Archives for Prevention
The scene: late summer, on a leave of absence from my cubicle-farm workplace. The culprit? Panic. Really bad panic that was keeping me, for the most part, stuck in my apartment. Most days, I was too scared to even drive down the street to Walgreens. I had been relying on Xanax to treat my panic attacks as they happened. I'd been diligently working through Dr. Edmund Bourne's Anxiety & Phobia Workbook (which I would honestly recommend to anyone who suffers from frequent panic attacks), but not seeing any immediate benefit. I'd been doing therapy and trying to eat normally again. At only 95 lbs, an all-time low for my adult life, I felt unhealthy and deflated. "Why don't you just try Celexa and see what happens?" my family doctor said at my next appointment. "If you don't like it, you don't have to continue taking it." Yeah. I've heard that story before. Cough cough PAXIL cough.
Earlier, I wrote about how I began to struggle with panic attacks again -- in a pretty severe way -- about three years after withdrawing myself from Paxil, an SSRI medication that treats anxiety disorders. I had a full-time "big girl" job in a customer service call center that, over time, began to painfully grate on my nerves. After successfully transferring to a new department (yay!) where my workday was less hectic, I found out that my entire department was being laid off -- except for me and about 8 other employees -- and we were all magically being transferred back to the nerve-grating department from whence I came. The anxiety was unbearable. Couldn't sleep; couldn't eat. I felt stuck. Even Xanax didn't help. And that's when I found myself on the Med-Go-Round again. I took a leave of absence from work and went to my doctor. In the exam room, I cried as he signed my LOA paperwork. "I think you'd feel much better if you tried some medication other than Xanax," he said. His concern was genuine. "Instead of treating your panic as it happens, we should try to prevent it." I refused. I said I just needed to rest and let my body and mind unwind for awhile. Next appointment: "I still think you'd feel much better if you tried some medication. Why don't we try an SSRI?"
Do you remember your very first panic attack? Was it years ago, or was it yesterday? I definitely remember mine (even though it was years ago!). I was a college sophomore, living in a ivory-colored cell block of a dorm room. It was well past midnight on a weeknight and my roommate was fast asleep. Within just a few minutes of climbing into my extra-long bed and unplugging the Christmas lights that lit our room, I suddenly felt like I couldn't feel half of my body. My heart started to race. I became flushed and lightheaded. It felt like adrenaline had flushed out my entire bloodstream. I thought I was having a stroke.
Last week, we looked at some of the pros and cons of quitting the caffeine habit. Too much caffeine can rev up your body's physiological response and create a fertile breeding ground for panic. But then again, completely abstaining from caffeine is liable to train you that the substance, even in low doses, is a threat. So, moderation is key. And in order to properly moderate, you'll need to know the caffeine content of common beverages. The Mayo Clinic has a basic list here. And if you happen to own a copy of Dr. Edmund Bourne's The Anxiety & Phobia Workbook, the "Nutrition" chapter has a simple chart that outlines the caffeine content of coffee, tea, and over-the-counter medicines. Did you know that brewing a cup of tea for five minutes will produce nearly twice as much caffeine as brewing it for only a minute would? Did you know that instant coffee generally has less caffeine than percolated or drip coffee? Or that coffee has more caffeine per cup than tea?
I stopped drinking caffeinated beverages a few months before I graduated from college. After years of drinking one coffee and at least two or three sodas per day in the school cafeteria, I quit cold turkey. (And I wouldn't recommend this method of quitting to anyone!) And then, I enjoyed two weeks of tension headaches and constant sleepiness. I was a groggy-eyed wreck. My dorm room bed was my new best friend. But when the withdrawal effects wore off, I was a new person. My overall anxiety level decreased, I had a more steady level of energy throughout the day, and it became easier to fall asleep (and stay asleep) at night. Of course, I was a little slower to wake up in the morning. And, on some afternoons after class, I would fiercely need a nap. But that's okay. I was (and still am) content with that. When practical, I prefer listening to my body (by napping) over fighting against my body (by stuffing it with caffeine until I feel energized again). Are you thinking about kicking the caffeine habit? Are you trying to figure out when and how you'll attempt it? Take a look at some of the possible pros and cons of quitting below.
Those of us with anxiety disorders know the feeling well -- we lay in bed, but sleep does not come. Our mind is too busy racing its way from here to there, rehashing the day's activities, and constructing lists of would have could have should have. Did I turn off the oven? I should have called Janice back. Where did I leave my car keys? I could have finished that project at work, but I got sidetracked and I hope the boss isn't upset with me. Did I remember to set the alarm clock? It is exhausting. Yet somehow, it is not the type of exhaustion that brings sleep. I often wish that my own mind came equipped with an off/on switch. Or, well, a dimmer switch. That would be better. I mean, I doubt that I'd ever want to cease all thoughts -- especially an important thought like, "Okay, I want to turn the switch back on now!" Yeah, a dimmer switch would be nice. I would crank it up during daylight hours & slowly dial it down as the evening sets in. Alas, there's no such thing as a Mind Dimmer Switch. But can we trick our mind and brain into slowing down for the evening?
Today at my 9-to-5 office job, I started feeling a little queasy. I was staring at one of the 7 or 8 gigantic Excel spreadsheets that I had open on my desktop. The tiny little rows and columns started to shift, overlap, and blend together into a distorted lattice of alphanumerical dizziness. Probably just eye fatigue, really. But coupled with the uncomfortably ill-feeling belly, it felt like a red-alert warning. Something is wrong with your body!, the warning cried. You're going to puke and you can't see straight! Danger! Danger!