I had my first panic attack when I was seventeen years old at a concert. Soon after, I started getting more intense and frequent panic attacks towards the end of high school and in college. It go so bad at one point I didn’t want to leave the house.
Basically, when we are in full-blown panic mode, our sympathetic nervous system is activated- digestion slows down and your heart rate and blood pressure increase. I saw several psychologists on/off for years, up until several years ago. I can comfortably say that I did not necessarily “grow out” of panic attacks, but I just developed strategies to deal with them and have been working on shifting my mindset. I am still susceptible to a panic attack of course- however, they are far and few now due to several techniques I’ve been implementing over the years that have turned sheer overwhelm to more of a “You got it!” attitude. Here’s how I do it:
I sit down for 10 minutes every morning before my day starts and I close my eyes. I don’t try to stop thinking, I just aim to be aware of all the sounds around me, how my body is positioned in the chair, my breathing. I will count my breathes and draw my focus inwards. I use the Headspace app for a guided and short meditation. I find that this has added tremendous value in my life. Instead of reacting to everything that happens to me, I take some time to set my day off right, take some deep breaths, and soothe not only my brain but my soul.
Along with my guided meditations, I take time afterward for an extra few minutes to think about all that I’m grateful for. I’ve added this at the end of my meditation everyday because I feel like all too often, we get caught up in wishing/wanting for things to be different in our lives. I truly feel that I am much happier and fulfilled when I do take the time to realize all that I’m thankful for and I stop thinking so much about what I don’t have yet.
Take a break
Take a walk, go to a private place and take some deep breaths- remove yourself from the stressful situation if you can. There is evidence to suggest even taking a quick walk outside can boost your emotional, physical, and mental state. Getting that new perspective even just from a walk can do wonders. You’ll likely find that you can accomplish more in less time and with less frustration once you’ve allowed yourself a break.
Make a plan
I find that I can go to sleep much better if I write down everything I need to do in my planner before I go to bed. Having this piece of mind does so much for me because I take everything out of my head and put it onto paper, where it can no longer bother me during sleep. I have also realized planning too much in advance for certain things increases my anxiety, so I take it one day at a time for the little stuff. For the major stuff, it’s necessary to plan things out as needed.
Change your mindset
Going from drowning and panic mode to a mode of empowerment and a “I got this” attitude while implementing the tools I mentioned above is so powerful. I find myself in small bouts of overwhelm everyday (I’m not immune to it!) but I can definitely say I can handle it much better. These simple strategies will help you calm the physical and mental responses you have to overwhelm so you can turn overwhelm into opportunity.
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The way you set up your week will have either a positive or negative impact on you. It may sound daunting to have to do a ton of preparation at the start of your week, but what I’ve found is that the more prepared I am, the better and smoother my week goes.
1. Get all groceries/plan all meals of the week.
To make my life easier, I stick to the same breakfasts, snacks, and lunch ideas for the most part on a weekly basis. It limits the mental effort and time required to look up brand new recipes each week. I play around more with my dinners and will cook on average two big meals a week to last me a few days. I look up two recipes on Sunday and will add those ingredients to my list of breakfast/lunch/snack ingredients. My grocery list rarely changes.
2. Plan 10 minutes of stillness
I have made this part of my routine every day. If you feel like you don’t even have 10 minutes, then you really need those 10 minutes. I have used the headspace app; you can just set a timer for 10 minutes and sit in a quiet space before you start your day, go for a 10 minute walk outside- however you can get in 10 minutes just for YOU, do it. You can just be aware of your breath, pray, meditate, write in a gratitude journal- whatever you feel is best. This has been the MOST important thing I’ve added to my routine that has reduced my anxiety.
3. Schedule in your exercises
It has to be a priority. If you don’t, it won’t happen. That’s why people fall off so easily- it’s because it isn’t a priority. Schedule it in, tell a friend to check in with you, go to a class, join an accountability group- do something that you can implement into your routine. Whether it’s walking around the neighborhood, following a home program, going to the gym- you have to find something REALISTIC that you will stick to. If you’re not a gym person but you got a gym membership because it’s what everyone is doing, but you prefer to squeeze in 25-30 minute workouts at home or vice versa, find it, stick to it, and schedule it.
4. Clean up your space
Who is guilty of leaving their laundry in the bin all week, or having that chair that gets all the laundry instead of putting it away? I find that if I take the 10 minutes to put my laundry away, I am oddly more at peace with my space. Your space plays a role into your daily performance (occupational therapy facts); organize your space, be proud of it, sell some of your junk or give it away. Make your space welcoming!
5. Stick to your priorities
Don’t neglect date night with your spouse, girls night, yoga class, or anything that makes you happy. I’ve learned that just because you’re busy doesn’t mean you are productive. Do your work, but schedule in FUN time- this could be that Friday night date (phones off!), annual girls trip (I gotta thank Laura, Andrea, Val for that one), read a book, take a bath, etc. We have to take care of ourselves and nourish our relationships.