I’ve always been very good at managing stress.
I exercise regularly and eat well. I make lists and cross things off when they’re completed. I knit. I spend time playing with my children. I get lots of sleep.
All activities known to reduce stress and calm an anxious mind.
Yet just last week, I found myself wide awake at 2:30 in the morning, unable to slow my racing thoughts and becoming increasingly distraught over everything I needed to do the next day, the following week and even the months ahead (sound familiar?).
After tossing and turning for over an hour (and not wanting to wake my sleeping husband), I headed into the bathroom, and perched on the edge of the bathtub, experienced my first full blown panic attack.
For a good 15 minutes my heart felt like it was going to explode. I started to hyperventilate and my fingers and toes went numb. It was absolutely terrifying.
Thankfully, the episode passed quickly (although at the time it felt like it would never end),and I stumbled back to bed, curling up close to hubby to soothe myself and slow my breathing down. I slept poorly for the rest of the night (and was a bit of a zombie the following day; big apologies to my clients).
Apparently all that daytime stress management doesn’t necessarily cut it in the middle of the night. The hours when my subconscious ‘monkey mind’ likes to wake up and play.
To be fair to myself, this winter has been more stressful than most (2 family members underwent cancer-related surgeries, 2 children with never-ending head lice infestations, lost passports and a cancelled holiday, an anxious and fitfully-sleeping hubby, a super exciting, secret project that’s going to eat up a lot of my time over the next four months). Perhaps I needed some additional tools for dealing with the stress-that-broke-the-camel’s-back…
I immediately did what any sane person would do 🙂 ; ask my Facebook friends for advice. Inquire as to who else has experienced middle-of-the-night panic attacks and if they had any tips to calm an anxious mind.
Smart bunch that they are, I very quickly had lots of great ideas:
- Milk with a little extra sugar in it. Or chocolate milk. Sip it very slowly. It slows the breathing and evens out any low blood sugars that may have preceded the attack ~ Deb
- Long deep breaths through my nose and exhale slowly. Working out regularly helps! ~ Diane
- Limiting coffee to no more than two cups in the morning ~ Diane
- Sometimes the thought of having a panic attack can make you have a panic attack. Do you have a plan if you feel your anxiety going up again? ~ Kristi
- Walk around the house and practice breathing techniques ~ Melissa
- Breathing as if you’re singing “Ave Maria” (long, long notes = long, long breaths) ~ Kristen
- Get ahold of a small paper sack and breathe into it slowly and deliberately ~ Jill
- Focus on my breathing, something relaxing and to remember it will be better in the morning ~ Jennifer
- Do you ever meditate? ~ Leslie
Breathing and relaxation techniques are great for in the moment; I’ve successfully used them twice already. I’ve also cut out my mid-day coffee. But I’d also like to work on preventing future attacks.
I think Leslie’s meditation suggestion is worth a try. And to that end, I’ve already found a wonderful book of guided meditations that I’m slowly working through;
With titles like “befriend your panic”, “roadway to serenity” and “soundtrack of life”, there’s something in here for just about any anxiety-provoking situation. My favourite so far? “stop the spin cycle”.
Have you ever experienced a panic attack?
Have you tried any of the tips listed above to calm an anxious mind?
Do you meditate? If so, how has it helped you?