Cruise Control

I can’t believe it’s been almost 2 months since I last wrote.  I guess things have been going well enough that I haven’t felt the need.  Don’t get me wrong, it hasn’t been perfect, but it has been better.  So what’s been contributing to my peace of mind?  A lot of things.

Back in December I wasn’t feeling right.  I was having odd heart palpitations that were causing me some alarm.  Little did I know that it was my anxiety causing my palpitations, not the other way around.  We were embarking on the winter season, and as I’ve written before, the winter is not a good time for me, and I was dealing with stress that wasn’t completely apparent at the time.  Needless to say, I had a full work up done and I am perfectly fine.  I’m better than fine, I’m great.  Those check ups have proven beneficial in helping to ease my anxiety.  Knowing that I’m not going to croak from a heart attack anytime soon has been so encouraging that I’ve ramped up my work outs and started preparing myself for my very first 5K coming up in June.  I’ll be walking it, it’s too tough on my hip to run it, but I’m excited to take this on just shortly after turning 50 last month!

I also had the opportunity to get away from work for a couple of weeks.  That has also proven to be HUGELY beneficial.  Turning off the every day chatter and taking some time to get some rest and relaxation allowed me to turn off the panic button for a while and I’ve come back feeling much less stressed and much more focused.  At one point, when I first discovered that I suffered from panic disorder, my doctor said something that resonated with me.  He said “we need to get you out of the cycle of fear and you need to learn what it feels like to be relaxed again”.  It’s so important to do this when the anxiety is ramping up.  It gives your system the break it needs to repair and refresh.  I’m feeling repaired, and refreshed.

It’s also spring, a time of awakening.  It feels so good to be able to get outside and enjoy the sunshine and smell the fresh air.  That makes a big difference in my psyche as well.  I think everyone can agree that it was a very long winter, and this amazing weather is more than welcome to stay for as long as possible.  Exercising outside is so much more enjoyable than in the basement on a treadmill.  And it’s just great to see everyone smiling and happy.

And today I did something I haven’t done in a very long time.  I drove on the highway, in traffic, for my entire commute.  I’m sure that sounds like the daily grind for some, but for me it’s a major accomplishment.  I credit some of this to gaining some insight into the way the brain works before, during and after a panic attack through a book I’m currently reading called “Rewire Your Anxious Brain:  How to Use The Neuroscience of Fear to End Anxiety, Panic and Worry” by Catherine M. Pittman and Elizabeth M. Karle.  It describes exactly how your cortex and your amygdala work either together or separately in combination with your sympathetic nervous system to cause the symptoms of panic.  In the book they discuss how thoughts can cause a reaction in the amygdala that then sparks the panic.  The two types of panic activators that are focused on are those that arise from the thoughts that you have that originate in the cortex, and the “out of the blue” panic where you can’t identify a cause originating from the amygdala.  Although you can’t control the amygdala, you can utilize various strategies to help manage the symptoms that arise.  These include breathing techniques, progressive muscle relaxation, imagery, and meditation.  Although I’ve known about and often employed these strategies all along, I never quite understood exactly how they were helping me.  Today I listened to the book as I drove, and I practiced some of the techniques with a greater understanding of how they were contributing to managing my symptoms.  It made a difference.

As Ann Radcliffe once said “A well-informed mind is the best security against the contagion of folly and vice.  The vacant mind is ever on the watch for relief, and ready to plunge into error, to escape from the languor of idleness”.  If you are battling with anxiety, educate yourself on what you can do to help yourself to manage it, and then do it.  I promise you, it will make the world of difference, one traffic jam at a time.

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