Our brain is phenomenal, but we can still manipulate it to halt panic and allow space for a more calming energy. You have the power to trick your brain with your body.

You are a warrior goddess/defender of the good/captain fantastic/super human….just if you needed a reminder.

Love and light.

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Gynecologists and spilled iced tea. Honestly.

This piece is inspired by hubby-to-be working late, a relaxing massage from my fantastic coworker, and one too many local craft brews. I want to take you on a journey from the Spring of 2015.

I am anxiously sitting in the waiting room of the gynecologist’s office. Many of you may know that us women have a majestical organ that can grow human life, but also requires an annual oil change. The nurse calls my name and I follow her to the exam room, barely staying upright on my jello legs. At this period of my life, my anxiety was still quite welcome and made a daily appearance. Pair that with a stranger, cold metal, and you have a damning combination. My blood pressure was so high that the sweet nurse looked quite frightened. What can I say? I like to keep people guessing. Anyway, I made it through the appointment and wobbled to the parking deck to retrieve my dignity and vehicle. I drove out of the deck, only to realize it was a cash only payment system. Let’s be honest…I have not carried cash since 2004. So, I had to promise to mail a $5 check to the cashier within one week. MAIL A CHECK, PEOPLE. I did mail such check because my catastrophic thinking pattern convinced me if I did not send in the money I would go to prison and rot on death row. I digress.

I scheduled another appointment right after the doctor’s office because that is a great idea when you are riddled with semi-crippling anxiety. My meeting was with the Physician’s Assistant I was going to shadow in the upcoming fall for my clinical rotation in my Masters program. It was my duty to find a health provider, set up a meeting, and create a mentor-style relationship. My logistical mind decided that the gyno and this medical facility were close in proximity so it would make perfect sense to schedule them on the same afternoon. My anxious brain quickly vetoed the idea, but canceling was not an option.

I wore workout clothes to the gyno appointment because who doesn’t want their doctor to think they are a stellar, fit, healthy human who works out for 329 minutes a day. So, I packed a cute business casual outfit for my meeting with the Physician’s Assistant. I decided to run to a Chick-fil-a and enjoy a quick lunch. Unfortunately, nausea used to be a common anxiety manifestation…so I was essentially dry-heaving chicken nuggets in the parking lot. Casual.

Now comes the time to change outfits. All goes well. I decide to take a nice sip of my iced tea and then it happens. The lid cracks and dark brown liquid pours all over my white chiffon blouse. In panicked mood, I exit my vehicle to look to see if I have another shirt in the trunk. As I step out of the vehicle, my high heel gets caught in a grate in the road. My heel snaps off. So now, I have one broken pump and a stained shirt. The time crunch is kicking in and I need to make a decision. I decide to put on the workout clothes in the hopes this prospective teacher will see me as a sassy fitness guru.

I enter the office and ask for the Physician Assistant. The receptionist asks me if I am a patient. Not a good start. Fast forward…I met with him…it was a decent interaction…I cried all the way home.

What is the point to this story? Perhaps my judgement is clouded by the hoppy deliciousness of local beer. The point is this…it is really not that serious. I ended up having another preceptor take me as a student, graduate with a 3.9, and got a job. It always works out. Even the moments that feel chaotic and overwhelming always lead to the correct path. Anxiety makes the small moments hard and gives too much power to stupid and trivial things. None of it matters in the long run. It always falls into place. I wish I would have learned to take things less seriously…but now I value that knowledge. Laugh at yourself, at the world, at this blissful chaotic thing we call life.

Love and Light.

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For fellow craft beer enthusiasts…this Thai Wheat by Second Self is stellar. Cheers to not taking life too seriously

 

 

Sundaze.

Tell me about your Sunday night routine. Do you feel a heavy fog of monday’s stressors hanging around your psyche? Do you feel like the beginning of the work week has penetrated your Sunday utopia?

Sunday night used to be a trigger for my anxiety. Around 5pm, my mind began the familiar snowball of chaotic thoughts regarding the ensuing week.

I have to go to work, run to the store, work out, pay bills, and cook dinner. Then, I have to turn in a paper and have a phone conference with my collaborating preceptor for clinicals….etc….

Grad school ended, thus extinguishing most of the external stressors in my life. I want to share how I handled a healthy relationship with the final hours of my blissful Sunday during the most hectic weeks.

  • Self-Care Sundays
    • Take a long shower and embrace the purity of feeling clean. Wash away the stressors of the upcoming week and feel the warm embrace of a hot water hug
    • No/minimal alcohol
      • The worst part of Monday is waking up with a hangover. I have drastically limited my alcohol consumption to no more than 2 drinks at a time and it has improved my mental and emotional health
    • Engage in a hobby
      • I love adult coloring books and the therapeutic release I get from that raw pen to paper feel
    • Ground yourself
      • Meditation is an important aspect to the delicate balance of my healthy vs unhealthy mind
      • Take 5 minutes to sit in silence and enjoy watching the flow of thoughts as you accept, acknowledge, and forget them
    • Journal
      • I keep a gratitude journal and I like to reread it on Sunday nights before beginning the daily grind…it shifts the perspective
    • Tea
      • Make yourself a damn cup of tea. From scratch. Like an adult. The act itself is very spiritually healing and I love to end my night with a delicious cup of Yogi tea

Will these activities guarantee a perfect transition from Sunday into Monday? Probably not. Do I do all of these each Sunday? Does a bear shit in the woods? Actually, I have never understood that saying, which is shocking because I like to consider myself a female Bear Grylls. Now, I am getting off track. What were we talking about? See…Sundays are weird.

I challenge you to work on the ease of transition between the restful weekend and the loudness of the week. Perhaps you have a career that allows for a natural evolution between the two. Perhaps we should all find careers that allow for low stress. Perhaps pigs should fly. I am not sure where all of these animal hyperboles are coming from but I kind of like it.

My wish is that your Sundays are blissfully yours and only yours. May you enjoy the last moments of tranquility before a week of adulting.

Love and light.

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The mug is not exactly accurate…I will not be officially a MRS for another few days 🙂

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Today, I enjoyed a short afternoon meditation sitting on this dock on Lake Allatoona 

Nature meditation.

This weekend we embarked on a hike in Dawsonville, Ga. We hiked to a bed and breakfast that can only be reached by foot through the hills of north Georgia. It is a true gem and perfectly named “Hike Inn.” Ahh, the puns. This was our second trip to this secret spot and it was wild to see how much has changed in our lives since our last visit. When we first started hiking two years ago, we stumbled upon the Inn on a google search. The only hike I had ever done was towards the back of the Target parking lot on Sundays. This whole “put on a backpack, voluntarily walk through the woods, and eat beef jerky” thing was not my normal routine. I played outside a lot as a child, but quickly lost that wanderlust side of myself in early adulthood.

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Our journey back to Hike Inn this weekend was healing. We had genuine conversation with new friends, listened to guitar as the sun set, and silently gazed out at the mountains. My love affair with nature has grown with each hike. We have hiked hundreds of miles in the past 2 years and I feel as if I find a piece of my soul during each walk. There is something so vulnerable about traipsing around in the woods and facing your own mind. It is a raw experience where all stimuli of distraction is gone and you must delve into your own spirit. You begin to get to know yourself out in the wilderness.

Meditation and nature compliment one another. Throughout history, many people used nature as a practice inspiration and conducted many sessions outside. Most of us do not have the luxury of living on acres of land, so hiking is a good compromise. I enjoy a walking meditation during my hikes. It normally goes something like this:

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Deep breath in 1-2-3, hold 1-2-3, exhale 1-2-3, look around at the magnificent earth. Feel the ground under each boot as you step. Smell the fresh air. Listen for the birds.

Another favorite of mine is something I think I invented…granted, people have been alive for many years so I’m sure some other boho hippie has done this before me. Sigh. Anyway, this is how it goes:

ABC’s of gratitude. During your hike, think of one person, place, or thing that you are grateful for that begins with the letter “A.” Move all the way through the alphabet. You will be humbled by the blessings in your life and by the peace of your surroundings.

We disconnected from technology and the outside world this weekend. It heightened the intensity of my practice and allowed me to truly experience my surroundings. When is the last time you were in nature and sat down to take it all in? I bet you were tempted to take out your phone and immediately capture the beauty. What if you captured the beauty with a mental picture and used it to harness inspiration for your meditation practice? I am guilty of using my phone too much and forgetting the importance of a mindful presence. Working on it…

After we got home, I felt really overwhelmed from all of the stimulation of regular life. Everything seems so loud, bright, and busy after spending a few days in the woods. I verbalized this to Kemp and he added tapestries to my meditation corner to create a secret place. Now, I can meditation and read in my own hidden corner.

My wish for you is to get outside, connect with nature, and do hippie shit.

Love and Light.

 

 

 

Do hard things.

If you let fear guide you, your world will become very small. Anxiety makes us seek constant control. Anxiety intensifies fear. Anxiety changes your perception of your abilities. However, you are not limited to these feelings. If you push yourself and do hard things, you will overcome anxiety.

When I feel anxious, my sympathetic nervous system says, “get the eff out of here! RED ALERT! BING BING BING RUN AWAY.” You get the point. So how do you challenge those thoughts? You do the hard thing. You take on the challenge. You stay in that fear. You do not retreat. You ride the wave of panic.

My day started off well. I had a nice breakfast, worked out, and went to a local trail to hike. Hiking by myself has always been a trigger. When I know I am alone and far from my car, the anxious thoughts drift into my head.

What if I panic and I’m all alone in the woods? What if I get hurt and no one can come help me?

I challenge those thoughts and stop the pervasive thought cycle. I logically analyze the statement. If I panic, then I panic. It won’t kill me. It just sucks for a few minutes. If I get hurt, I still have cell service to call for help. I’m a seasoned nurse, I can take care of most things that could happen to me.

I try to participate in something anxiety-provoking every week. It helps me work on coping and getting back into the adventurous side of life. Today, I did just that.

There is a long, skinny wall that juts out into the river next to the trail. It is about 6 inches wide and leads to a waterfall. I don’t particularly have a fear of heights, but this wall is thin and goes across a freezing river. The thoughts started…”what if I fall? what if I walk out then can’t walk back? what if…what if…what if…” So, I took a few shaky steps out on the ledge. I could taste the metallic adrenaline in my mouth. I stopped, mouthed a few “mother f*ckers” and promptly walked back to the ground. My fear won. I started walking back towards the parking lot.

A wave of disappointment washed over me. Am I really going to let my actions be dictated by fear? Nope. I turned around, hopped on the ledge, and walked all the way across. I sat down on the wall and meditated. I won. I channelled the fear and converted it into energy to finish the task. My fiance (Iraqi War Vet) always tells me “just finish the drill.” I finished it and it felt pretty damn good.

Challenge yourself to do hard things. It will help you grow emotionally, physically, and spiritually. How can you incorporate challenges into your life? How can you grow from fear?

 

Love and light

Balance.

Life is like riding a bicycle.

To keep your balance,

you must keep moving.

-Albert Einstein

Maintaining balance between life, love, jobs, friends, family, etc can be a delicate act. The feminist side of me embraces the fact that women wear so many hats. We have the ability to serve many roles, while maintaining a fierce sense of individualism. However, life is not a perfect balance. Certain roles will pull at your heart strings with a ferocious energy. A lot of my roles have shifted over the past few weeks. We officially announced our engagement, my future mother-in-law was hospitalized, and I started as a nurse practitioner student at a new clinic. During the past few weeks, the delicate balance of my roles shifted. My anxiety loves these scenarios. Anxiety feeds off of external chaos.

Here are my pearls of wisdom from the past month (not sure I’m qualified for that, but we are going for it!) :

Life will never be perfectly balanced. You can not control everything. When you are spinning all of your plates eloquently above your head, you will get an arm cramp and they will crash down. AND THAT’S OK. Or, you might maintain the balance but you will become physically and mentally exhausted. It is ok. It is always ok.

Scene: Kemp’s dad called us panicked on a Sunday morning. Kemp’s mom couldn’t breathe and was rushed to the ER. Kemp hangs up. He looks at me and I know it is time to shift my balance from 50/50 partnership to 100/0 partnership. It is time to carry him in this moment. Guess what happens when you shift your mindset from panic brain to compassion brain. Anxiety dissipates. Everything is better with his mom and I did not let anxiety dictate the situation. In that moment, I led with love, not fear. As a healthcare provider and anxiety goddess, I found the balance.

As someone who journeys with anxiety in my passenger seat, I feel compelled to tell you (and myself/ego/id/superego/all those other undergraduate psych vocab words) that it all will be ok. Balance is possible. You might have anxiety and it might debilitate your spirit. But, you might find moments of relief throughout the day. Maybe that is your balance right now. Life is not black and white. It is a journey of greys that seep into some mixture that we call life. You will never simply be an anxious person. You are a balance of a beautiful soul who has an occasional dark cloud. Keep moving forward through the stress and the change. Do hard things. Find a healing balance. Stressful situations are just opportunities for you to show yourself strength.

I intended for this piece to be fluid and encapsulate the concept of balance. I’m not sure I ended up there. I guess that’s what I get for writing a piece after eating nothing but sugar and sitting at a carwash in 30 degree weather. Eh, I’ll take it.

Love and light

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Life is not black and white. Except, I guess it kind of is if you look at my meditation corner. AWKWARD.

Yoga for gangly folk.

I am a relatively large human. I believe the actual height is somewhere between 5’9″-5’11” depending on how much I can drop my hip. Being tall has been a blessing and a curse. People often ask me to reach things on shelves which gives me fulfillment and a sense of purpose in the world. It also gives me tired arms. Let me take you back a bit in the imaginary time machine that I am creating right now. Impressive, huh? Ready-go!

The year was 2000 and I was in elementary school. I was a staggering 5’7″ and all of the boys were about 3’6″. Dramatic, but you catch my drift. My body elongated and stretched out aggressively in a period of about 3 months. Add that to chin acne and bangs and you have hit the Holy Grail of awkwardness.

Fast forward to high school. I never really grew into my body. I played sports and was decent. I was never super fast or super strong etc. At least I didn’t trip over my feet anymore.

Fast forward AGAIN to present day. Welcome. As an adult, I still feel somewhat out of place in my own skin. Anxiety and panic have created this weird energy between my mind and my body. Sometimes I feel like a stranger in my own skin. I still am slightly clumsy and gangly. Anxiety makes your brain feel so odd that you don’t even feel at home in your own skin. This feeling is not ideal so I started exploring ways to connect to my body. Over the years, I attended free yoga classes at the college gym or tried an online video. I was never serious about my practice. I’m still not serious about it, but I love where my journey is headed.

Yoga makes me feel connected, grounded, strong, calm, healthy, and happy. The practice has strengthened my mind and body connection. My height is a strength in yoga. I might stumble on my way to the mat, but I am strong and graceful in my practice. I fall over in the occasional pose and lose my balance. It is a good reminder that life might make us feel awkward in our own skin, but we have the ability to cultivate strength and become grounded. Yoga teaches me about myself physically, mentally, and emotionally…and for that, I am grateful.

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Mellow out with mindfulness.

Our society craves speed, instant gratification, and intensity. You wake up early, get dressed, hop in the car, and roll into the rat race. My (old) typical morning before a shift looks a little something like this:

  • wake up suddenly to a loud alarm at 4:30am
  • jump out of bed in a panicked and frazzled state
  • hop in the shower
  • throw on some mascara/hair in a pony tail
  • scramble to find clean scrubs
  • chow down on breakfast, normally in 2-3 minutes
  • make coffee and chug it as I’m headed out the door
  • get in the car and immediately turn on the radio
  • start/stop through traffic
  • arrive at 6am
  • rush to my unit and throw my bag down
  • get report

Ok. Whoa. I’m stressed just reading that and reflecting back on how I used to greet the day. It felt more like a fall into the chaos of the day, rather than gently greet it. I’m assuming a lot of you wake up with a similar routine. Rush, rush, rush. It creates a hectic energy and starts the day with a heavy mind.

I read a book on mindfulness. It was a 10 week course that teaches you how to incorporate a mindful practice in every part of life. It was a process, but I started to integrate the strategies into my daily routine. This is what my morning looks like now:

  • wake up to a waterfall themed alarm at 4:15 am
  • take 3 deep belly breaths before I sit up
  • feel my feet hit the floor and embrace the blessing of waking up
  • take a hot shower, feeling the water trickle down my skin
  • use dim light to finish getting dressed
  • make a cup of loose leaf tea and breakfast, enjoying the taste of each bite for 15 minutes
    • I’ve made my breakfast a meditative experience
  • sit for 5 minutes, setting my intention for the day
  • 10 sun salutations to bring heat and energy into my body
  • walk to the car and drive to work
  • listen to an insightful/funny podcast to learn something on my commute
  • arrive at work
  • use aromatherapy (peppermint oil) to energize and a short meditation to clear the mind before the shift

You have 24 hours in a day. You choose to make them chaotic or calm. Things will happen that shift your experience, but YOU control how you feel.

Slow down. Be mindful. Be present. Do all things with love. IMG_8249

Back from the dark side.

This is not a Star Wars pun, but rather an honest confession. I pulled away from writing blog posts because I felt like all this anxiety chit chat was actually stirring up my panic. Oh, the irony.

I felt an adrenaline surge over the past few weeks and I was trying to discover the culprit. I think I was becoming too engrossed with thoughts of anxiety, panic, stress, etc. I thought that starting a blog would be cathartic. Instead, my brain interpreted it as, “let’s bring up this cerebral sludge to the surface and let it freak you out again!”

My mind has been moving at a faster pace and I attributed that to spending a lot of time writing these posts and reading about other bloggers with similar journeys. I think there is a way to gain the benefit of this creative outlet and to not let it stir up murky emotional waters. I’m going to be more mindful and purposeful in my blogging adventures.

During lunch with a beloved friend today, she challenged my thought process. I verbalized how I felt like blogging about anxiety was making me more anxious and she countered with, “but you’ve still come incredibly far and people can learn from you.” That tugged on my caregiver heartstrings.

This blog might be difficult for me sometimes, but it might also give someone a breath of fresh air. It might sting to relive some vulnerable moments, but it might teach someone a new coping strategy. Also, I’m learning that anxiety is a part of my core being. I have been blessed with a lot of energy, a quick thought process, and an intensity that allows me to be successful. So, maybe the purpose of my blog will evolve from trying to “fix” my anxiety to simply embracing it.

The healing side of me outweighs the cautious side of me. With that being said, I’m back.

Love and Light to you on the New Year’s Eve

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A snuggly NYE celebration with my pretty diffuser.

Be cool.

Be cool. This phrase means two things to me:

  • Your body is starting to feel hot and tingly. The symptoms are present and the fear is rising. The wave of panic is swelling, ready to engulf your scared little soul. The pinpricks are warm and electric in your hands. There is a fire burning its way through your psyche. My internal monolog of “be cool” begins. I repeat it, feeling the heat dissipate. Be cool, Sara. Be physically and emotionally cool. It is a reminder to calm my body down, stop the rapid thought firing, and engage my parasympathetic nervous system.

 

  • Anxiety often becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. I might feel anxious, therefore I feel anxious. I might have a panic attack, therefore I have a panic attack. What if _____happens??!!  A lot of my time has been eaten away by negative thoughts about this big bad imaginary fear that I can not control. As a relatively type A perfectionist, being out of control is daunting. I am learning, slowly but surely, that I can be cool with my feelings. I can accept that my anxiety is part of what makes me that woman I am today. I can be cool knowing that I might feel uncomfortable at times. I am able to be cool with my thoughts, recognizing that they are just thoughts.

For me, being cool with anxiety is the catalyst to my healing journey. Anxiety is a part of my being and my hardworking brain. I do not believe I would be as successful without it gnawing at me. Because of an anxious mind I have:

  • graduated nursing school cum laude from Emory University
  • maintained a 4.0 in a Masters program
  • worked full time as a nurse/charge nurse at a catastrophic care hospital
  • worn the hat of daughter, friend, sister, lover, step-mom, aunt

It’s ok to see anxiety in a positive light. I believe we are so quick to file it in the “holy shit this is not ok” folder. I’m not sure that is always the most productive way to view this journey. It is ok to be cool with your anxiety, it has probably led you to some incredible experiences. My wish for you is to be cool…be cool with your soul, spirit, heart, and mind.

 

Love and light. FullSizeRender

Be cool. Be a Spiritual Gangster.