One of the biggest things I learned from yoga was the importance of breathing. I remember sitting in my first couple of classes, thinking how stupid it was that we were reviewing how to properly breathe. I’ve gotten this far in life, I thought, how much more do I need to learn about this? But it wasn’t until I stopped and started paying attention to my breath did I realize how often I would hold my breath when I was feeling stressed or panicked. I would get so consumed in a fear or worry or thought that I unknowingly held my breath, as if I felt so paralyzed by whatever it was my mind was racing over, that I neglected my normal functioning.
It’s sadly been a while since I’ve hit the yoga mat, but the importance of checking in with my breath has stayed with me. Whenever I am getting stressed or feeling overwhelmed, I stop, and make sure to inhale deep and slow, and exhale long and with intention. And as silly as it first felt to do this, I’ve now come to rely on it to help keep me in check.
This has been especially helpful the past few months. Not too long ago, I experienced not my first panic attack, but the first one that actually made me decide to go to the hospital (talk about being a true New Jerseyean–it happened while I was in the process of taking a jughandle). I was pretty sure I knew what was happening, but this was the first time the physical symptoms were so severe that I had to wonder, Could this possibly be something else? It was amazing to me how nonchalant (although kind) the people at the hospital were about it: many of the staff I encountered confessed to suffering from them themselves, and also that a large majority of the people they see come in for the same reasons I did (“This is your first time in here for this and you’re 30? Well, you must not be doing too bad…”).
That was both comforting and unsettling.
The ER doctor was very cool about it (and damnright dreamy, which made me feel both more comforted and more embarrassed–I told the nurse, who first brought up how cute he was, that at that point I wasn’t sure if my heart was racing because of the panic attack, or because of McSteamy), explaining how common this is, how we all have these primal triggers in our body that sometimes get set off, and although we both agreed that solving the problem with pills was not the answer (at least not for me–although I know there are people out there who need medication to get by), he gave me a script for a handful of anti-anxiety meds, in case of an extreme emergency.
And, like I said, it’s not that I don’t believe in the benefits of these meds for the people who truly need it, but I debated whether or not that was what I wanted to try. The experience made me realize that I hadn’t really checked in with myself recently–that I was not paying attention to the things my body was telling me, that I was not making sure I was giving it what it needed. It sounds silly to say that, right? I mean–I’m in this damn thing all the time: Constantly moving with it, lugging it around–but sometimes it’s so damn easy to neglect it.
I decided to slow my roll a bit–to stop rushing around (as much), to start paying attention to the things that were bothering me, the things that were and weren’t making me happy. I’ve been exercising more regularly, been eating better (or at least trying to), and have been breathing again–really breathing–deep breaths of intention, with forceful exhalations that clear my lungs. I do this in the car when I tense up because of the asshole going 45 in the left lane, or in the grocery store when I feel like there are too many people around and the music is too loud, or any time my thoughts overtake me and I feel like I’m drowning in them.
I’m still not perfect with it, but I haven’t had another panic attack since that ER trip, so I’ll consider it a win. Every day is a choice; every moment an opportunity to move forward or to stop. And damn, it’s hard sometimes, but I just have to keep moving, keep striving, keep breathing…