Healthista editor Anna Magee spent yesterday fighting the desire to crawl under the desk and suck her thumb and most of the evening overwhelmed by panic. Here’s how she eventually got over it
Yesterday was one of those days where I was convinced that there was no way on God’s earth I would avert a nervous breakdown. Although constantly fighting the desire to crawl under my desk and suck my thumb throughout the day I donned my handbag, stood up, smiled and attended to the meetings, briefings and deadlines I needed to in a machine-like manner.
Then, once everyone had gone home it hit me. Panic. Heart palpitations that were like a granite stone playing ping-pong inside my chest. Nausea that made me heave and constricted my throat so I felt couldn’t breathe. The – I know this is TMI for a Tuesday – loosening of my bowel to such an extent that I didn’t want to make the journey home knowing it would mean 30 minutes without a loo.
What had happened? No one thing but the culmination of that ‘everyone wants a piece of me’ thing you get that can leave you in a state of panic laced with shock laced with a distinct desire to run the hell out of your own life and head for an ashram in India (any suggestions?).
Alas, that wasn’t happening. I had no choice but to sort myself out. Here’s exactly what it took:
1. TAKE 20 DEEP SLOW BREATHS
Thankfully, that day a new book by Linda Blair, one of my favourite straight-talking psychologists came in. The Key to Calm (Amazon £10.49) your path to mindfulness and beyond. It’s very arrival in my life on that day confirmed what all my favourite self-help gurus have always said: what you need comes to you whatever’s going on. Funnily enough – I am not kidding here – I had to interview Linda that same day for a piece I am doing for Marie Claire and she mentioned her new book which was sitting on my shelf marked ‘new books’! Amazing, non? So I told her how I was feeling and this was the first point in her advice.
‘First, rebalance your neurochemistry,’ she said. ‘The symptoms you are getting are because you have overloaded your system with oxygen to either fight with whatever it is or run away from it. That means you can’t think straight.
‘Stop everything, move away from the phone and the computer, sit quietly and take 20 slow breaths. In through the nose, out through the mouth. Make them as slow as you can. It takes 3-5 minutes for your head to clear so continue for this long or until you’ve done 20 breaths’.
2. TALK TO SOMEONE (PREFERABLY A CHILLED OUT TYPE)
Linda’s second bit of advice was to talk it through with someone and failing that brainstorm solutions to the problem (or catalogue of problems in my case) on paper. This will make you see ways out.
I would also – as a crucial detail – make sure you call someone you know is an optimist who can give you the ‘Hey, you’re healthy so who cares? I know you’ll get through it’ line you need to hear. I am talking about your cheerleader friend. Not the one that says: ‘Oh My God, you don’t have a passport and you’re leaving on Wednesday. What are you going to say to your sister when you miss her son’s christening? OMG. OMG. OMG.’ Not that one.
Now we move on to what works for me – an eternal panic merchant – having taught myself how to diffuse stress. Walking. There is nothing like it for releasing the adrenalin that builds up when you’re facing a challenge, conflict or shock. This adrenalin builds up in the muscles literally preparing you to fight a stressor (a primal response) and if you don’t release it – ideally through some exercise – it festers with nowhere to go making you angrier and angrier, stewing and stewing until you send that horrible email you will (trust me) regret sending. I can even feel the adrenalin pumping through me during times like that – like my body is literally a revving engine. I walk, sometimes run. Any exercise works.
4. LISTEN TO SOME UPLIFTING MUSIC
For me, Pachalbel’s Canon in D Major always lifts me up and makes me feel like ‘What are you worrying about if music like this exists.’ Other times, Read all About it by Emile Sande does the trick or the incredible Alfie Boe singing Jerusalem. Is it just me or does listening to that make you feel: ‘Everything is right with the world’?
Still other times, I am too angry to listen to anything and just want to watch a cat video on You Tube. That works too. Anything that takes you outside yourself and allows you to engage your senses and feel something other than anger, self-pity, despair will do it.
5. DON’T EAT
I can’t eat when I am stressed as I get such bad nausea, though I know for some people they want to do the opposite. But panic eating can only lead to guilt as the things your body is craving will inevitably be the quick fix sugar and salt laden rubbish. Last night I waited until I had talked it through with my husband (he’s the eternal optimist) and his bucket loads of ‘F*&k ’em’ mentality cheered me up enough to bring back my appetite.
6. WHEN YOU CALM DOWN AGAIN, EAT SOMETHING WITH HEALTHY FAT IN
Your brain uses up plenty of glucose and fat to run, especially during stressful times. This is why I find a meal high in foods like seeds, salmon or avocado hits the spot when my appetite comes back. It’s that or hitting the crisps hard and that just ends in tears when my blood sugar finally drops (or I look up the calorie content of an 300 gram of Walker’s on Myfitnesspal.com – don’t do it). Last night I had a large bowl of steamed kale with fresh salmon, mixed seeds, olive oil and lemon juice and it left me calm and satiated.
7. HAVE A SALTS BATH
I know, you’re not Jenny Jones. You haven’t been doing the 3000 foot drop at Sochi. But your muscles have taken a beating regardless as all that adrenalin that rushes to them during a crisis has probably built up lactic acid which could become painful. Plus, Epsom salts which are my preferred option have magnesium in them and when added to a hot bath are like valium for the whole body. Bathing in Epsom salts for me is the most profound muscle and mind relaxant I have ever experienced (well, after valium – and sex) I like Eco-bath grade EPSOM SALTS 2KG ECO-BAG Bath Grade Quality which is £12.99 for 2kg (decent value) – I don’t spend too much on them as I use about two cups per bath.