Friday, February 27, 2015

Just Breathe...



Photo: D. Jason Mausser

Have you ever felt as though you can’t breathe? I’m not talking about actually losing your source of oxygen but the surreal feeling that you just “can’t” take a deep breath.
 
During my senior year of college, I had a non-paying college internship but I was also working a few part-time jobs to pay my bills and supplement my college career.  On top of that, I commuted an hour in each direction – to my State University – twice a week for a 12 hour school day.  

I mean, have you ever looked at the calendar and said, “Wow, it is going to be 21 days until my next day off?”

Now, this is not a pity party.  I did what I had to do and actually was having a lot of fun doing it.  However, I reached a point to where being the energizer bunny 24/7 finally caught up with me, but I hadn’t even realized I was being chased until it was too late.

One day, while commuting to my University, I started to feel like my heart was going to beat out of my chest while my clammy hands felt like pins and needles.  Also, I started to hyperventilate and, the more I thought about it, the worse it became.

I pulled off to the side of the road and got a grip, but I was still shaky and having a hard time catching my breath for the rest of the day.  I had a few more episodes like this and decided it was time to see my doctor.

The Doc asked me some general inquiries about my life, diet, exercise and the nature of these episodes; He then diagnosed me with Anxiety or Panic Attacks.  He told me that I should cut back on work (how could I afford it?); get more sleep (when?); and to try and take it easy (impossible!).  So, he sent me on my way with one prescription (no refills) of Xanax to get me through to the end of the year.

I am happy to report that, once I had graduated from college, the Anxiety Attacks pretty much went away.  Over the next two decades, I would get one here and there if things were pretty stressful but, for the most part, they were fleeting…until a year ago.

I was dismayed that I started getting those darn Anxiety Attacks again. Yet, they came at a time when I was under a lot of stress, so it was not surprising; but here I am a year later and I’m still getting them periodically even though I don’t have any “true” stress in my life.

Once again, I set out to consult a doctor but, this time; it was an acupuncturist who also specializes in Traditional Chinese Medicine. 

I don’t like to take any drugs if I can help it and that even includes over the counter pain relievers like Tylenol or Advil; so there would be no Xanax prescribed here.

Dr. Chung suggested some herbs to help me relax but, most importantly, he told me to meditate and relax.

You would think that would be total common sense right?  Well, I did and that is why it made me feel hopeless.  I had been trying to meditate for years now.  

A few years ago, I had an affair with yoga and would spend the entire class just dying for the instructor to say it was time to get into Shavasana or corpse pose.  This is perhaps the most important part of yoga practice because Shavasana allows the body to regroup and reset itself.

  I know that benefits of deep relaxation are numerous and include:


·         A decrease in heart rate
·         A decrease in blood pressure
·         A decrease in muscle tension
·         A decrease in the metabolic rate and consumption of oxygen (hello!)
·         A reduction in general anxiety (hello!)
·         A reduction in the number and frequency of panic attacks (hello!)
·         An increase in focus

Yet, I am unable to shut my brain down enough to meditate and realize these positive effects.  I’ve tried numerous times and it always ends with me thinking about the most random thoughts such as what we should have for dinner; or even worse I fall asleep.

So, I have yet to find my way to Nirvana, but I haven’t given up trying and, believe it or not, technology has helped me to bliss out.  

A few times a week, I set my timer on my iPhone for 3 minutes and, while sitting at my desk, I focus on breathing in and out for three seconds each, respectively.  My mind still wanders but, if I’m having minor anxiety, it does help to relax me.

Also, I downloaded a free app that offers a creative visualization meditation before going to bed. My son and I have been doing it together and we both find that it does help to wind us down for bedtime.

I am trying my best, but I know that it is not enough if I want to banish anxiety from my life.  I must find the time to meditate and make it a daily occurrence. I wrote this post to get my message out there to the Universe so hopefully, tomorrow, I can just breathe.

Namaste!