Recently, I felt something that I honestly haven’t felt in many years.
I was at the sink in the bathroom, washing my face. As usual, I was ticking off a to-do list in my mind.
Find your sunglasses. Finish speech. Get back to Joe, Kathy, Cindy, Cynthia, Ariel, Janet, Felicity, Jacob, Kelly, etc. Clean out your inbox. Get toilet paper, paper towels, razors, groceries. Send in your proposal. Pay that bill. Work out at 6. Walk the dog. Mix that song. Keep at your next book. Email that interview. Edit photos for the blog. Produce that video. Call your family. Put the dishes away. Open your mail. Organize your office. Book that appointment. Dog food. Buy that plane ticket. Schedule that phone call. Write that new column. Dust the living room. Make the bed. Charge the car. Oh, and maybe you might want to check in on some friends while you’re at it, T.
Suddenly, without warning, my breath started to become shallow. Thinking it was temporary, I started trying to catch it. When one, two, three breaths wouldn’t come in fully, my eyes got wide. Instead of getting better, my breaths became shorter and shorter. Within seconds, dizziness started. Then, a tingling in my hands. Shivers up my spine. Small beads of perspiration on my forehead. Numbness in my face. I looked up, stared into the mirror and asked myself in alarm, “Am I having a panic attack right now?!”
Most horrifically, in this moment, I was trying to ignore the fact that besides me and the dog, the house was empty. Whatever it was, I was completely alone.
When it didn’t go away after a moment, that threw me into sheer terror. Of course, the terror made it worse. Within a minute I was on my bed, feeling like I got punched in the gut, was having the worst asthma attack of my life and was drowning – all at the same time. At once, a flood of emotions, memories and helpless feelings coursed through me and it took everything in me to not start hysterically crying.
I recognized the symptoms, but it took me a moment to accept anxiety as the culprit. Getting a little anxious is normal – even healthy – now and again. However, my experience with diagnosed panic and anxiety attacks was actually quite frequent until the last few years. But they had been different than this.
Crying used to be the only way I would ever get a panic or anxiety attack. It all started when I was very young, bawling my eyes out and trying to explain things. I would experience hiccups in my breathing. My speech was interrupted because I couldn’t catch my breath and I would stammer and repeat myself. I remember the rage I felt the first time someone laughed at me for doing this, because I couldn’t help it. My face and hands would get numb, just like they were doing now. It had always, always happened when I cried.
So what. the hell. was this?!
This was different.
The anxiety of having a panic attack with seemingly no cause was absolutely terrifying.
I couldn’t believe it was really happening. I ran through other scenarios in my mind, all of which were much scarier than the reality that this was, indeed, a panic attack.
Truly, it was something new. Any one of these symptoms could have sent me off to the pharmacist with a ‘script for xanax or valium, but I’ve been there, done that, and been no better off in the end. In fact, drugs did nothing but make me incredibly, undeniably worse.
The thing is, nothing really happens to us without cause. So instead of beating myself up over it, here is how I identified what was going on and was able to successfully stop it right then – and in the future.
Once I started meditating in 2011, anxiety was one of the first and most miraculous afflictions I was almost immediately able to control. Above all others, somehow it has been easiest for me to find a moment, take a breather, and successfully relax. You can train your brain to stay calm and look at life from a more positive, calm perspective this way. In fact, it’s the most simple and effective! So, what had happened here?
Every time you feel anxious, you have to remember to make a conscious effort to relax. Instead of doing that, the unknown had sent me into a panic. The reason you don’t want to panic is because your scary symptoms (shortness of breath, tingling, numbness) all relate back to your heart rate, which you want to be as low as possible to combat anxiety or resist a full blown panic attack. You want to train your body over time to just relax and think about quickly (but calmly) accessing the situation. Are you in any real danger? Is there anything that can really hurt you right now?
Belly breathing, one of the most essential tricks to successfully meditating, is the first step. Once I recognized what was truly going on, I went straight to one of my favorite meditation practices. This simply involves taking a deep breath into your diaphragm, through your nose. Release it through your mouth. Do this until your belly is completely swollen with air and hold it for 4 seconds. Release your breath on the count of 5.
This gives me the time to recognize exactly what’s going on. I was overwhelmed. Period. Regardless of whether or not overwhelm had become my “new normal”, it wasn’t, nor should it ever be. You can have a million things to do without becoming completely overwhelmed. You need to find the space to recognize exactly what’s going on. That’s where meditation comes in! Within a few moments, I realized that I needed to prioritize what needed to be weighing on my heart, and what was truly important. Did I need to do the dishes or call my family first? Well, that one was easy!
I realized I was giving myself one of the most common excuses that we conjure when faced with a meditation practice: I don’t have the time. What hogwash! Without meditation on how to solve your issues, or without taking time to focus on what’s really important, nothing else matters! I need to meditate every day, for at least 5 minutes a day. Period. This is now a non-negotiable for me.
Since then, I also started incorporating more meditation into my day-to-day routine, which has really helped me to access my priorities and focus on my goals without getting overwhelmed. Mindful meditations can be done anywhere, during anything, and they truly help immediately! This usually includes love for my body, it’s healing work, and all the things I’m grateful for. I focus on happy highlights of the day and send prayers and thoughts to my loved ones.
FLOWER REMEDIES + TINCTURES
You can also experience the benefits of supplements in tincture form, so that you don’t have to take capsules every day. An amazing way to do that is through flower remedies. Just place a few drops under the tongue or add to your water, tea or coffee for instant relief of anxious feelings, sadness or restlessness. Flower remedies and tinctures are an amazing way to channel your calm on a daily basis. Here are some of my favorite flower remedies + tinctures available today:
- Dr Bach’s Star of Bethlehem for shock, grief or panic.
- Lotus Wei Inner Peace Elixir is tasty and dissolves high levels of stress & overwhelm. This elixir helps combat feeling a lack of support, anxiety, nervousness, heart palpitations, fear, lack of confidence, and nervousness about public speaking.
- Dr Bach’s Willow for reoccurring nervous tension.
- Rescue Remedy these little beads go to work immediately and taste like peppermint. They naturally reduce every day stress and are an easy way to travel with your solution by your side!
- Lotus Wei Quiet Mind for clarity, focus, relaxed body, quiet mind, sound sleep, ability to take breaks + be more effective. This elixir helps to calm a busy mind, mental chatter, restless sleep, physical tension (especially neck & shoulders), and over-analyzing.
- Valerian tincture for chronic anxiety. This is nature’s valium!
- Passionflower for mild or occasional anxiety.
- Hops for calming nerves (think of it as nature’s beer!) and long-term nervous system support.
- California Poppy for a natural sedation effect.
Neglecting a part of my daily supplements routine has lead me straight to this moment, I admitted to myself. I wasn’t kidding! Since incorporating even small amounts of daily herbs back into my routine, I have not suffered any kind of inhibiting anxiety – even during a very exciting (but nerve-wracking!) workshop this week where I spoke and taught in front of an audience (alone, without a script) for almost 2 hours!! Here are the herbs and supplements that brought it home for me, and they are some of my personal favorites. Each one of these supplements can be taken either every day or as needed for restfulness and calm feelings:
- Ashwagandah for lowering stress hormones.
- Lemon Balm for combating stressful situations.
- Hops for sedation.
- Chamomile for a peaceful state of mind.
- Passionflower for mental clarity and ease.
- Valerian for combating chronic anxious feelings.
Natural Calm Magnesium is my jam! I shared this on snapchat the other day (add me @organiclifeblog!) and you guys freaked out!! I’ve never had so many screenshots in my life, and I’m pretty sure I had a nip slip on there one time!! My favorite way to take it is to put a spoonful in my chamomile tea or straight into my lemon water first thing in the morning, stir gently and drink! Miraculous! What a life saver! Psychology Today has dubbed Magnesium “the original chill pill”. It’s basically nature’s xanax and the right solution for you if supplements, tinctures or teas don’t do the job or you have aversions to them!
I add a teaspoon of Calcium Carbonate in with the Natural Calm to support the magnesium and allow it to work at it’s fullest potential. It’s very easy to sneak these into your smoothies, teas or coffee, but they are tasteless! I’ve definitely noticed a significant difference in my moods and even my hair, skin and nails all look better and stronger!
Another way to take magnesium is in your baths! Just add a teaspoon to a hot bath as the water is running. and you are on your way to feeling better naturally! Magnesium plays an important role in biochemical reactions all over your body. It is involved in a lot of cell transport activities, in addition to helping cells make energy. Your bones are a major reservoir for magnesium, and magnesium is the counter-ion for calcium and potassium in muscle cells, including the heart. If your magnesium is too low, you can experience muscle cramps, arrythmias, and even sudden death. Ion regulation is everything with respect to how muscles contract and nerves send signals. In the brain, potassium and sodium balance each other. In the heart, the organs and muscles we want to control for anxiety, magnesium pulls some of the load.
Write It Out
Writing and journaling is one of the most therapeutic things we can do for ourselves. It helps us to figure out where we are at mentally in the moment, and gives us a perspective to look back on in the future. It’s crazy to read some of my old journals (which I’ve been keeping since the age of 7). I begin to see patterns, recognize things that were happening in my life and can begin to easily honor my feelings right then and there, which are hardly ever the same feelings as they are in the future. Writing my book recently (which is mostly autobiographical) was one of the most therapeutic things I’ve ever done for myself.
I love The Sunrise Manifesto , which is a guided journal that can boost your happiness in just 10 mins! There is also She Believed She Could, So She Did and The Freedom Planner for goals and motivation planning.
I realized pretty suddenly that I’d forgotten that I have a serious case of SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) and San Diego was deep into the cloudy effects of May Grey/June Gloom (which has been showing up earlier every year). Lack of sunlight couldn’t have thrown me into a fit of anxiety, could it?!
Studies have shown that there is a direct link to the amount of sunlight we receive and our anxiety. More Vitamin D, less anxiety. In fact, Vitamin D deficiency, usually caused by a lack of exposure to sunlight, is thought to play an important part in a person’s mental health, and the lack of it has been linked to depression, car accidents, suicide and sickness. I take this vitamin every day that the clouds sneak in to promote Vitamin D from within.
Final Pro Tip: Lay off the caffeine, sugar and fast food. All of these are linked to depression, anxious feelings and overwhelm.