Overcoming AnxietyMar 16, 2023
It was the year 2012 and I was in Washington DC with my husband and kids during Spring Break vacation. We had planned a visit to the White House, something that requires a 3-month prior request, background checks and probably more than I am not aware of.
We had to be at the door by 7:30am, otherwise we would lose our turn. I remember that day rushing to get the kids to wake up, get something to eat and make it on time to our appointment. We had to go through at least 3 checkpoints and the entire time I felt watched.
Maybe I watched too many conspiracy theory movies, but the energy was tense. We finally went inside and one of the first things our guide said was “Please do not touch anything and do NOT sit on the furniture or else you will be escorted out”.
I am sure that was meant as a joke, but right away I started hyperventilating. My palms were sweating, I was having a hard time breathing and I started to feel sick to my stomach. I told my husband who looked at me petrified and told me to just breathe.
That was my first panic attack. At that time I didn’t know what it was, but after experiencing future episodes, I can certainly say it was simply a panic attack.
We have all experienced occasional anxiety at some point in our lives. It’s a normal emotion triggered by stressors and environmental factors. 30% of Americans experience anxiety at some point in their lives.
However, when feelings of anxiety become persistent and interfere with daily activities, you may have an anxiety disorder.
I was a natural worrier
I still remember the negative worrying thoughts I had as a child thinking my parents were going to die in a car accident every time they went out. Or the fear I had of getting into fair rides thinking it was going to break and I was going to die.
When my kids were born I used to look at them in their crib sleeping, worrying that they might stop breathing. We, worriers, tend to play a lot of what-ifs worst-case scenarios in our heads.
When I started experiencing panic attacks, I went to see a therapist. One of the first things she told me was that when you are about to have a panic attack, you actually stop breathing unconsciously. The nerves and anxiety make you freeze and hold your breath.
So she said that the easiest and fastest way to get out of it was to just breathe. I didn’t believe her at first, but the next time I felt a panic attack arrive, I started breathing deeply and consciously, counting the inhales and exhales, and like magic, the panic attack dissipated.
I believe in magic but I also believe in science
This got me really interested in the science behind it. I learned that we have an autonomic nervous system composed of 2 opposite parts: the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system.
During stress and panic attacks, our sympathetic nervous system, also called “fight, flight, or freeze”, is activated. Our heart rate and blood pressure increase, digestion slows down, adrenaline is produced, and the blood flow is reduced.
We unconsciously hold our breath or take short shallow chest breaths. All these symptoms are naturally meant for you to have the energy to run away from a lion.
The easiest and fastest way to activate the parasympathetic nervous system, also known as rest and digest, is through deep breathing. Deep breaths send signals to your brain to tell the anxious part that you're safe and don't need to use the fight, flight, or freeze response.
This is the main reason why Yoga is so effective in reducing anxiety as you spend an entire hour or more practicing deep breathing.
Supplements that nourish and calm the nervous system
Besides breathing, yoga, and meditation practices, I also incorporated supplements that nourish and calm the nervous system such as vitamin D, vitamin B, and magnesium. I also focused on taking good care of the gut, the second brain, by taking probiotic and prebiotic supplements and incorporating fiber-rich foods into my diet.
Don’t let anxiety take over your life, and don’t depend on the “happy” pills that suppress those emotions. A holistic natural approach will give you more sustainable results and you will feel in control. I promise.
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