My heart was racing. Horribly.
I was enjoying an uncharacteristically quiet evening at home, relaxing and chatting on the phone. At first it was just a little flutter, but then the flutter grew more demanding, insistent on beating stronger and faster.
Instinctively I clutched my chest, but it was to no avail. Holding my chest on the outside would do absolutely nothing to calm the racing of my heart on the inside. It was an incredibly unnerving moment of realization. Unlike applying a band-aid to a bleeding wound, I couldn’t ‘get’ to the problem. I couldn’t touch it or fix it. I was completely at the mercy of what was going on inside of my body. My heart was pounding through my chest, my body was shaking uncontrollably, red flags were going off in my head, and my anxiety level was instantly through the roof.
No stranger to heart issues, I was already on medication for a mild cardiovascular issue and had experienced palpitations in the past. But these felt different. And they didn’t subside. Out of memory, this was my first and only trip to the emergency room. Trust me when I tell you after 30 minutes of this nonsense, I was eager to go.
My medication was reviewed and tests were run. Praise God, everything checked out fine. The racing slowly began to decrease and the shaking calmed. I was exhausted. Completely done. But I was well enough to be sent home, and while grateful for that, I was frustrated with the lack of answers. Something HAD to be terribly wrong.
I was told to follow up with my primary care doctor, Dr. M, as well as my cardiologist, in the next couple of days.
After explaining the episode I suffered to Dr. M, he felt quite confident that I had experienced a panic attack. Honestly, that was the most ridiculous thing I’d ever heard. There was absolutely nothing stressful about my evening. Why in the world would I suffer a panic attack in the middle of a peaceful, pleasant night at home? And I wasn’t one to ‘panic’. Definitely not my MO! His theory made no sense at all and I wasn’t buying it. In fact, it really, really irritated me.
But I loved and trusted Dr. M, so I listened to his explanation. He suggested that since I operate in ‘GO’ mode most of the time, I’m often too busy and distracted to feel what’s going on in my heart and in my head. When I finally slowed down and relaxed, it all caught up to me and my body could actually ‘feel’ all that madness that was going on inside.
“He might be on to something,” I thought. Logically, that made a bit of sense, but I still wasn’t completely convinced. I didn’t want Dr. M jumping the gun to make a haphazard diagnosis and potentially overlook a new heart problem or some other physical ailment. I’m not a hypochondriac by any means, but the episode I suffered truly scared me and I wanted answers.
So Dr. M agreed to prove it to me by running a few more tests to ensure we weren’t missing anything. Surprise. The doctor I loved and trusted was right, all tests came back great. When I met with him a few weeks later to review everything, he simply repeated what his suspicion was from the very beginning. I’d had a Panic Attack.
This time I didn’t argue.
It was an incredibly sobering moment. Realizing that emotional stress can lead to physical problems is a game-changer. Clearly I wasn’t as tough as I thought I was. Always one to be in control and ‘never let em’ see me sweat, I was internalizing my issues and a toll was being taken on my body.
That wasn’t my first panic attack, I’d had others less severe but I didn’t recognize them as such. Unfortunately, it wasn’t my last. Most attacks would wake me up within an hour of falling asleep. The drill was eerily similar each time, racing heart, cold sweats, and uncontrollable shakes. They became so frequent that there were many nights I dreaded falling asleep, opting to sleep in my living room recliner chair instead. For some reason, keeping the lights and television on gave me a false sense of security.
I desperately needed to get a handle on this.
It took some time, but ultimately I was victorious in decluttering the grip of stress on my heart and in my life. Now, panic attacks are nothing more than an awful memory. Today, I share 10 tips for conquering this debilitating and frightening problem with the hope and prayer that they will help you declutter them forever as well!
- Understand it’s all in your head – This is both frightening and reassuring at the same time. If you and your doctor have been diligent in ruling out any other physical issues, succumb to the fact that emotional stress can have physical consequences. Own it. You can’t fix what you don’t acknowledge or admit, so take this first, crucial step.
- Accept your responsibility – While the circumstances causing your panic attacks may not be your fault or within your control, how you choose to handle them is. Allowing your emotions to ‘free fall’ and wreak havoc on your body is just as much a choice as reining them in and managing them.
- Uncover the problem – What is causing your stress? What is the root of the problem? Resist the urge to focus on the side effects and symptoms of the problem. Dig through the fluff and get to the heart of the issue.
- Hit your challenge head on – Granted, some problems are more easily managed than others, but there are always options. Always. Brainstorm and investigate all possible solutions. Leave no stone unturned.
- Take action – Start with the most encouraging, effective, and healthy solution to whatever is causing your stress and work your way down the list. Don’t be lazy and don’t give up. Your health and happiness depend on your determination.
- Manage the attacks – Remember, panic attacks are a ‘mental’ thing, so talk your way through them. Tell yourself the facts – ‘stress is trying to take over’ ‘I have the ability to calm myself down’ ‘I refuse to allow my anxiety to control my body and my life’ ‘I have the power to thwart this attack and stave it off’ ‘This does NOT have to continue’ ‘I amNOT dying’ Have your statements of affirmation ready to go and accessible when needed.
- Exercise – Walk, run, do jumping jacks…something. When my attacks would happen during the night, I would flip on all the lights and start walking brisk laps around the interior of my home. The results were amazing. According to Dr. M, it is physically impossible to be depressed (stress and anxiety are components of depression) while you are engaging in physical exercise.
- Journal – Get your worries out of your head and onto paper. Grammar and punctuation rules don’t apply here, just purge the information from your brain in whatever form or fashion it spills out. Both freeing and helpful, journaling before bedtime can pave the way for a great night’s sleep.
- Talk – This is the same concept as journaling, just another medium of communication useful in reducing the worries swirling around in your head. Confide in a trusted friend, seek counseling, or join a support group. Talking and sharing can be incredibly therapeutic.
- Seek God – Go to God in prayer and ask Him to strengthen you, equip you, and guide you. Ask for truths and solutions to be revealed. Ask for deliverance from the bondage of stress and panic attacks.
You are not alone. Panic attacks are a quiet epidemic. They aren’t easy to talk about or explain. Many go undiagnosed. To some, they may suggest weakness and vulnerability. Defeat. They’re traumatizing. Exhausting.
But they CAN BE OVERCOME! And it doesn’t necessarily have to be a long, drawn out process. Panic attacks thrive in dark places where fear hides and shame grows. I want to reassure you that positive change can happen quite quickly. Expose panic attacks for what they are, take action, and declutter them forever. They will soon be a thing of the past!