Hello everyone! I haven’t done a personal post in quite a while, and I hope this will help answer some questions that you’ve been sending me on twitter and blog comments regarding my little hiatus from Youtube and blogging! I kept putting off this post because it’s quite personal but I think I’m finally ready to talk about it.
At the beginning of September, I had my first real panic attack. Looking back on the event, it occurred randomly without warning. It affected me for almost the entire month of September. The symptoms extended out of my head and start to affect my physical well being. Keep reading to find out about my experiences, the symptoms I experienced, and how I cope.
Now, I’d like to preface this with the fact that I’m normally quite a laid back, easy going, cheerful person. I’ve fortunately never really experienced any issues with my mental or physical health. I tend not to dwell on problems, and try to face everyday with a positive attitude. September saw the start of a big transition period in my life – I had just moved into a new apartment (after subletting a room in my boyfriend’s house over the summer), started my post-graduate program at a new school, had some unexpected financial issues which took out a chunk of my finances. I had just gotten back into the swing of streaming on twitch, as well as scheduling posts for my blog. My dad had just left for a 3-month photography trip around Eastern Asia, and I had to help my mom with running errands.
Just keep calm and carry on.
My half sister told me a really great saying – “If it’s not going to affect you in 5 years, don’t spend more than 5 minutes on it.” With all these events rushing at me, I decided to just keep my head down and power through it. I’ve dealt with moving and school and scheduling things before in the past, so this was nothing new.
The First Anxiety Episode
Anyway, let’s go back to the first few days of September. My roommates and I were sitting on our couch, watching an episode of RuPaul’s Drag Race. Earlier that day we took a day trip to the CNE, so it was nice to finally sit down and relax after a full day of walking. It was around 1:30AM. Out of nowhere, I started to feel lightheaded, almost like I felt like I was going to faint. My body immediately kicked into panic mode. Why was this happening? What caused this sensation?
A cold sweat ran down my back, and my first reaction was to stand up and start pacing. My heart had suddenly started pounding, and I started feeling waves of dread passing through me. The tips of my fingers began to tingle. I felt sick. I rushed over to the toilet and began vomiting. My mind kept screaming, you’re having a heart attack, or a stroke, or a seizure!! Even though I wasn’t experiencing pain or rapid breathing.
My mind was reeling. Where did this sudden sensation come from? What randomly triggered my sudden panic attack? I dismissed it as having a bad case of food poisoning, despite the fact that Emily had eaten the same food as me and felt completely fine. I tried to lie down and calm myself with deep breaths, but I simply could not relax. Shivers and the waves of anxiety continued to pass through me. I felt as though I was trapped in my head.
This episode lasted for about 2.5 hours. Emily stayed with me and called her sister (who is a nurse), who confirmed that my symptoms sounded like a panic attack. Eventually, I fell asleep. I woke up the next morning feeling absolutely horrible. To top it off, it was Labor Day, so everything (including the doctors office) was closed. I had some ginger tea which supposedly helps with nausea, and took it easy. My heart rate stayed at about 100-110 for the following week.
Cardiologist office + getting blood drawn. I was viciously scrolling through animal account feeds on Instagram the entire time the nurse was taking my blood sample.
Doctors Visits + Emergency Visit.
I live quite close to a hospital with a multi-specialty clinic, so I booked an appointment. I was referred to a stress specialist who gave me some anti-anxiety medication in case I felt another panic episode coming on. The small pill made me feel a little drowsy and calmed my mind, but my heart rate remained fast.
The following week, I experienced my second panic episode. I was sitting in class, when suddenly I felt as though the room (dimly lit, no windows) was closing in on me. I left class early, and called my mom to pick me up. We went straight to Emergency. The whole process took about 6 hours. The ER doctor examined me, took my blood test, and a quick ECG exam (I think that’s what it’s called? It tracks your heart beat / patterns.) The results came back, and the doctor said my blood levels, blood pressure, and heart patterns were normal – just fast. At this time, my heart was going approximately 114 bpm. He said it was likely anxiety, but booked me for a 48 hour holter monitor test.
Me feeling like absolute poo – pretty sure this is the day after I had a panic attack downtown and was 99% convinced that I was having a heart attack. My mom has never had any experiences with panic attacks and was like ????? the entire time because she thought I was overreacting, which made things worse for me.
If you’ve never heard of a holter test before, it’s a non-obtrusive test where a cardio technicial stick these little pad things on your skin. The pads are connected to wires, which are then connected to a small holter monitor box – it looks kind of like those clunky mp3 players from back in 2005. The holter monitor is put in a little fabric pouch that ties over your shoulder and sits under your arm like a little purse. I had a 48 hour monitor which meant I couldn’t bathe for 2 days (just wipedowns with a cloth), and could not remove the sticky little pads.
I was referred to a cardiologist for an echocardiogram about two weeks after the holter test. I had to lie on a table and a technician conducted an ultrasound on my heart – I was positioned on a bed facing away from the actual computer so I couldn’t see the results, but essentially my heart was displayed on the screen, the same way a baby looks when a pregnancy ultrasound is conducted. Occasionally the speaker would turn on and I could hear my heart pumping blood through the various valves… It was really freaky.
The next day, I had a follow up appointment with the cardiologist. He told me my heart was structurally healthy and was beating at a normal pace – I was just suffering from a temporary case of sinus tachycardia (rapid heart beat), with a resting heart rate of about 110-116bpm. The holter monitor reports were returned and reported the same results – everything was normal, my heart was just beating quickly.
Within a day of the cardiologist’s reassurance, my heart rate reduced and returned back to normal (in the 70s-80s) and my anxiety levels were greatly reduced. Occasionally I will feel out of place or on edge, but it’s not nearly as bad as when I had my actual episodes.
Occasionally it comes back in ripples. I’ll be feeling fine, and then suddenly this huge impending sense of doom descends upon me and my mind fills with scary thoughts, like what if my heart stopped beating, what if I faint in public and nobody comes to help me, what if I’m actually having a seizure right now without realizing it? Not necessarily realistic thoughts but they feel very real in the moment.
I find it tends to come back to me when I’m in a place with really bright fluorescent lighting. I’ve felt weird sensations of derealization while looking at pasta sauces in Walmart…weird places like that. What was once a place that I had no emotions towards become scary and unfamiliar.
Dealing with Anxiety & Rapid Heart Beat
If you, or someone you know, begins experiencing a panic attack, make sure to sit them down or have them lie on a couch or bed (in case they feel weak or feel like they are going to drop.) They may feel like the world is crashing down on them, so assure you are there with them. Make sure to give them water so they are no dehydrated. Nobody has ever died from a panic attack, even though it may feel like something else is happening.
Vagal Maneuvers – This is a technique that my cardiologist taught me. If you have a fast resting heart beat, you can calm it down by doing this simple sequence of actions. A vagal maneuver is an action used to slow down the heart rate by stimulating the vagus nerve.
- Sit down in a chair. Push out your stomach and bear down as though you are going to do a bowel movement. Cough three times. Take a few deep breaths. Continue this sequence until you feel your heart beat slowing down.
- Splash your face with ice cold water.
Deep Breathing – Breathe in through your nose for seven seconds, breathe out of your mouth for seven seconds. (image source)
Aromatherapy – Open a window for some air circulation, burn a candle that you like. I was also introduced to MONQ*, a personal essential oil air diffuser. MONQ contains a special blend of organic essential oils in a liquid base of 100% pure vegetable glycerin. Think pure aromatherapy vape pen. It’s not a cure or treatment for anxiety but I would definitely say that it calms me down. Simply inhale in the pen and breathe out, releasing a relaxing and scented aromatherapy cloud. I received 4 different scents to try out.
- Happy – fennel, thyme, vanilla
- Sexy – jasmine, lime, patchioli
- Sleepy – lavender, lemongrass, valerian
- Zen – frankincense, orange, ylang ylang
I think my favourite ones so far are happy and sexy! I’m a huge fan of jasmine and vanilla scents so these stood out to me. I really enjoyed just sitting in bed and flowing giant aromatherapy clouds… it was really calming. Each diffuser has about 200-250 puffs, which can go by quite quickly when you’re zoned out and trying to destress. These aren’t a medical solution or remedy for anxiety but I did find that the aromatherapy helped to calm me down.
Shiatsu / Self Massage – there are a few different self massage and shiatsu exercises that you can do to help relieve stress and promote blood circulation. You can read the article here. The article states “Little is known about the electric healing properties of connective tissue called piezoelectricity, which translates to “pressure electricity”. This simply means that applying pressure on certain points on the body activates electrical signals in the connective tissue. These electrical signals also spread to connective tissue throughout the body, promoting blood circulation and relaxation.”
Grounding Exercises – this is more of a method to deal with anxiety and senses of derealization and depersonalization, which means that you feel out of touch with reality.
- The 5-4-3-2-1 method helped me gain sense of things around me.
- List 5 things you see around you. Describe them in your head.
- 4 things you can feel or touch. What are the textures?
- 3 things you can hear. Are they loud/quiet?
- 2 things you can smell. What are the scents? Are they pleasant?
- 1 thing you can taste. What does your mouth taste like?
- Hug someone. The human skin contact can do wonders for an anxious mind and make you feel less alone.
- Hold a hot mug of water or tea. Feel the warmth resonating through your hands.
- Wear an elastic band on your wrist, and pull on it so it snaps against your skin.
You can find more grounding exercises here.
Yoga – I found this handy infographic with 13 different yoga poses to relax your body and help relieve anxiety.
Anxiety has probably been one of the worst things that I have experienced. It makes you feel helpless and alone. I started exercising and going on brisk walks outside every day to get a sense that I was actually moving and feeling present in the world.
I remember reading in an anxiety article that anxiety feels like a crashing computer. You have tasks and pages open with things you need to do but everything is frozen and you feel frustrated because you can’t get anything to work. The fact that these programs aren’t working affects your everyday life because you can’t finish the tasks you want to complete. You can only wait for the computer to get back into gear.
If you are currently suffering from an anxiety or panic attack, I hope your suffering resides soon. It took me almost 2 months to recover from my initial panic attack and subsequent anxiety (and I’m still not fully 100% myself.) It takes time and you will eventually come down from it. It’s scary, but remember there are lots of support forums, medical professionals, friends, and family that will be there for you!
Thanks for reading. I hope this helps you understand what I’ve been going through these past few weeks/months. I’ll be back to posting on youtube/instagram soon, probably more around Christmas when the school work load has died down a bit. One more month to go…..
*This post features press samples!