Anxiety, Panic & Disequilibrium **PART ONE, TWO & THREE**
I'VE BROKEN THIS POST DOWN INTO THREE POSTS HERE, DUE TO SPACE CONSTRAINTS.
I’ve been reading through the posts here, and have seen a lot on dealing with anxiety brought on by disequilibrium conditions. I thought I’d write something here about what I’ve been doing and have done to maintain myself with my own experiences of panic and anxiety. Hope it helps someone.
If you read through these postings, you will find the majority of disequilibrium sufferers experience anxiety, panic AND depression on differing levels. It's very common with inner ear conditions to pick up anxiety-related issues. When your balance system is off, it's hard to be in control of yourself physically, and that can cause all kinds of fears, even for people who normally aren't panic prone.
Easier said than done, I know, but you really need to find a way to take some sort of control over your terror. It's much easier to cope with whatever comes your way when you are calm or at least able to look at things (like scary symptoms) objectively.
I say this with a lot of heart! My wooziness and related symptoms provoked MAJOR intense anxiety. I was at a point with my woozy symptoms that I just couldn't even be left alone. Not even to go downstairs in my house to take a shower. Everything came crashing down at one point for me, and my world became very small and very limited. It was a horrible time for me, and coming back to a level of normalcy that felt even remotely comfortable for me was one of the toughest personal challenges that I still work on.
The thing about anxiety is that you reach a point where it builds and builds and builds, and then you just plateau. Meaning, you reach a point where your anxiety doesn't get any worse, but it stays "right there" with you and you're stuck in it. It doesn't matter if your anxiety related symptoms and fearful thoughts diminish once you're at that point - the littlest scary thought or tiniest bodily symptom can throw you back into a whirlwind of paralyzing panic. So working through anxiety and panic is hard work and you have to work DAILY at overcoming it, because it can grasp you quickly and tightly. The anxiety can turn into “what if” fears, which can linger long after the actual panic attack.
The trick to pushing past these intense anxious feelings is just that - you need to push past. Sometimes without additional help or guidance, it's hard to learn to push past the fear.
If you are feeling out of control with your situation, I can completely relate to that, because as I’ve said, I’ve been there many times, too. First, realize that you are not alone. Second, I think putting together a plan to take care of yourself during this rough time is a good idea. This way, at least a part of you won’t feel so out of control. For me, I was able to do a few things, without medication, to regain trust in myself and my body so that I wasn't so fearful anymore.
Re: Anxiety, Panic & Disequilibrium **PART ONE, TWO & THREE**
These are the steps that I took to feel more like my old self:
1. Cut out caffeine! It truly does have an effect on your nervous system.
2. Learn to breathe right – now this sounds STUPID, but it will be the quickest thing you can do to feel better, even if it’s only short term. Breathing correctly will help stop your panic symptoms and calm you down internally. My counselor showed me this at our first session, and it was because of this “trick” that I was able to drive myself to work again.
- Sit or lie down (ha ha, I used to do this while I was driving because I have many panic attacks in the car).
- Put one hand on your stomach (upper abdomen).
- Put the other hand on your lower abdomen.
- Relax your body as much as possible (this will be hard if you’re right in the middle of a panic attack. It’s easier when you’re just very nervous and feel like you “gotta get out”).
- Pretend there’s a beach ball in your lower abdomen. Your goal is to fill it up slowly to the count of four.
- So, to the count of 4 (1-2-3-4) breathe in through your nose and extend your lower abdomen at the same time.
If your chest is rising, you are shallow breathing, and that won’t calm your body down internally.
- Now, exhale through your mouth to the count of 4 (1-2-3-4), slowly deflate that beach ball in your lower abdomen.
- If you feel lightheaded, that is normal (just what you want to hear when you’re panicking, right?). Just alter your breathing to a little faster or slower, until that feeling goes away. That is your body’s normal response to deep breathing.
- Basically, the hand on your lower abdomen should move; the hand on your stomach should not. This may take some practice – but it will work, even if you don’t believe it.
3. Make an appointment with your primary care doctor and be completely open and honest about what you’re going through. Once you can accept that there is nothing horribly medically wrong with you, DESPITE your dizziness, it will be easier for you to focus on dealing with your panic and anxiety. For me, this acceptance was a very hard part.
4. Spend a few dollars on a very simple but effective book called “Hope and Help for your Nerves” by Dr. Claire Weekes. As I mentioned, when I was first having panic attacks, I mostly stopped going to work and would lie around in bed all day waiting for the worst to happen. I constantly monitored my body functions and felt distraught most of the time. When I was beside myself with my panic symptoms, a neighbor helped me with an initial “plan of attack” (like I am suggesting here), and gave me her copy of the book I mentioned. I read it in one sitting and immediately felt better to the point where that week I set up counseling for myself. Eventually I bought my own copy of this book, and I carried it everywhere I went because it really calmed me down to read a passage when I was feeling anxious or out of control.
5. Have your doctor provide you with a referral with a counselor who specializes in panic disorders and anxiety. It felt good to be able to talk to someone freely about my fears and feelings – keeping them inside doesn’t make you feel any better.
I made a decision to get some counseling to help deal with my anxiety and to how to find better ways to cope with my disequilibrium condition.
6. Stop reading medical stuff (this includes testing). You should be able to talk to a doctor you feel comfortable with, and leave your medical diagnosis up to him or her. For people who are panic prone, who worry about medical issues, the more knowledge you have on that kind of topic can just be more stressful. You may think you’re helping yourself be more prepared “just in case”, but actually, you are only adding fuel to the fire. Been there, done that many times.
7. Take the time to listen your panic symptoms objectively. This is really hard to do when you’re right in the middle of a panic attack, I know. I had to stop being so afraid of the symptoms (accepting) before I was able to say, “Isn’t this interesting that my heart is racing just now”, instead of saying, “OHMYGAWDMYHEARTISRACINGRIGHTNOW”. But once I was able to nod to myself and acknowledge my symptoms, they didn’t seem so bad because after a while I realized that this was just the way my body was reacting to something, even if I didn’t know at the moment what it was it was reacting to. After a while, why it was reacting wasn’t so important as to how I was coping with the symptoms. After a while, I would just acknowledge my symptoms but not stop what I was doing as I would have in the past because I was so afraid of what was happening. I know also that I can give myself added panic symptoms by doing or saying something that makes me feel uncomfortable, so I’ve changed parts of myself to accommodate this – meaning I’m not so quick to jump on people, or get angry, or take things personally. It doesn’t mean I don’t get angry or I don’t criticize, but there’s less of a reason for it.
8. Remember, although it may not seem like it, in whatever stage of panic you are in, there is always a light at the end of that scary tunnel. And in your own time (no-one else’s), when you’re ready to move forward a little more, you will. People who tell you to “just get over it” are well meaning, but may not understand the depth of your experience. That’s ok. You will find many well intentioned people offering their advice. Deep down inside, you’ll find a way through panic that works for you. I always used to tell myself, “oh well, this is how it’s going to be right now, so I’ll find what enjoyment I am able to right now”. I felt sorry for myself because I was so outgoing and I remember how carefree I was before panic, AND wooziness.
9. Move your muscles! Exercise in any form really does make the body feel better (make sure you get your doctor's OK). For a time, I was even afraid of exercising because in some ways, exertion sensations can feel like panic symptoms, and they added to my disequilibrium symptoms. But exercise is a good way to calm your body down. If you are hyperventilating (for example), do jumping jacks! It sounds silly, but since these symptoms feel the same to your body, substitute one reason for having those symptoms, for another. Instead of pacing in worry, speed walk around the yard. Exercise releases natural chemicals in the body that aide in relaxation. It's hard to want to exercise in the middle of an anxiety or worry attack, but it truly does help. That's not to say that you always have to be in constant motion - the idea is to focus on your symptoms in a different way, not tire yourself out.
I had to work up to this, because my imbalance symptoms sometimes like to be in the lime light, and get in the way of me trying to be active. Some days, even walking is hard for me!
10. Keep a journal! It's amazing how much people hold things inside. Although a journal is not like confiding something to a real person who can give you feedback, psychological "airing it out" relieves stress and tension. It's like venting without voice! Journaling can be done anywhere, and allows you to alleviate immediate stress. This way, instead of playing over and over again a bad moment at work (for example), you can take a break and jot down your upset or worry to "get it off your chest". This will help you over time to not obsess about a thought or experience as much, and you will begin to rely more on yourself for problem solving and self-calm, than on others. I carry my journal with me, and it looks just like a dozen other notepads that anyone can have for any reason. I am able to look back at my entries and see the progress I have made (going from a daily, worry-wart writer to writing when I was in panic mode, to writing about good things).
11. Maybe I should list this first! Next to counseling, prayer has been for me the most effective way to calm myself. I usually repeat The Lord's Prayer, which is something I find comforting from my childhood, and that has the power to calm me now, almost immediately.
12. Get sleep, or at least rest. You may want to see about taking a mild sleeping aide. Sleep is restorative and rejuvenating, and lack of sleep will add to anxiety symptoms. For me, lack of sleep also will add to my disequilibrium symptoms. If you are not up to trying a sleeping aide, try (with your doctor’s permission) a teaspoon or two of liquid Benedryl. It’s an antihistamine, but is also used as a mild sedator for many things, to include aiding with sleeplessness. If I have trouble sleeping on occasion, I will take some antihistamine.
13. Make sure you eat well. Anxiety makes people either not hungry, or ravenous. If you are up, pacing and not sleeping – chances are right now you’re not eating or not eating healthy. Stick with dependable comfort food like baked potato, chicken soup, hot tea, peanut butter & jelly, applesauce….you need to eat! Not eating can give you bodily sensations that will make you feel panicky. It’s a natural reaction to the body not getting enough food. I’m not saying eat all the time – but maintain a diet even if you don’t feel like eating. Stay away from the “easy, quick” foods like Fast Food, candy, ice cream – these are just “fillers” for your tummy, and your body won’t benefit from ingesting it.
Not eating properly can also cause low blood sugar symptoms, which can feel sort of like dizziness. So, eat a little something at least three times a day.
14. Keep hydrated. Your body begins to feel the effects of dehydration long before you feel thirsty. Even slight dehydration can cause bodily symptoms that mimic panic and wooziness. That doesn’t mean you need to drink all the time, but a few tall glasses of something like water, Gatorade, or unsweetened ice tea is a good idea.
Re: Anxiety, Panic & Disequilibrium **PART ONE & PART TWO**
Don’t be too rough on yourself right now. Accept your situation for what it is. You are a person who is experiencing panic and anxiety. It doesn’t make you sick or crazy, and it doesn’t make you unworthy or bad. For me, I was so anxious to “be cured” that I really wasn’t paying attention to all the things that would make me feel better. At first, I was too anxious and overwhelmed to do much of anything except put energy and effort into worrying over my situation. I am a very body-conscious person, so my main fears centered around “what if” panic. “What if I have a brain tumor”…”What if I have cancer”…”What if I have a panic attack alone and I need help”….it took me a while to relax about those kinds of thoughts.
Also, with panic, for me, came depression. I was limited because of my fears and feelings, and feeling hopeless and helpless. It really seemed to be spiraling out of control. Bouncing back from panic wasn’t easy for me; but over some time I was able to listen to my body’s symptoms without thinking the worst because I was able to take them for what they were – just panic. Once I accepted my panic symptoms, I was more able to focus on teaching myself some better ways to think about things and better ways to cope with my fearful thoughts. But, it really is a matter of baby steps – a little patience at a time will truly get you far. I think experiencing panic has made me a better and stronger person. I know my body well now so I’m not so afraid of it. I am more sympathetic and sensitive to other peoples’ fears and worries (because I am The Queen of Worrying). I know it is important for me to take care of myself by being kind and patient to myself, by knowing the things that lead me to feel more nervous, by talking things out more, but seeking help when I need to ask for it, and by helping others because I can.
Medication is a great idea when dealing with panic too. I am terrified of taking new medications (my phobic issue), so I didn’t try any medications for a few years. Once I felt I was past the worst of my panic (meaning I stopped having full blown panic attacks every day and I was feeling less scared about things) then I did try some medications. I currently do not take anything, but I have friends who swear by it.
Don’t be ashamed of what you’re experiencing. For the longest time I didn’t tell anyone my panic “secret”. I was embarrassed for a number of reasons. But along the way, I realized that panic is a part of me, and I wanted those people close to me to know how hard a time I was having. And honestly, it was getting too stressful to always either make up excuses why I wasn’t going out or why I was acting a certain way when I was panicky. This didn’t mean that I shouted it from the roof! - Panic is a personal experience, so who you tell and when is up to you, but it felt better knowing that some people knew where I was in life at that time, and believe it or not, once I started chatting about it, I found out that other people were going through the same thing. Plus, when you reach out, you don’t feel so alone – I felt alone with panic for a long time because it seemed that everyone around me was “normal” except for me.
Panic attacks and anxiety can go hand in hand, or someone could have the anxiety (worried thoughts) without the actual full-blown panic attacks. Unfortunately I have experienced both.
At first I was too panicked and worrisome to even read something this long! But I promise you that there is a big wonderful light at the end of the tunnel – but you have to give yourself some honest time to get things in perspective. You may not believe me – and I understand that completely.
You will be fine even if you don’t think so right now. That’s ok. Give yourself some time to believe that you are ok even with panicky or worrisome feelings. I don’t consider myself cured by any means – I probably will always have the fear demon to deal with more than most people I know; but coming to terms with the kind of person I am has made things better for me when dealing with my issues. My panic waxes and wanes, so I do have my share of occasional setbacks, but I’m no longer the person who lies in bed all day and doesn’t go shopping! Everyone has their own issues; and some people can breeze past their fears and anxieties with little impact on their lives – I happen to not be one of those people, but that’s okay. One step at a time, even if it’s a tiny one. “It doesn’t matter the size of my steps, as long as I’m faced in the right direction”.
Remember, your anxiety is appropriate for the current imbalance symptoms that you are experiencing. It’s how you decide to react to your anxiety level and your current symptoms that are going to make a difference.
Wishing everyone a nice day.
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