Last night I had my worst panic attack of 2019. What a way to bookend the year, right? The only thing that should be surprising to me about the experience is that it came as a surprise at all. I speak to people constantly about the importance of making time out of their day to practice mindfulness, to breathe deeply and look after their physical health as a way of managing their mental wellness, yet for the past six weeks, I’ve been ineffective at taking my own advice.
I’ve been to the gym less. I’ve meditated less. I’ve slept less. The result was 15 minutes of intense anxiety, uncontrollable breathing, shaking and convulsing while my ex-wife tried to remind me of the calming techniques I know inside-out but for whatever reason, was unable to employ.
The attack may have been short-lived but the physical remnants are still with me as I write this: My jaw feels bruised from clenching my teeth. My abs, arms and thighs are ‘just run a marathon’ weak from the convulsions and I’m still carrying tension in the back of my neck. It’s left me feeling like a failure for not being able to control it, which if you’ve had any experience of succumbing to a panic attack, or flashback or something similar, then I’m sure you’ll be able to relate to. But again, I find myself having to forcefully remind myself to take the advice I give other all the time.
Panic attacks catch you off guard and sometimes you’re already passed that invisible line of no return where breathing techniques and coping mechanisms only do so much. All you can do is to remain as calm as possible and ride it out. It’s not weak. It shouldn’t be embarrassing or make you feel like a failure; your body has done what it needs to do to relieve the stress and anxiety you’ve been bottling up. That’s it.
That said, if you’re not exercising, eating well, going to bed at a reasonable time and carving time out of your day to sit still and breathe deeply, then you’re not giving yourself a fighting chance at maintaining a positive and balanced mindset.
I’ve made the excuses: I’m too busy, work is too important, there’s too much to do, I don’t have time. I’ve suffered the result of ignoring my body. Make the time.
I’ve moved the Headspace app on my phone to the front screen and turned on reminders. No excuses for ignoring that now and it only takes 5 minutes. If you’ve not used it before, it’s a guided meditation I would highly recommend, there’s a very tangible improvement in mood before and after and there’s different exercises depending on what you want to achieve.
I’ve put my gym days and times in my diary alongside my work appointments so there’s absolutely no reason to double book and blow them out.
I’m halfway through writing a food plan for the week ahead so I’m not just picking up sandwiches and snacks at the shop.
These are all small things and don’t take very much time or effort to organise, but they can make a huge difference to my mood and I know what happens when I try to pretend they’re not important. The wheels come off and my head becomes a toilet.
So with all this in mind, what are you doing to give yourself a fighting chance against poor mental health?