Living With Panic Disorder – Part 2

For part one, please visit the post right before this one. In that post, I touched a little on my personal history and experience with Panic Disorder. Today we will cover coping mechanisms.

I think the one piece of advice I can give anyone is to find ways to change your focus. When you are having a panic attack, you essentially are panicking and that is one hard monster to overcome. It is very important to be able to refocus and try to concentrate on something else.

Let me run through a few things I have tried and what I found:

  1. Deep Breaths. Okay, I’ve tried the slow, deep breathing and it DOES NOT WORK FOR ME. Not when I am in the thick of it. It actually begins to feel like my heart is experiencing palpitations, which in turn causes me to panic even more. Deep breathing works once I am flowing out of the attack. If the initial shock is wearing off, I then begin the slow, deep breathing… and then I am able to recover faster.
  2. Stress Balls – Alright, this one can sort of stop an attack if you feel anxious in a place. But you have to start early. While in an attack? Absolutely not. However, if anger and generalized anxiety is an issue for you, I think a stress ball can be very useful.
  3. Peppermint oil. THIS one is a real show stopper for me. I dab a little peppermint oil under my nose, on my temples and on the back of my neck and it is like a miracle! What I think is happening here are two things: – I am able to feel the breath. One of the biggest obstacles is feeling like you can’t take a deep breath. With peppermint oil, the sensation goes deep into the lungs and it sends a message to the brain that yes, you are breathing. And secondly, it refocuses my mind to the cooling/almost slight burning sensation. I always keep something like this on me at all times. (On me, as in in my purse.) You can only imagine the issues I am having with the masks and my “feeling” like I can’t breathe. Quick fix – dab a little on the mask.
  4. Yoga. 100% seems to center me for the day. It is a shame I don’t do it more often. The stretching of the muscles, the slowing of breath, it really can put my mind, body and spirit right where it needs to be.
  5. Meditation. This is another one that centers me for the day and/or right before an attack comes on. If I can get to my safe place (a quiet place where there is no judgement.)
  6. Magnesium. There is a special calming tea that really helps keep stress at bay.
  7. Epsom salt (hot) baths. This one is always a winner! Especially during an attack or after. It sort of puts your body at ease.
  8. Essential Oil – Aromatherapy. This sort of creates a sense of peace. I wouldn’t say the lavender actually relaxes me, but rather the ritual of diffusing helps. That goes for incense also.
  9. Crystals. I’ve been studying the energy of crystals. I will go more into this at a later date, but trust that there is something interesting about this and has worked for me in the past.
  10. Prayer. This is the biggest one. Prayer is the ultimate refocusing technique and works every. single. time.
  11. Imipramine, sold under the brand name Tofranil, among others, is a tricyclic antidepressant (TCA) mainly used in the treatment of depression. It is also effective in treating anxiety and panic disorder. I did take this in 1996 and I did NOT have one single panic attack. But the drug made me excessively sleepy and I gained 30 pounds in 4 months. NOT an option for me. But it did calm my brain down long enough to do the cognative behavior therapy work with a professional.
  12. Cognitive Behavior Therapy. (CBT) is a short-term, goal-oriented psychotherapy treatment that takes a hands-on, practical approach to problem-solving. Its goal is to change patterns of thinking or behavior that are behind people’s difficulties, and so change the way they feel. CBT for panic disorder is an effective treatment for sufferers with or without agoraphobia. It may be used in conjunction with medication or independently. CBT empowers the patient with techniques to manage stress and decrease anxiety and correct thinking patterns that potentiate panic. Works. It really does. But it is simply a coping tool.
  13. Regular Therapy. This typically works very well, regardless. Just talking things out, learning time management and boundary setting skills – all very important for someone with panic disorder.
  14. Xanax – Alprazolam is used to treat anxiety and panic disorders. It belongs to a class of medications called benzodiazepines which act on the brain and nerves (central nervous system) to produce a calming effect. It works by enhancing the effects of a certain natural chemical in the body (GABA). This drug works very, very well and quickly. I’ve taken it a handful of times. However, it is highly addictive, so my doctor will not prescribe this pill for long term use.
  15. Massage – And massage can help get you back on your feet by increasing circulation, relaxing muscles, and improving joint movement and flexibility.
  16. Lexapro – Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitor (SSRI) It can treat depression and generalized anxiety disorder (GAD). I tried this back in 2007, and I was only able to handle it for 3 weeks. I had racing thoughts and a racing heart, plus terrible headaches. This was not a good fit for me. I was prescribed this after suffering my second run with meningitis. As it turns out, stress will cause recurrent episodes. My doctor thought this would help. Nope.
  17. Floating – Flotation-REST has been found to be effective in reducing anxiety. A 2018 study showed that a single one-hour session in a sensory deprivation tank was capable of a significant reduction in anxiety and improvement in mood in the 50 participants with stress- and anxiety-related disorders.
  18. Buspirone is an anti-anxiety medicine that affects chemicals in the brain that may be unbalanced in people with anxiety. Buspirone is used to treat symptoms of anxiety, such as fear, tension, irritability, dizziness, pounding heartbeat, and other physical symptoms. Last year, my doctor gave me this and not 10 minutes after taking it I started experiencing brain zaps. Brain zaps are electrical shock sensations in the brain. They can happen in a person who is decreasing or stopping their use of certain medications, particularly antidepressants. Brain zaps are not harmful and will not damage the brain. However, they can be bothersome, disorienting, and disruptive to sleep. I had extreme dizziness and would only sleep two hours a night. I lasted one month.
  19. Hydroxyzine – It is used to treat itching caused by allergies. It is an antihistamine and works by blocking a certain natural substance (histamine) that your body makes during an allergic reaction. Hydroxyzine may also be used short-term to treat anxiety or to help you feel sleepy/relaxed before and after surgery. This was my doctor’s suggestion for having something similar to Xanax. I take it if I am starting to fill anxious or if I need to remain calm, I can take it before an event. I am still using it, only rarely. It takes about 30 minutes to kick in and once the anxiety has worn off, you want to sleep for hours. So I have to use it sparingly. I will tell you this, if I take it before bed, I get the best night’s sleep and stay calm the next day with zero panic attacks.
  20. Cymbalta – Antidepressant and Nerve pain medication. It can treat depression, anxiety, diabetic peripheral neuropathy, fibromyalgia, and chronic muscle or bone pain. You guys – THIS ONE IS THE MIRACLE PILL. I was prescribed this one for the body pains and incredible tendonitis and anxiety. Duloxetine (generic name) is known as a serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitor (SNRI). It has been a miracle pill! My pain went from an 8 – 9 to a 2, 3 and sometimes 4. My anxiety went from a 9, 10 to a 2, 3. I love it. ZERO side effects, unless you count when I go to relax, I am able to deeply relax. Yep… not too shabby.

There you have it! Coping mechanisms and all of the things I have tried. I won’t share any unhealthy coping mechanisms, because I am sure there are some. Luckily, I have moved past anything that might be not great for the body. One thing I forgot to mention – regular exercise and no sugar seems to give a big calming effect on the body.

Some books I would recommend:

This is by no means medical advice. This is just my journey. ALWAYS discuss any issues you are having with a doctor or therapist.

For more resources and information, visit the following websites:

The MAYO Clinic

The Anxiety and Depression Organization of America

Cleveland Clinic

Float Robins

Living With Panic Disorder

It started when I was a little girl, maybe eight or nine-years-old. I was walking down Westgate Mall in Macon, with my great-grandmother. I remember we were looking at china dolls, rows and rows of beautiful dolls for sale. I assume this was a doll show. At one point, as we were walking, my face began to feel numb. It started around my throat and traveled up my face. This startled me, which made my heart beat faster. Even though I was holding my Granny’s hand, I became very frightened. I looked around and suddenly the room seemed “off.” I got dizzy and short of breath and I asked my Granny could we sit down because I didn’t “feel good.”

I don’t remember much after that. Just the sights and sounds and out-of-body experience in Westgate mall. To the last day that mall was opened, I could never walk that path without my pulse racing and my breath shortening.

For the next month, this same scenario would suddenly play out in class. Ms. Childer’s 4th grade class at Union Elementary to be exact. The numbess, the dizziness, and the inability to catch my breath. I would ask to go to the bathroom. As soon as I left the classroom, I felt so much better. I would return and tell my teacher I didn’t feel good. She would tell me to sit down and be quiet.

Which made me feel helpless.

I told my mom & dad about what was happening, and my mother took me to my pediatrician. This was the early 80s. My doctor could find nothing wrong with me physically and suggested I see a psychiatrist. I don’t remember much after that, except that my mom said that I did not need to see a shrink and that I was just trying to get attention.

Which made me feel helpless.

This continued for years. The symptoms would shift and I got to the point that I would sit in the car when my family went out to eat. I would cower down in the movie theater, because an attack would happen there. I would even have them at church. I remember telling my mom, on numerous occasions, that I couldn’t catch my breath. I remember her pinching me and telling me to knock it off – as I sat there, trying to piece together why I was feeling like I was going to die. With a child’s mind.

Fast forward to high school, I ended up stumbling upon a book at B.Dalton (in the Macon Mall,) called Panic Attacks. I have no idea how I ended up on the self-help aisle, perhaps because it was near the astrology texts, but I picked up the book and read the back. It sounded super familiar. I think flipped through it and read the symptoms:

  • Hyperventilating
  • Dizziness
  • Tunnel vision
  • Chest pain/pressure
  • Nausea
  • Hot & cold flashes
  • Sweating
  • Parsethesia
  • Fight or flight response
  • Derealization

At some point all or some of those symptoms were present when I had one of my episodes. I’m not sure if I had money of my own or I talked my parents into buying the book for me, but I did end up with the book. And I read it cover to cover.

I was experiencing something called panic attacks, and man was it debilitating.

I won’t go into great detail of where or when these were happening, but let’s just say – If there were large crowds, or I had to sit with people behind me, or I was far from a door, or I was in a situation where you couldn’t just get up and go, I would have an attack.

Once I found the book, I didn’t feel quite so alone. In the 80s, people did not talk about mental illness openly, and I had definitely never heard anything about panic attacks.

I finally had a name for what was happening to me.

The continued throughout my college career, mainly in classes and when walking to classes, but never at home or when hanging out with friends. I could go to restaurants and function a lot better, because I was attempting to try all of the things the book suggested.

Things like:

I took deep breaths. I tried pressing pressure points in my hand. I’d ask friends to massage my shoulders. I would squeeze a stress ball.

None of it worked.

By the age of 21, I was dating a young man that happened to be a psychology major. He thought maybe I had ADHD and it was left untreated. He thought maybe the fact that I couldn’t focus was the reason I was “freaking out.” He suggested I see the therapist the campus offered. He thought it was free, why not?

So I went.

After a couple of sessions, she sent me to a behavioral health place for analysis and testing.

Diagnosis:

  • A developmental Arithmetic Disorder. (Dyscalculia) (Which explains the bad math grades and my panic attacks in a math class.)
  • Dysthymia (persistent, mild depression.)
  • PANIC DISORDER

And there it was. The definition of Panic Disorder is:

a psychiatric disorder in which debilitating anxiety and fear arise frequently and without reasonable cause.

I began a journey of anti-tricylic drugs and cognitive behavioral therapy. It helped and the pill cut the attacks out. 1996 was the year. I gained 30 pounds and slept all of the time.

That was no way to live. My gynecologist took me off the pills and told me I did not need that. The attacks slowly came back, not nearly as bad as they were.

Fast forward to 2007. I get divorced and end up in therapy. I thought I would need some guidance to deal with the transition and the therapist got hung on the fact I was STILL having attacks. We started deep diving.

I left therapy before the work was completed.

Fast forward to 2017 – I started having frequent attacks. I went back to therapy and started setting boundaries, they dissipated.

Fast forward to 2020 – and they were back with a vengeance. I ended up with a “as needed” pill – Hydroxyzine and a daily – Cymbalta (which handles my body aches and pains and reduces anxiety.)

Are they gone completely? No.

Do I feel more relaxed? For sure.

But there is so much more to this story. So, so, much more.

I think what I will do is share that in 2 more parts. Today was my journey. Tomorrow will be the coping mechanisms I have incorporated that have helped me tremendously. And finally, the last one will be the why – the root of why I have panic attacks, or at the very least, what I have uncovered through therapy and meditation.

If you or someone you know suffering from Anxiety or Panic Attacks, the best thing you can do is:

  • Accept that this is a part of them now. Know that it will get better as they adapt to what is going on inside of them and when they start to manage the symptoms.
  • When we go somewhere, please give us an option to stay or leave. We will stay longer when we feel more in control and not trapped or helpless.
  • Do not pressure us with your silence or repressed anger or annoyance because we might have to leave. That only makes it more difficult for us the next time.
  • Understand that we do not want to experience this, and that there is no specific time for us to learn how to manage it, there are many types of treatments and one does not work for everyone.
  • Most importantly, give us your support, love and acceptance. It makes a huge impact in someone’s recovery and we all want to recover.

Tomorrow we will tackle coping mechanisms.

Let Me Rock You, Chakra Khan

By now, most of you are familiar with chakras. And I am sure many of you, like me, have thought of it as a bunch a malarkey.

Well… I stand corrected.

During this pandemic, and specifically during the quaruntine, I decided to explore the chakras a little more closely. You see, when I went to Valdosta back in February for a conference, my friend and I decided to go see a psychic. Yes, I went to one of those houses that have a big sign out front that says, “Palm Reader.”

To be perfectly honest, I was not really into it. I went for my friend, who really believed in this sort of stuff. I just wanted to have a little fun and like always, I like to try new adventures. When we got there, I let my friend go first, so I was asked to sit in what I assume was the living room and just wait. I could hear the murmurs and some laughter, but for the most part, it was super quiet.

While waiting my turn, I looked around the room and saw a wide variety of things. Palm posters outlining your pathways and a big Buddha on the middle of the table. (I actually own that very same Buddha!) Then I noticed this wall with the rainbow colored chakras. Many, many years ago, when I first began studying meditation (in college,) I had this very thorough book on chakras. I remember thinking that it was just a little too “out there” and sometime over the years I must have donated it to a Goodwill. However, I was familiar enough to know what most of the different point were called.

Also while waiting, I decided to look this psychic up. I read the reviews then read her price point. Holy moly, am I in the wrong business! To have your chakras balanced or cleansed or whatever, it was around $600. What I was going for was a cool $60.

I finally got my chance and the psychic told me all of the things you would probably know by talking to me for a few minutes or looking at me. If she has an ounce of intuition like me, I could equally read her. She did tell me a few things that I thought, “Yeah, right.” But I went along with it and we left. My friend and I had a good laugh and that was the end of that.

Until it all came true. Seriously. Even the far out stuff.

Okay… made me rethink the whole thing… and those pesky little chakras.

I ended up ordering a great book on chakras called: Chakra Healing: A Beginner’s Guide to Self-Healing Techniques That Balance the Chakras

This book was incredible! I was able to truly understand how they work and why things are the way they are. None of it was malarkey and none of it was hokey.

One of the main things I was trying to tackle was my panic disorder. If you have followed my blog for a while, you know I have lived with a panic disorder since I was eight years old. Getting the to the root of the problem is where I am now. I understand how to deal with it, but what were my triggers and what was the main cause. And I finally understood – My root chakra was blocked.

As I took time to work through some meditations I had from a different book, I was able to uncover some of those triggers and I now firmly believe that my need to feel safe & more importantly, secure, was out of whack.

So what did I do?

I bought some sage and I saged my house. Interested in how to do it?

Click here:

https://clairedobson.com/wellness/mindfullness/sage-cleansing/

I also practiced some specific meditations and yoga poses that I learned in the book. And finally, I entered another world I always joked about: Crystals. Yes, those sparkly little rocks.

I’ll explore those more deeply later, but I did invest in some root chakra crystals.

I realize all of this seems a little strange, and yes, even I sort of scoffed at it for a while, but there is some good psychological benefits to some of this. For one, recognizing that fear and need to be safe and secure was key to understanding my triggers for a panic attack. Anything that appears to shake that in my world, will definitely set me off. So what if we call it the root chakra and assign a space in the body for it. It makes sense. Then when it comes to the crystals, I do believe in energy. Rocks are natural and contain energy (ever held a swinging quartz over a rock? You’ll be a believer.) What does it matter to have something that God made as a reminder to stay grounded?

I’m still learning and I am still exploring. I plan to share a little more about what I am learning in future posts. However, for today, I wanted to share with you a little about my new found chakra interests!

Tell me what you think in the comment section!