I woke up at 4 am, drenched in sweat with my heart pounding. I was having a panic attack, in my sleep. I don’t know if it was something I was dreaming, or just the phase of menopause I’m experiencing, but I awoke revving at a million miles an hour. My head was spinning out of control with so many thoughts, one of them being, holy shit am I dying? Given I’m writing this at 11 am, I can safely say that I was not dying.
Eventually, I was able to get back to sleep. I have been meditating using the Insight Timer app (very good), and I immediately picked up my phone and chose the “Grounding” technique to get myself back to a semi-calm state. If you have been dealing with anxiety, you have likely heard of or done this exercise. Grounding involves bringing yourself back into the present by identifying sights, sounds, feels and smells around you. It’s a very quick and effective way to stop the racing thoughts about the past or the future and get yourself into the now. It can be done anywhere, at anytime. I highly recommend it when you’re feeling overwhelmed.
Life can be particularly “ungrounding” (yes, I just made that word up). What I really mean is unsettling. We encounter the unexpected often, but it’s the big things like the death of loved one, the loss of a job, a divorce, or any other thing that changes your world that have the most impact. I’m currently reading a very interesting book that was recommended to me by someone who recently read this blog called “Waking the Tiger” by Peter A. Levine. In it he talks about the impact of these types of traumas (death, divorce, physical trauma etc.) and how we often don’t realize that the symptoms we are experiencing both mentally and physically have some relation to how we did or didn’t manage that trauma when it first happened. I’m not quite finished reading it yet, so I will reserve any more comments on it until I’ve had a chance to digest his theories, but so far what he is saying makes sense.
In her book “Journey to the Heart” (also very good, short daily meditations), Melody Beattie writes a passage that was particularly timely for me to read when I awoke for the second time this morning – “Many of us have been pushed out of the nest. Something unexpected happened and our world changed. We may have fought valiantly to get back in the nest, to return to the safety of life as we knew it. But life had pushed us out. We had no choice but to flap our wings and learn to fly the best we could.”
Feeling settled in our nest is so important to those who suffer from anxiety. Actually, I think it’s important for everyone. We all have that basic need to feel safe and settled within ourselves. For the anxiety sufferer, it gives a sense of control, of comfort and of safety during the storm. Living a steady and secure style of life takes away the anxiety of the unknown. We spend so much time focusing our nervous energies around every little thing, it’s good to have that safe haven to retreat to at the end of the day, whether that be a home, a pet, or a person. When we feel like we’ve been pushed out of the nest without a place to make a safe landing, it can have a negative impact on every aspect of our lives.
So how can we feel grounded while still trying to learn to flap our wings? Unfortunately I don’t have the answer to that, if I did, my life would certainly be much less complicated right now. I am just doing my best to follow the old adage to take one day at a time, don’t look too far forward, don’t linger with the past.
“Nothing is more precious than being in the present moment. Fully alive, fully aware.” Thich Nhat Hanh