Archives for May, 2012

Anxiety

10 Rules for Coping with Panic: Rule #5 (Part 3)

(Note: this post is part of a series about navigating my way through the 10 Rules for Coping with Panic, which is a nifty little list I keep in my wallet. To read the introduction to this series, check out this post: Coping with Panic: Why I Can’t, and Why I Can.)

First, I ran out of a wedding reception because of panic. Then, I sat in my fiance's car as I waited, miserably and fruitlessly, for panic to pass.

WHY IS THIS SO EASY?

Let's take a look at Rule #5 again:
Wait for fear to pass. Wait and give the fear time to pass. Do not fight it or run away from it. Just accept it.
Read the first two sentences of that rule. Do you see a difference between them?

I do.

"Wait for fear to pass" is one thing. "Wait and give the fear time to pass" is something else entirely. It describes in further detail how we ought to follow this rule.

Last night, while panicking in the car, I sat and waited for fear to pass. I sat and waited. And waited. And waited. Just when my heart rate slowed down, my limbs would start feeling tingly. And just when my limbs stopped feeling tingly, I started feeling short of breath. I knew that, if I wanted to prove to myself, my fiance, and my fiance's family that I am a capable woman who can panic and then recover, I'd need to...well, recover.

I'd need to get myself calm and get my ass back inside.

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Anxiety

10 Rules for Coping with Panic: Rule #5 (Part 2)

(Note: this post is part of a series about navigating my way through the 10 Rules for Coping with Panic, which is a nifty little list I keep in my wallet. To read the introduction to this series, check out this post: Coping with Panic: Why I Can’t, and Why I Can.)

I had just run out of a wedding reception after feeling the first pangs of panic.

I was in a car, and that car was in a parking lot, and that parking lot was in a town called Nanticoke that I don't know very well. In fact, I barely know it at all.

I sat in the passenger seat, phone in hand, and waited for some semblance of "calm" to appear. After all, Rule #5 says that fear WILL pass, right?
Wait for fear to pass. Wait and give the fear time to pass. Do not fight it or run away from it. Just accept it.
I waited and waited and waited. I did diaphragmatic breathing and even tried to give myself a quick shoulder massage.

Nothing.

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Anxiety

10 Rules for Coping with Panic: Rule #5 (Part 1)

(Note: this post is part of a series about navigating my way through the 10 Rules for Coping with Panic, which is a nifty little list I keep in my wallet. To read the introduction to this series, check out this post: Coping with Panic: Why I Can’t, and Why I Can.)

The worst part about panic is that it's not always predictable.

Sure, there are triggers sometimes. I've got plenty of them identified. Perhaps you do, too.

But every once in awhile, panic emerges from nowhere. Like last night.

I was at a wedding reception with my fiance. Perhaps strangely, I was actually enjoying myself! What a rare treat.

Without relying on Xanax, I socialized without fear, I ate dinner without what I like to call "panic belly," and I even danced  (just a little bit!) to a few songs without that super-rapid heartbeat that tends to sneak up and trip the panic wire.

I was ready to call the night a huge win when I walked up to the DJ to request a song. He handed me the bride's "PLAY THESE SONGS!" list and said I could pick one to play next. I scanned the list (of mostly country songs; not my thing) and got excited when I saw the first non-country, feel-good song: Come On Eileen.

"Play that one next!" I exclaimed.

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Anxiety

10 Rules for Coping with Panic: Rule #4 (Part 2)

(Note: this post is part of a series about navigating my way through the 10 Rules for Coping with Panic, which is a nifty little list I keep in my wallet. To read the introduction to this series, check out this post: Coping with Panic: Why I Can’t, and Why I Can.)

LET'S RECAP

In case you missed my last post, here's Rule #4:
Describe what is happening. Notice what is really happening in your body right now...not what you fear might happen.
WHY THIS IS SO DIFFICULT

Look over my little elevator monologue. Only one of my thoughts comes even close to describing the "what is." The rest only describes the "what if." (If you had trouble picking out the single "what is," I'll point it out: "I'm already feeling tense...")

If you've been playing the "what if" game forever, it's not easy to shake. It's automatic. My brownie girl scout handbook told me 22 years ago to be prepared, and I've taken that lesson to heart.

WHY THIS IS SO EASY

But here's the thing about being "prepared" (and yes, if you heard me read that sentence aloud in real life, I would do air quotes for "prepared"): it's not always good to be prepared for everything.

Yes, you heard me right: sometimes, being prepared is not a good thing. Sometimes, being prepared can take us away from the present moment.
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Anxiety

Video: Why Do I Blog About (My Own) Mental Health? #mhblogday

As part of the American Psychological Association's Mental Health Month Blog Party, I've decided to create my first video blog post.

Now, let me qualify the word "first": for the past few months, I have been creating news and feature videos for Psych Central. (If you want to see any of them, check out my archive here!).

But, generally, I plan those videos out pretty well. I edit them nicely. And I don't really talk about myself in them.

Today is different. I wanted to create a very personal video explaining my rationale for writing not just about mental health, but about my own mental health. I wanted to explain why I do what I do and why I feel so comfortable sharing all of my panic and anxiety-related sorrows, triumphs, dilemmas and baby steps with the world.
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General

Join Us! Blog About Mental Health on Wednesday

On May 16th, the American Psychological Association is hosting this year's Mental Health Month Blog Party.

Pssst -- that's tomorrow! (Or today, depending on what time you stumbled upon this post.)

Anyone with a blog can join. Here are the details:
Join us on Wednesday, May 16, and publish a post on your blog about mental health’s importance, how we can diminish...
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Anxiety

10 Rules for Coping with Panic: Rule #4 (Part 1)

(Note: this post is part of a series about navigating my way through the 10 Rules for Coping with Panic, which is a nifty little list I keep in my wallet. To read the introduction to this series, check out this post: Coping with Panic: Why I Can’t, and Why I Can.)

THE FOURTH RULE

This is the rule that pits "what if" against "what is."

And, of course, it's the "what is" that's supposed to win. Falling into the great trap of "what if" only helps our mind to spiral downward into a dizzying fiction.

Case in point: the other day, I had to ride an elevator in an office building to the 8th floor. (I sure as hell wasn't going to walk -- I'm out of shape, and a rapid heartbeat is a panic trigger for me!)

The interior of the elevator was pretty tiny -- tiny enough that only three or four adults could fit comfortably. I stepped in, hit 8, and waited for the doors to close.

At the very last second, some guy scurried between the closing doors and snuck in. He pressed 4.

WRITING A WORK OF FICTION

Immediately, my mind went off into a world of made-up scenarios: what if this guy tries to talk to me? What if he's creepy? I mean, I'm already feeling tense and nervous being here in this tiny elevator. And now, it's a longer ride because we're going to stop on the 4th floor too -- what if I can't handle being on the elevator for that long?

What if I have to stumble out on the 4th floor and then watch this mean watch me as I feign confusion and head to the stairwell? He'll wonder why I'm headed down. And what if he asks me what I"m doing? Or tries to correct me? What if I get lightheaded and I can't answer? What if I start to over-breathe? What if I feel like I'm going to pass out?

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Agoraphobia

The Sound of Rain: Soothing, or Anxiety Trigger? (Part 2)

(Missed the first half of this post? Check it out here.)

I don't know why the sound of rain was (and to an extent, is) so painful and jarring to me -- I mean, to others, it's pleasurable. It's soothing. To me, I suppose it represents just another fake danger that us panickers so commonly concoct: the danger of eliminating access to the only truly "safe" place for me at my office -- the back patio.

If I panicked at work in the rain, where would I go?

I'd get drenched on the patio. And if I tried to escape to my car, I'd get drenched on the way there and transform into a miserable and soggy heap of humidity. And of course, if my car was warm and humid, I surely couldn't open the windows in the rain to cool off. So, the car wasn't an option.

No patio; no car. What was left?

Nothing, I concluded. There wasn't a single place I could go during a rainstorm and feel safe. There wasn't a single place in that damn office where I could allow my panicky feelings to de-escalate.

I couldn't escape to a safe place, I felt. And of course, just knowing that I didn't have a safe place available made the panic strike more harshly. It went something like this:

Sound of rain.
Fear of not having a safe place just in case I were to panic.
Rapid heartbeat, sweaty palms, dizziness, shaking.
Panic.

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Agoraphobia

The Sound of Rain: Soothing, or Anxiety Trigger? (Part 1)

As I write this, a thunderstorm is rolling in. Through the window to the left of my desk, I can see that my usually bright green backyard has taken on a sunken gray hue to match the dark clouds above.

If I were still 9 years old, this is where I'd grab a Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark book and start reading.

Or, if I was feeling creative that day, maybe I'd grab some paper and markers and draw each of the lightning strikes I saw. (I actually did this on a consistent basis for awhile and then compiled each drawing into a book called "LIGHTNING WATCH!" with a construction-paper cover. Yep. I wore [and still wear] my "nerd" hat proudly, thank-you-very-much.)

But I'm nearly two decades older now and I can no longer remember why on earth I thought adding fear (Scary Stories) to fear (thunderstorm) was a good idea. I suppose I was a high sensation seeker...and "was" is certainly the operative word here.

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Mindfulness

The Slow Eating Challenge: How to Mindfully Eat a Single Raisin

Grad school was a rough time for me. Not only were my classes pretty demanding, but I also had a part-time assistantship supervising five undergraduate RA's (Resident Assistants).

Then, of course, I was withdrawing from Paxil (it took 7 or 8 months!), struggling with the withdrawal side effects, and struggling with all of my other usual anxieties.

So, when I saw a flyer for an on-campus stress management course, I signed right up.

We met weekly and did tons of little activities with the university's Counseling Services staff. We examined our cognitive distortions. We laid on the floor and practiced progressive muscle relaxation to soft music. We had roundtable discussions about what causes most of our stress.

And we ate raisins.

Well, let me take that back: we ate one raisin.
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