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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Waves 

Mark Nepo is a poet and philosopher whom I love dearly. Or maybe it is “who I love dearly.” I never claimed grammar was my strongest attribute. Moving on. His work is beautiful, raw, and thought-provoking. His book, The Book of Awakening, is a daily meditation devotional that has provided me clarity over the past two years. I recently read a passage about the wave of anxiety. 

…we mount and curl and crest and spray, only to subside back into that from which we come.

Anxiety is a lot like the ocean. You must swim through the sludge to pass the crashing waves…only then, finding a floating peace. These past two years, I experienced the journey of swimming through the resistance. There were days the riptides were overwhelmingly strong and swimming was exhausting. But, there were also days when the ocean was calm and I could easily float to my next destination. Anxiety ebbs and flows like the waves. Some days, it’s debilitating and some days is calm. The end result is the same: push hard enough through the crashing force of unforgiving water and you will reach utopia. Your body, mind, and spirit will find tranquility. I feel like I’ve finally made it home. The goals were met and the anxiety did not stop me. The wave did not stop me. Now, it is time to float and relish in the blissful standstill of a job well done. 

I have every faith that you can swim in this ocean we call life. It will not always be easy. For me, it took a lot of patience, kindness, love, meditation, and (let’s be real) therapy. Ride the wave. The anxiety will pass just as it swelled upon you. You can do it. 

Love and light. 

east coast waves

My biggest fan and supporter, the man I get to call my husband in one short month!

Toolbox.

The most daunting part of anxiety is the sneak attack. Anxiety might decide to come play while you are buying bruised organic avocados at the grocery. It might miss you so much that it decides to rear its head during a coffee date with friends. She (I’ve given my anxiety a sassy female alter-ego) might decide to stop by and say hey while you’re 12 episodes deep into Orange Is The New Black. Anxiety is overwhelming simply because it pops up unannounced. These annoying sneak attacks have given me the opportunity to learn how to combat that unwanted wave of panic.

The biggest thing I have learned is to always be prepared. Build a physical, mental, emotional, spiritual toolbox that you always carry. This can be a gray area because some people use items to distract from anxiety or associate certain items with stopping panic. I don’t want you to try to stop it. I want you to ride the wave and have tools that will make you more comfortable during the journey.

Here is my 4-part toolbox:

Physical

  • Lavender essential oil
    • I carry it in my purse/in my car/etc for instant zen
  • My engagement ring
    • My fiance told me to always look at it when I feel anxious and remember I’m never alone in this journey
  • A stone that says “let it be”
    • I bought this from a Crystal shop in Laguna beach. It helps ground me and put things into perspective

Mental

  • Positive self-talk
    • Tell yourself how awesome you are!
  • Mantra
    • Choose 2-3 mantras that you can repeat to yourself if the anxious thoughts are pervasive
    • “Feel the fear and do it anyway”
    • “All is well”
    • “Just keep swimming”

Emotional

  • Feelings are feelings and thought are thoughts
    • Really, though…it is simple! Focus on what your body feels like, not the chaotic shit storm inside your head
  • Reach out to someone around you and verbalize your anxious feelings
    • Telling someone how you feel and creating that connection will make you feel less vulnerable

Spiritual

  • Lift up these feelings to a higher power, whoever you believe in
    • You have God, many gods, the Universe…the possibility to have so many people on your side
  • So much pressure can be relieved when you send up anxious thoughts to the sky

 

Plan ahead, use your toolbox, and dominate life. Over the years, I’ve learned that I can lessen the extent of my anxiety by preparing. If I’m nervous about an interview, I might type the address of the office into Google Earth to see a street view of the building. I might lay out my clothes the night before and have my tea mug laid out. I might drive to the location an hour early to prepare for traffic. I might bring an extra pair of clothes if I spill something on my interview attire. This literally happened in the past (insert long sigh). I might prepare answers to common interview questions. Another example of the benefit of preparation is going out for a weekend hike. I will meticulously plan what supplies, clothes, food I need. I will look at the weather and prepare extra gear. I will carry supplies that could last me a few days if something happens.

You have to stack the deck, make the odds in your favor. Anxiety does sneak up and you can’t always be ready. But…you can be better prepared to journey through the fear.

 

 

Fleeting.

“Unbeing dead isn’t being alive.”
― e.e cummings

I have heard that you can not escape death. It might be a rumor, but it seems to be a popular one. Lately, death has been sprinkled throughout my professional life. As a nurse, we do our best to stall the inevitable. We pause death, we push it back, we scare it away for a few more days. Eventually, the greater plan outweighs our own and the patient transitions to the after life. Some people spend 99 years on this earth and some spend a fraction of that time. Certain lives are long lived and others are fleeting. What determines your journey? Why does one person live to be 100 and another dies as a child? Existentialism aside, that is probably a discussion for another time. For now, I want to share what I learned from people dying. I am shooting for “morbidly uplifting.”

When a patient dies, it makes me question my journey. I question my priorities, my stress, my choices, and my soul. It changes my perspective. When I reflect back on years of journeying with anxiety, it seems so small in comparison. I feel lucky my heart rapidly beats and my anxious mind processes at a rapid pace…because that means I am still alive. Anxiety sucks. We know this by now. However, when I see a deceased patient, I pinch myself because I feel so grateful that my journey continues. A minor panic attack feels like a blip on the radar screen when you see a grieving family member choke back tears. It is all about perspective. Something that feels overwhelming in your life may not seem like anything to another person.

Health can be fleeting. You don’t know what next years physical might find. You don’t know what disease might manifest in ten years. So…why not embrace today for its perfection. Life is unpredictable, so focus on the beauty of today. Be mindful of your energy, breath, and body. Do not let feelings of anxiety or panic dictate your happiness. In the big picture, it is not that serious. Try to minimize your experience and see if that helps with perspective. Yes, you panicked today but that means you are still energized and breathing.

Take your right hand and place it on your chest. Feel that? It is a constant reminder that your work is not done. You have potential to make today the best day of your life. You have a heart that works hard to fulfill your body, mind, and spirit. Embrace each day with an unprecedented desire to find joy in the simple things. You can not predict the future, but you can savor every minute on this divine earth.

Love and light.

 

 

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My favorite spot to reflect and create.

Anticipatory anxiety.

Why does the unknown scare us? Why does the future cause us unrest? Why do we use anxiety as a mental placeholder while we wait for something to happen?

Well, the answer is simple: anticipatory anxiety.

Humans like control. We like to know what is happening, who is doing it, what it will feel like, and when it is supposed to happen. I am speaking for the vast majority of people. I will exclude the true wanderlust hippies who live blissfully in the NOW. Hopefully, the rest of us lay people can join you one day.

Scene: You have a presentation for work at 4:00pm. You wake up that morning, feeling a blend of nausea and excitement. You can’t focus at work and you feel like your brain has taken residence in a cloud high above the office. You might feel foggy, unfocused, on edge. Your brain recognizes the importance of the presentation and (rather unfortunately) decides it is a really BIG SCARY TERRIFYING THING. That is the deal with an anxious brain. It is overstimulated and angry with adrenaline. You might feel your heart rate increase, another sign that the sympathetic nervous system is pre-gaming this event. Why do the hours leading up to something stressful also have to be stressful? Hey Universe, that is not fair.

So, how do you challenge the anticipatory anxiety. I will let you in on a secret. The event is never as scary as you pictured it. You didn’t barf, pass out, or cry. Or maybe you did…but most people are genuine humans and would be empathetic to your struggle. It is never that bad, that scary, that daunting. Your mind and your adrenal glands have been primed to give exaggerated reactions to stress. Let’s talk about how to calm that response system down in the hours leading up to a stressful event.

  • Be mindful of the present
    • focus on what you are doing right now
    • what do you smell, hear, taste, feel, see?
  • Challenge the catastrophic thoughts
    • what is the worst thing that could happen? (thanks to my mom for instilling that great trick, love you!)
  • Make a positive thought for every negative thought?
    • “Ugh, why am I so anxious right now?!”
    • Counter with “I can harness this feeling to give a creative, energetic presentation”
  • Breathe
    • utilize Pranayama breathing techniques to engage that lovely parasympathetic nervous system and slow the mind/body down

Anxiety blows. Why wait precious hours getting anxious about possibly being anxious?  It is a cyclic thought nightmare. Just say stop. Literally, yell the word stop. Embrace the present moment, focus on your breathe, and save your beautiful brain power for something more productive.

I challenge you to try some of these techniques the next time you find yourself ruminating before a stressful event. Your life is beautiful and worthy. You don’t deserve to waste time with worry.

Love and Light.

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Slowing down before a presentation with a 5 minute meditation and some Doterra aromatherapy.

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

Pranayama.

This sounds like a fancy drink that you would get at the local gastro pub. I’ll have a pranayama and the cheese plate. Moving on..

Pranayama is the foundation of yoga breathing. 

It goes all the way back to the beginning of yoga. Many, many, many moons ago. The concept is simple: use certain techniques to enhance your breathing ability. There are various styles of pranayama, but my favorite is the Nadhi Sodhana. That’s a fancy Sanskrit word for “alternate nostril breathing.” Check out this video from my favorite yogi:

As someone who has journeyed with anxiety for many years, the ability to calm my nervous system feels tremendously empowering. If I feel like I am on the verge of panic, I utilize this technique to kick in that lovely parasympathetic nervous system. By slowing the breath, you eliminate the hyperventilation that is often associated with panic. This technique also uses a mudra to aid in the calming. What’s a mudra? Picture it as art through the use of your hand. You use different hand positions to encourage positivity and changes in energy. Think about all of the hand symbols we use in everyday life: thumbs up, peace sign, flipping the bird. Each movement conveys a non-verbal gesture. A mudra is used in the same way. By positioning your hand in a certain way, you are non-verbally sending a message to yourself. OK THIS IS STARTED TO SOUND REAL HOKEY, SARA. Ok, fine..moving on.

To begin the alternate nostril breathing exercise, take your dominate hand and fold down the pointer and middle finger. It should look something like this:

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Place your thumb over your right nostril (or left if you’re all weird and left handed) and block the passage of air. Inhale deeply through your left nostril.

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I know this looks slightly odd, but I’ll take looking odd over anxiety any day of the week, my friend!

Hold your breath for a slight, sweet, delicious moment. Use your ring finger to cover your left nostril. Exhale through your right nostril.

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Inhale through your right nostril.

 

Hold your breath and release air through your left nostril.

 

Repeat as many times as needed to feel calm and grounded. Don’t get crazy and pass out or anything because I don’t have time to squeeze a lawsuit into my daily activities. Enjoy this time. Find the space between the breath and get to know yourself. Spend time in the quiet space.

 

Love and light.

 

 

 

Yogalicous.

What is yoga?

To me, it is this quirky bond between your mind and your body. This bond allows for you to cultivate light, love, and energy in a (sometimes) crappy world. I had an exam today for my Family Nurse Practitioner program. It is an online exam, so I have the freedom to take it whenever I feel ready. Today, I decided to incorporate a pre-exam pump-up routine. It was quite rad.

Picture this:

Sun Salutation/Surya Namaskar mini yoga session. I recently participated in a winter solstice 108 sun salutation yoga adventure at my local studio. It was epic. It was sweaty. It was thrilling. I have found that a few sun salutations on my mat during times of stress really sync my mind and body. You have to stay focused on the breath, but also engaged in the movement. After about 5 minutes of this sequence, I felt energized and focused.

Doterra Lavender in the diffuser. I’ve recently jumped on the Doterra bandwagon. I am so glad that I did! The lavender oil calms me down so quickly. It is blissful.

Binaural Beats playing in the background. If you don’t know what this style of music is…I would compare it to meditation crack. I’m not sure if crack and meditation have ever been used together in a sentence. TIME TO COPYRIGHT THAT PHRASE. Anyway, it is a style of music that can alter your brainwaves into a more meditative state. It can thrust you into Buddha-esque/enlightenment after a few minutes. Actually, I have no idea if it works at all, but I like the sound and I can dig the placebo effect.

During the exam, I did a small mindfulness exercise to check in with my body. I was sitting cross-legged, slumped over, and breathing shallow breaths. This posture is not exactly conducive to a sharp mind. I readjusted, finding a grounding position. I focused on taking deep, belly breaths. The haze cleared and I finished the test with ease.

How do you incorporate yoga into your everyday stress? Do you stop-drop-and yoga during crisis? Do you only do yoga during relaxation? I still feel like a fledgling in yogi world, but I am enjoying the journey towards a synergistic mind and body.

Love and light.

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Dig deep, find your inner light, and share it with the world.

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.

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