I’ve heard the statement “I panicked” used very loosely. If you’ve ever experienced what is known as a panic attack, you know it is horrifying. Experiencing a panic attack has been said to be one of the most intensely frightening, upsetting, and uncomfortable experiences of a person’s life. I can attest to that statement!
It was September 1991 and it had been nine months since Joe died. I had moved into my new house three months earlier and my older two children were in school, my oldest son in first grade and my oldest daughter in kindergarten. I was in my kitchen pushing my eleven month old in the stroller trying to get her to nap while my two-year old son was playing on the floor in the den. Thoughts were running through my head, negative, overwhelming thoughts. “How am I going to do this alone?” “Where will the money come from?” “How can I be both a mother and father to my children?” The thoughts just kept coming and before long I was short of breath, sweating and then, the chest tightness! “I must be having a heart attack!”
Fortunately I had a friend in the neighborhood that was a physician. I called him, not 911, and he told me to come into his office. He was sure that at the age of thirty-eight I was not having a heart attack and confirmed that what I had experienced was a panic attack, my first and last! It was my V-8 moment!
That was when I went back to my daily meditation practice and not long after started a support group for those suffering from panic and anxiety disorder. My practice developed from that group. In my practice I teach my clients Mindfulness Meditation and Guided Visualization to help them with their anxious thoughts and fears.
No one likes to hear “it’s all in your head” but with panic and anxiety, that is where it all begins, from the thoughts you’re thinking. Here’s how your body responds to those anxious and fearful thoughts:
Fearful thoughts à Adrenaline released à Fight or Flight Response = Increased heart rate, breathing rate increases (shortness of breath), sweating, tingling, numbness, dizziness, chest tightness.
What can you do? First, identify the thoughts that are causing you anxiety and say to yourself “STOP”! Then focus on your abdomen and begin focused breathing by inhaling into your diaphragm (your belly area, not your chest!) and slowly count to four, pause, then exhale counting to four. Continue the focuses breathing until you sense a feeling of calmness.