Panic Attacks and Long Hot Showers
Happy Mental Health Day / Week (depending on where you are in the world!)
Anxiety and Panic Attacks are so often easily dismissed by those who have never been through one. They can be hard to explain and even hard to diagnose as they manifest differently in different people. I want to share some of my experience and hopefully it’ll be of use to someone. ♥
The first panic attack I had, my partner called an ambulance. My heart was beating so hard and fast you could see it through my clothes. Then the adrenaline hit my brain and I started hyperventilating. Even though I’ve had many attacks over the years I still remember the first one so clearly. The hyperventilating causes all your blood to rush to your important organs – heart, brain etc. So then my arms and legs started to feel numb, which increases the panic. The ambulance officer managed to get me to calm my breathing and concentrate on counting with the breaths but then I realise I can’t feel my heart beating hard anymore – is it still actually beating? – new hit of adrenaline and the cycle starts over.
The causes of that panic attack now are clear but at the time it was a sensation I’d never felt before and honestly I believed I was having a heart attack or heart failure.
The ambulance took me to the hospital to be checked out as I’d never been through anything like that before and they wanted to be sure it wasn’t caused by anything physical.
I had blood tests and xrays, then at around 3am I was told I was healthy and possibly 1 week pregnant. I think the beginning changes in hormone levels combined with the loss of my Mum a month earlier and the decision to sell our house and move to the Waikato (3-4 hours away from Hawkes Bay, which was home up till then) all within a few weeks compounded into a stress my body couldn’t handle.
Over the next nine months I had to find ways of dealing with the anxiety – no medications as I was definitely pregnant. Even after the stress of selling and moving was over, new stresses came in the form of a new lifestyle and being in a new city. I had no close by friends and I struggled being isolated on a farm.
One of the best ways I found to help calm myself was walking and breathing in time with counted steps. 1,2,3,4 breathing in, then 1,2,3,4 breathing out. Even at night I would walk up and down the hallway or even around the house outside on a nice night. The counting kept my mind busy and the physical activity helped to tire me out.
Another thing I found helpful was the Bach flowers Rescue Remedy. A natural solution that you take a few drops of under your tongue. It may have just worked as a placebo but I found taking it helped to calm my nerves.
My favourite thing to do was to stand in a hot shower. The heat was relaxing and the constant noise and feeling of the water hitting my skin was calming. Some days I’d have three or four showers lol, but I unfortunately couldn’t live in the shower!
If I was trying to sleep and the anxiety levels weren’t too high, I’d try to occupy my mind, think of mundane, everyday things that I could get into details but not get too excited. I’d plant my vegetable garden in my mind, decide where each plant should go, where every seed needed to be to get the best results. I never seemed to make it to the watering stage. Other times I baked or crafted, thought about the steps I’d take to piece together a garment to be sewn.
Also after the baby was born I found that calming her by patting her on the bottom gently whilst holding her over my shoulder was calming for me too. So often I would pat the side of my bed or pillow in the same rhythmic pattern, telling myself – you can’t stop or slow down, the baby will wake. The pattern kept my mind busy and I sometimes still use this technique to get to sleep. Even just counting in my head can be enough of a distraction to help me fall asleep.
Panic attacks can be really scary and hard to see a way out of. It does get easier to deal with, if you can notice the initial symptoms of your panic attack, you can curb it and decrease it’s intensity by a lot.
I feel that initial hit of adrenaline and I go into defense mode. I change my situation or environment if I can, find something to watch that’s interesting and most importantly – funny. Laughter really does help, even if it’s someone else’s it still makes me feel better. I jump into the shower if I can’t calm myself down. Having good support around you helps too. Especially those who understand what you’re feeling.
If you are really struggling please see your doctor or speak to one of the many free counselling services on the phone or most community centres offer free or cheap counsellors. There are medication options available too but please try to manage your anxiety without them first. I was medicated for my anxiety for quite a few years. I needed it at the time, I was able to look after my kids properly because of it. But I am also pleased to be off the medication. My sewing and crafting have helped a lot, I always have a project to carry on with, to keep my hands and mind busy. You can read why I named my blog Stitch Remedy here.
It’s been a hard road with a lot of learning about myself and how my body and brain react to different things, but now I feel like I’m in control my anxiety and not let it totally control me. It can still bring me down some days but I’ll keep fighting!