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.

Where Are You Being Led?

Keep close to Nature’s heart… and break clear away, once in awhile, and climb a mountain or spend a week in the woods. Wash your spirit clean. -John Muir

I am feeling extraordinarily landlocked.

Kemp and I are lucky enough to lead a life that involves a lot of travel and adventures. However, this whole work/grad school/clinical rotation thing is not exactly conducive to my wanderlust spirit. Traveling, ironically, brings me a great sense of calm. I feel serene and grounded when we are on an adventure.

I’ve never had a panic attack in the woods. That concept makes me giggle a little bit. I’ve been miles away from civilization with minimal supplies and never once been anxious. But, I want to crawl out of my skin waiting in a long line at Target. Life is weird and funny and keeps me on my toes.

I bought this compass for Kemp as a gift last year. It has very special coordinates and our favorite quote on the back. We felt led towards each other during vulnerable times. He is my compass, a guiding light back to the path. 12347981_10153756035629841_5584649096648018747_n

We are planning a weekend trip to Wilmington, NC in January. I always find life a little sweeter when there is an adventure on the horizon. Do you have holiday travel plans to see family or friends? Do you feel a calling to explore a new place?

 

Love and light.

Two Steps Forward, One leap back.

This anxiety journey is exhausting. To quote the cliche, “it is an emotional roller coaster.” One day, I might be thrilled with my progress and my sense of normalcy. The next day, I feel mentally crippled by feelings of panic and self doubt. If I burned calories based on the mental workout I get, I would probably look like half an Olsen twin. I feel like I’m progressing and I guess that is why I have such anger when the panic wave rises. I feel like I should have won by now. I would like you to get a glimpse of my healing adventure. These are all of the things I’ve tried:

  • biofeedback therapy
  • cognitive behavioral therapy
  • overpriced regular therapy
  • meditation
  • mindfulness
  • aromatherapy
  • talking with family/friends
  • self-help books
  • a research project on understanding anxiety
  • diaphragmatic breathing
  • yoga
  • yelling, screaming, punching pillows
  • frequent exercise
  • healthy diet
  • no alcohol
  • self-help podcasts
  • journaling
  • panic diary

Get the picture? I’ve tried SO many things and most of the time…they work! However, it’s those times that sneak up on me and the darkness lingers. It comes out of nowhere and I feel defenseless to this magnificently strong power. I become frustrated because I should have figured this out by now. I have the tools to stop the panic. I have years of experience dealing with this. Why can’t I just figure it out? I would have the perfect life it this anxiety stopped.

That is a lot of “should, would, could” statements. For the first time in 25 years, I’m seeing the burden of those statements. I don’t have to have it all figured out and I don’t have to be perfect. I just have to keep working on my mind, body, and soul. When the Universe is ready for this burden to be lifted, I’ll find true peace. But, until then, I’ll ride the wave of panic and seek wisdom from each uncomfortable moment. My wish for you all today is be gentle with your soul when you take that leap backwards. It’s a process, a journey, an adventure. Love and light.

 

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Aligning my chakra stones gives me a sense of balance when I’m feeling internal chaos.

Gratitude

I’m grateful for panic.

I understand that gratitude is an odd emotion to coincide with anxiety. However, I believe healing is about perspective. Anxiety often feels like a huge dark cloud that permeates through my life. It feels like the biggest struggle and it only happens to me. It’s a very isolating process. I feel anxious and I think, “no one else probably feels so weird/scared/panicky.” I have learned throughout this journey that changing my perspective towards anxiety helps me heal. I have panic attacks. I have mind numbing repetitive thoughts. I have a catastrophic thinking pattern. But…I also have a phenomenal man, great family, loving friends, and a rewarding job.

I am a nurse and I work with a patient population of people that have suffered traumatic brain injuries and spinal cord injuries. My perspective on life has changed dramatically since I started working with these patients. My “problems” seem a lot smaller when I reflect on the fact that I can walk, talk, laugh, eat, drive, hug, kiss, smile, and breathe on my own. Anxiety feels so small when I look at the positive aspects of my life and for that, I’m grateful.

I am grateful to have panic attacks. WHAT? I know, right. Sounds odd? I feel gratitude when I panic because my body is allowing my mind to practice a new relaxation technique. My body is trying to tell me something when I panic. It’s an alarm that I need to practice loving self care. My post-panic attack routine often consists of a cup of tea, meditation, and aromatherapy. It’s a period of forced relaxation and for that, I’m grateful.

Anxiety has taught me about the delicate interweaving of the human psyche. I did not have a mind-body connection before I developed anxiety. I was in auto-pilot mode and rarely processed my emotions. Anxiety has been the liaison between my soul and mind and for that, I’m grateful.

I can empathize and connect with my patients who deal with anxiety. I have a genuine emotional connection with them when they say they are struggling. As a future Family Nurse Practitioner, I hope to combine my empathy and knowledge to create treatment plans that improve the lives of my clients. I can hold the hand of an anxious patient and say, “I understand.” I will treat the mind, body, and spirit in my future practice and for that, I’m grateful.

What are you grateful for today? Try starting the day with a mantra of “I’m grateful for______.” It will change your perspective!

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I had a mild panic attack this morning. It was a bummer. As I reflect on what my body was telling me, I realized I needed to practice self care. I will enjoy some wine, a good book, and a view of photos from our favorite adventures. I am grateful.

Smell ya later.

 

[Aromatherapy] seeks to unify physiological, psychological and spiritual processes to enhance an individual’s innate healing process. — National Association for Holistic Aromatherapy

 

Essential oils are a great way to hit the pause button during a toxic stream of consciousness. I have recently started incorporating them into my healing journey. The limbic system controls a lot of our emotions and aromatherapy has been proven to calm that center of the brain.

I’m currently working with these scents:

  • Lavender
    • It is my favorite “go to” scent to calm my brain when I feel the wave of anxiety ascending
  • Peppermint
    • Nausea is a common side effect of anxiety and I’ve had my fair share of gastrointestinal issues
    • This oil is great to calm the butterflies in the tummy!
  • Eucalyptus
    • I feel my chest expand and my heart open after using this oil
    • Picture a lovely natural version of Vicks vapor rub
  • Panic Button
    • It’s a combination of rose and orange flowers
    • I’ve used this in the height of a panic attack and it is helpful

Other helpful scents:

  • Clary Sage
    • It has antidepressant effects and has been proven to work even better than lavender!
  • Bergamot
    • A study showed that 10 minutes of aromatherapy with this oil decreased blood pressure and heart rate
  • Angelica
    • This fresh scent is very popular in the natural healing world to treat anxiety

How do you use the oils?

  • My skin is used to the oils, so I place a few drops on the inner part of my wrist
  • You can also put drops on your fingertips and rub the oil on your temple/behind your ears
  • A diffuser is a tool that allows you to make an aerosol version of the oil and diffuse the scent around your house, similar to a humidifier
  • Mix the oil with a coconut oil base to create a balm

 

This information has come from my personal experience and also from the source: http://www.naturallivingideas.com/anxiety-and-essential-oils/

These are personal tips for what works for me and is in no way affiliated with any medical advice/brand promotion.

Go forth and breathe yourself to calm.

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Some of my oils with a chakra flag in the back.

Mindfulness Meditation

In the 5 years since I’ve been (cough cough, ready for this?) DIAGNOSED with an anxiety disorder, I’ve tried every treatment on the spectrum. I have avoided any pharmacological interventions because I’m a future Nurse Practitioner who does not like medication. Slightly ironic, but we will roll with it.

Things I dig:

  1. Meditation
    • The practice of meditation is as casual or strict as you want to make it
    • It does not have to be chanting in a dark corner while sitting in lotus position with incense burning (give me 2 glasses of wine and I’m there…let’s be honest)
    • It allows you to make friends with your brain
    • It helps to give you a sense of control over rambling thoughts
    • Check out this website for a down and dirty of my favorite hobby: https://thebuddhistcentre.com/text/what-meditation
  2. Mindfulness
    • Engage all 5 senses to experience your world RIGHT NOW!
    • What do you smell, hear, taste, feel, see?
    • It is difficult to worry and be anxious when you are embracing the present moment
    • It gives you the tools to live in the now
    • Check out this website for a more detailed description: http://www.wildmind.org/applied/daily-life/what-is-mindfulness
  3. Gratitude
    • Having anxiety and the occasional panic attack SUCKS, but…it does not have to define your life or happiness
    • Practice gratitude every day by verbalizing three things you are grateful for
    • Gratitude has been proven to increase happiness and decrease anxiety by embracing perspective
    • Write down what you are thankful for and read your notes during your next panic attack IMG_5987This is my happy place. It is a meditation corner that is evolving into a meditation living room. Ain’t mad about it.

I Don’t Have Time To Panic. I’m Busy.

I had my first panic attack in 2011. I was in nursing school at Emory University, a place where anxiety is cultivated. I was taking a pharmacology exam in a large lecture hall when all of a sudden my whole body started to tingle. I looked down at my hands and they looked foreign. I broke into a sweat and my vision became blurry. My heart was pounding so hard that I was convinced the professor could hear it from 15 feet away. I circled random answers on the exam and got out of there as quickly as possible. Congratulations, Sara! You have earned yourself a panic attack! Welcome to the lonely club of high-achieving, anxious, perfectionists!

I immediately pulled myself together, put on some yoga pants, and trotted over to the student health center. As the astute nursing student I was, I calmly informed the nurse that I was dying and needed a chest x-ray to rule out a thoracic aneurysm. That’s logical, right? Welp.

A panic attack can often sneak up after years of chronic stress and a lack of proper self-care. Many people go to the emergency room after the first attack because it can mimic a heart attack. After a month of similar experiences, the student health center nurse told me that I was suffering from panic attacks. I was a 4.0 student at a prestigious university with a budding social life and perfect life! I was not having panic attacks! I did not have time to fit panicking into my schedule! I was not even stressed! Right? Oh, wait. I get it now.

I believe a panic attack is our body’s way of saying, “Hey you…slow down and listen to me. I need you to breathe. I need you to relax. I need you to sit the eff down and watch Netflix.” After about 5 years of this journey, I am finally learning to listen to my body and chip away the chokehold of perfection.

dream-beautiful-bomb-brain-Favim.com-773379My brain was churning out gunk left and right during my first panic attack. The thoughts “I’m dying”, “I’m going crazy” were quite loud in my chaotic hippocampus.

The Tiger Never Comes

It’s raw. It’s visceral. It’s a backseat driver, desperately trying to shift you from control. It’s the bully. It’s the annoying neighbor that silently judges. It’s the space-occupying villain. It’s the darkness. It’s the desperation for perfection. It’s the voice that tells you everyone is watching. Even the eyes within the painting are judging you. It’s the taste of bile in the back of your throat. It’s the unsteadiness that makes your legs feel incapable. It’s the quick heart beat that makes you feel like you’re about to fight a tiger, but the tiger never comes.

Throughout evolution, our bodies created this amazing defense mechanism called “fight or flight.” We adapted over time to be able to use our sympathetic nervous system to our advantage. Thousands of years ago, our distant relatives faced extreme challenges related to daily living. A tiger chasing after them is not a farfetched idea. In a life or death scenario, our body engages the sympathetic nervous system which allows us to face the threat. It is created by releasing a massive amount of adrenaline (the holy shit hormone). This hormone allows us to react with the intensity needed to counterattack the threat. When you read a story about mom lifting the minivan off of her trapped child, it’s because of that hefty surge of adrenaline. Pretty dang cool, right? In the appropriate situation, this physical response to a threat is protective and helpful. Unfortunately, the nervous system can get slightly wonky and decide to have this “fight or flight” response at an inappropriate time.

Today’s society does not have to worry about being eaten alive by a tiger. Hopefully. The reasons people are stressed have also evolved over time. We used to be stressed about trying to make a fire, kill dinner, and survive through the winter. Today, we are stressed about our job, family dynamic, social media presence, friendships, role strain, health, etc. I believe this is why anxiety disorders have been on the rise in the last 20 years. We figured out how to survive, so now we spend time perseverating on things that are not critical. We have this innate system to have healthy anxiety, but unfortunately it has manifested into an adrenal system crisis.

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I wonder if life was simpler when you only had to worry about whether or not you could build a fire.

About

A few years ago, a khaki clad man told me I have Panic Disorder with Agoraphobia. He didn’t even take me out to dinner before sharing this revelation. A hefty diagnosis like this was the catalyst to my journey through stigma, panic, and anxiety. Want to know the irony? I am also a successful nurse, graduate student, hiker, lover, friend, daughter, and sister. Panic doesn’t define you, but it sure as hell loves to be along for the ride. This blog is my stream of consciousness and may be just as therapeutic for me as it is for you. Stop by, share a feeling, and let’s heal together.

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