I have always felt very passionate about anxiety, as I have had struggles of my own with anxiety and panic attacks during my early 20’s. While I was in my sophomore year in college, working toward my Undergraduate Degree in Psychology, I had severe panic attacks, to the point I had to go to the ER because I literally thought I was dying! I remember feeling frustrated because I would either leave the ER not knowing what was “wrong” with me OR I was leaving with a prescription AND still did not know what was “wrong” with me.
This is where it got a little interesting. After about 6 months of having panic attacks, my doctor ordered an MRI to determine if there was anything possibly causing these “spells.” Before the MRI, I was reading a brochure about what would happen during this procedure. I read there would be 2 rounds of scans. The 1st round would be just the scans, and the 2nd round would take place after I received an IV with dye. When I read I would be injected with dye, I also assumed I would receive some type of relaxant at the same time.
As you can imagine, the 1st round of pictures, I was a nervous wreck and on the verge of another panic attack. The 2nd round of pictures, after the IV, I felt AMAZING and I was relaxed because I “knew” there was a “relaxant” in the IV. After the scan, I was telling the technician how happy I was about receiving the “calming medication” for the 2nd round because it really helped calm my anxiety. She told me I did not receive any medication. At that very moment, and I remember it so vividly, I said to myself, “I am done with Panic Attacks,” and I was from that point on! I knew at a deep level, for me, my thoughts were the main contributor to my panic attacks.
Now, I have to say this! From all of my clinical and personal experiences, I understand that panic attacks are very real and can be very debilitating, and I by no means want to sound as if I am minimizing them. I also understand there are times when medication is truly needed to help take the edge off so coping skills can be implemented. However, I also feel strongly about looking at all of the different areas outside of medication, in an effort to address, heal and manage our anxiety and panic as they arise.
Just recently, I was honored to have a wonderful conversation with a young woman who asked me a profound question, which was, “why do you think you had panic attacks?” It truly was the first time I had to reflect back on what may have caused them. I know there is a ton of research out there that provides reasoning for why they may have been occurring, but I will share why I thought they were happening for me.
As I reflected back on the time when I was so severely anxious and knowing what I know now, I really could identify what “caused” them for me. I had a few things going on. One, I was a perfectionistic! Nothing I did was good enough, and my inner critic was constantly reassuring me that nothing I ever did would be good enough. My self-worth and lovability were strictly based on what I accomplished and if others liked me or not. As if that was not enough, I was also highly sensitive, and I did not know it. Dr. Elaine N. Arron Ph.D. wrote a book “The Highly Sensitive Person,” which is a great read and I strongly recommend it to anyone who is curious about what may be causing some of their emotions. Being highly sensitive, for me, is when I walk into the room, I can feel the energy of people’s moods, bright lights are over stimulating, too much noise is overwhelming, just to name a few.
Not only was I (and still am) a highly sensitive person, I did not realize I was a highly sensitive person! I had the combination of a cruel inner critic wanting me to be perfect; I was being bombarded with others emotions, overwhelmed by external stimulation AND I had the lone ranger approach! I carried the burden for many years, and I had to do everything on my own. I held a strong, yet irrational belief that if I asked for help, I was weak! I truly believe that it was the ongoing and persistent way of living and thinking that eventually caused me to have panic attacks.
Here is what I learned through both my personal and professional experiences throughout the years regarding panic attacks and anxiety.
- My way of thinking had a direct impact on my anxiety and my panic attacks. You truly have to get to the core of your thoughts and limiting beliefs you are telling yourself to fully understand the root of you anxiety.
- Exercise saved me! Exercise was my anxiety medication and a big reason I could handle my panic attacks and anxiety. If you have any physical limitations, just move your body as it allows you to do so! Research shows that ALL movement counts:)
- I had and have a strong spiritual connection and faith, both of which helped me greatly and continue to help me now:)
- I ditched the “lone ranger” approach. If you are anxious, you need support. Limiting beliefs are strong and will bring you right back to an anxious place if you isolate for too long.
- I learned to listen to what I needed and would stay true to myself. More specifically, I learned when I needed some alone time. I have accepted that I am both an extrovert and an introvert. I love to be with people, but I also need to be alone to recharge. It is ok for you to need alone time!
- Our foods no longer carry the nutrients they used to carry. A portion of our emotional struggles can be directly related to nutritional deficiencies. If you would like to talk about this further, I have some wonderful people in mind I could recommend. 🙂
- Never underestimate the power of hormones! This goes for both men and women. If you have never had your hormone or thyroid levels checked, and you struggle with anxiety, I would strongly encourage you to do so. I know a wonderful woman whom I could refer you to with extensive knowledge in this field!
- Take the “Are You Highly Sensitive” quiz by Dr. Elaine N. Arron PhD and read the book “The Highly Sensitive Person.” The quiz is also on her website. 🙂
- If you are a highly sensitive person, you may be highly sensitive to certain foods or drinks as well. If so, these sensitivities can contribute to how you feel both physically and emotionally. I find that with many of my clients, those who are emotionally sensitive are also sensitive to certain foods and drinks.
- Consider working with a coach;) I know a great one:)
I want to make mention this article is strictly based on my personal journey. I understand we all have our own unique stories and journeys. My intention for writing this article is to share ideas, give you loving support and offer hope to you that things can change:)
I always love to hear feedback from you! I would love to hear your comments, thoughts; feelings, etc.:) Also, if there is something I missed you think I should have added to the list, please share this as well. I would love to hear what works for you!
Have an amazing rest of your day!
Ronda Stevens, MA, LMFT, Certified Holistic Life and Wellness Coach