Learning to Cope with Panic Attacks

Last Saturday my husband Dean and I took a drive to visit a grocery store 22 miles from our home. I know that may sound crazy to drive so far for groceries, yet grocery shopping has become one of our biggest outlets for external stimulation during COVID-19. Dean has a pre-existing condition, so we have been extremely cautious during this pandemic, even as the restrictions have been lifted. Until we both have been vaccinated our joys will centime to come from simple pleasures. For the last year one of our vehicles for fun has been exploring quality grocery stores looking for good produce for the plant-based meals that have become the foundation of our diets.

It was a lovely day, yet it was difficult for me to relax and fully enjoy the ride. I was uptight. My body and mind were feeling uncomfortably anxious.

My Introduction to Panic Attacks

I was 30 when I experienced my first panic attack. I had recently moved to Boston from my native San Francisco. It was my second coast to coast move across the United States as an adult. I had no family or personal friends there yet. I was simply there for the job.

The panic attack hit me on a Sunday afternoon in early winter. I had set out to explore on a Greater Boston freeway that I had not yet become familiar with. There was no snow on the roads. It was just cold.

I do not recall feeling nervous about the drive. Having a job that required a fair amount of business travel, I had grown comfortable being in unfamiliar territory on my own. Yet suddenly, a sensation came over me that I’d never felt before. My heart began pounding, my hands were sweating, and a sense of fear overtook me. I thought I was having a heart attack. I was afraid that I was going to die. I exited the freeway as soon as I could and slowly inched my way back to my suburban Boston apartment by way of the back roads. I felt defeated but grateful to have endured a scary, unexpected time.

I have experienced these kinds of episodes on and off over the last three decades. I have gone years without a panic attack and have had years that were fraught with episodes. I have even had a handful that have landed me in a hospital emergency unit.

Solutions for Coping

Last weekend when I shared with Dean the anxiety that I was struggling with on the ride back home, he suggested that I consider starting to run again to release some of my anxiety. I had been a runner for 25 years until lower back pain and hamstring injuries led me to end that chapter three years ago. I would do the elliptical machine at the gym until COVID-19 led me to cancel my gym membership. I have been riding a spin bike at home six mornings a week for 45 minutes, but I will be the first to admit that I had not been pushing myself full throttle to get my heart rate truly pumping.

The day after the grocery store trip anxiety I laced up an old pair of running shoes and headed towards the high school track a mile away on foot. Once I got there, I discovered that the track was not open to the public, so I cautiously jogged back home on the sidewalk to protect my lower back.

I had forgotten what it felt like to be truly winded. My heart rate had not been elevated to that level in a year. When I got home, I felt happy and relaxed. The air of depression that had been hanging over me had lifted. That experience paved the way for me to learn how to better manage anxiety. Since then, I’ve been making a point to get my heart rate pumping on my spin bike as I await the delivery of new running shoes that will support my back.

As someone who believes that our thoughts are the driving force behind our experiences, my issue with anxiety has been a challenge. I know from too many first-hand experiences how difficult it can be to stop the avalanche of fear during a panic attack to calmly remind yourself that everything is going to be okay.

6 Tips for Anxiety Management

I want to stress that I am not a mental health professional nor have I had any formal training in anxiety. I am simply a patient who wants to share concepts that I’ve been practicing that have helped me to better manage the impact of unwelcome panic attacks.

  1. Identify that what you are experiencing is a panic attack which you have experienced and lived through before
  2. Acknowledge your power to control the sensations through deep breathing in the moments
  3. Keep telling yourself that you are going to be okay
  4. Minimize your caffeine intake
  5. Keep your body hydrated
  6. Identify a spiritual or human connection that you can call upon during times of need to calm your fears

Why I Share About Anxiety

I write about my experiences with anxiety because I want to help others who deal with it to recognize that you’re not alone. None of us is perfect in all ways. I like to think there’s a reason why I’m challenged with anxiety that is an asset to my greater being. And I think the same is true for you.

Please reach out if it this topic speaks to you. I would love to learn from you.

My Lessons from Betrayals

Twenty-five years ago, I experienced the greatest betrayal of my life. I discovered that my husband was having an affair with a woman he worked with. I had begun to suspect that something was going on between the two of them for months. Yet because I could not fathom the thought of cheating on my husband, I naively could not acknowledge the truth of their relationship while it unfolded before me.

The day two of my friends told me what had been going on, I confronted my then husband that evening. As he denied the truth, he said “I’m not meant for marriage”, and he walked out on me.

Betrayal Pain Turns to Anger

For weeks I felt tremendous pain in response to this betrayal. It was a personal devastation that gutted what I envisioned my future life to entail. Over the course of weeks, the pain turned into anger when he started coming after me in a legal battle.

One day I realized that I did not want my anger to destroy my outlook on life or my sense of hope for a loving relationship in the future. So, I made a pact with myself that, while I would never forget what he had done to me, that I would forgive his actions as a way to free myself from holding on to anger.

The way I got to this was the realization, that on a deeper level, I felt sorry for him. Lacking a moral compass, he was a man completely lost, moving from relationship to relationship in search for someone or something to fill his empty soul.

A New and Different Betrayal

Fast forward 25 years to a recent betrayal, this time by my next-door neighbor, the homeowners’ association President who my husband and I befriended over the course of 10 years. The details of what she did are not as important as the fact that she corruptly used her position to violate our lawful rights as property owners to get what she wanted.

I have been furious by her flagrant breach of law and utter disrespect towards us. I have now come to the place once again where I need to stop hanging on to anger so that I can regain inner peace.

Dealing with Betrayal Anger

I have realized that at the root of my anger was the expectation that I was dealing with someone who, like me, had a conscience, empathy towards neighbors and a desire to do the right thing at all times. But now I see a much clearer and different picture.

My neighbor lacks empathy and conscience, emotional and spiritual depth. She simply is not capable of behaving any other way than from a strategy that serves her own interests.

I am no longer taking it personally.

Seeing the truth has set me free.

My Surprising Discovery of Feng Shui

I recently began studying the art of feng shui. I have to say that, until now, feng shui was not a concept that I gave much thought to. The only exposure I had to feng shui was through a lovely feng shui consultant named Sabine who participated in a women’s group I led some 15 years ago.

Feng Shui and Environmental Energy

I had been single for 10 years at the time when Sabine pointed out that the small vase on my fireplace mantle contained only one flower. She told me that I needed to display flowers and other objects in pairs to attract a happy relationship. I admit to having been skeptical, but I saw the rationale in Sabine’s advice and followed it. The next year I met the wonderful man who is now my husband.

My recent interest in feng shui came as I began to explore how I might be able to turn my passion for plants and flowers into the beginnings of a new career. With so many of us sheltering at home during the COVID-19 pandemic, I suspect that there is much that many of us can do to create personal and work spaces that better support our goals.

I’ve started on my journey of learning with a wonderfully practical book called Feng Shui that Makes Sense by Cathleen McCandless. It’s early pages led me to become more aware about how I feel in a particular space.

My First Feng Shui Experiments

My first effort to improve the energy in my home was a cleanup in my office. After months of working at home, my desk had become a disaster area with a dirty dusty desktop peaking out of multiple piles of paper and randomly thrown unorganized stuff. My first task was organizing the paper into one pile, putting the stuff in a drawer, and cleaning the desktop. The result was refreshing!

I next went on to add a couple of simple touches to warm up the room. I upgraded the frame holding a photo of my parents and moved it to the corner of my desk. I put a decorative pillow on the folding “guest” chair across from my desk. It’s amazing how these little improvements have made such a big difference in my enjoyment in being in that room.

The second effort was my bedroom. I moved a couple of large plants to sit at the foot of the bed. With a couple of other plants in the room it was beginning to give a bit of a jungle look which I love. I also angled the electronics that were placed on my dresser as well as the decorative pillows on the bed. The room now feels more warm and inviting.

My third effort was our guest room whose biggest focal point is a large bookcase. First I took all the books off the shelves and dusted the shelves. Then I stacked the books on the floor, sorting them by size before putting them back on the bookcase. Small books are on the top shelves while the larger books are on the bottom. The result is a sense of order which has produced a new feeling of calmness and peace whenever I walk into that room.

Feng Shui Energy

I have a lot to learn about feng shui but already I recognize that tending to the energy of a room can reap results, not only in how I feel about being in that room at the time, but also how the energy of the room inspires me beyond the present moment.

I love being in my home office now. It inspires me with a desire to create. My bedroom now is inspiring a sense of introspection that invites me to think about who I want to become.It’s now a space that I want to return to do the work of my soul. I feel more comfortable now in the guest room which has great late afternoon sun and hosts many phone calls with family and friends.

I will share more as I learn more. In the meantime, I’d love to hear your experiences of your spaces.

Journey Towards A Life Well Lived

Last week I picked up a book that has been on my bookshelf virtually unread for over 15 years. It’s a book that has reportedly sold over 35 million copies worldwide—A Purpose Driven Life:What On Earth Am I Here For by Rick Warren.

I remember being very excited to read the book when I first got it. It’s title spoke to the very question that still nags at me. Yet I was disappointed that I wasn’t called to get more than a couple of short chapters into it. The language didn’t resonate with me and I was intimidated by it. The book is filled with scriptures from the Bible. While I certainly believe in God, evangelical teachings have always felt foreign to me. Yet as I am experiencing now, there’s much that can be learned from those who speak a different language. I just need to have the strength to stretch out of my comfort zone.

I am going to finish this book this time. Because despite the language barrier, I do resonate with its core message and its guide to how to pursue your purpose.

The Lesson is Available When You’re Ready to Learn

I picked this book up again two weeks before my 61st birthday. I’m feeling like I’ve got to get to living with purpose because time is running low. I don’t want to get to the end of my journey here feeling any regrets.

The reality is that I have a good idea of what I am here on Earth to do. Yet I forever hold myself back. Not giving myself permission to pursue my passion. Not making purposeful activities a priority. Not allowing myself to shine. Holding steadfast to the known.

Yet Pastor Rick Warren has taught me that it’s my obligation to the force that created me to fulfill my purpose. To recognize that the unique talents and characteristics that I was born with were given to me for a reason. I now feel compelled to make my creator proud. To have him/her see the manifestation of what he or she visioned for me.

I figure that it’ never too late to live a life well lived.

What about you?

Now is the Perfect Time for Reinvention

Two yellow flowers surrounded by rocks

It’s mid-July amid a summer unlike any I’ve ever known. Much of the state of California where I call home remains on COVID-19 lock-down. Nearly all of the social and recreational activities that usually shape my summers are now off limits.

No social gatherings of any kind. No hugging family and friends. No enjoying of life at restaurants and music venues. No getaway vacations. No gym classes or weight machines. No getting my hair cut and colored by a professional. No dressing up…for anything.

I have been looking at this pandemic period as a time to begrudgingly ride out the storm. Yet I realize now that life is not simply on hold.

We are all in a period of transition. We’ve left the known and are treading the waters of uncertainty about what lies ahead. We’re not really sure if we’ll be able to just pick up where we left off when “things settle down.” But is picking up what’s been your status quo really what you’ll want?

A Time For Reinvention

Each one of us has now been invited to reinvent our lives, one action, one alternative COVID-19 choice, at a time.

For those of us who have lost jobs or business, there is more time available to focus on that thing that you really want to learn, that business you’d love to start, or that person that you yearn to become.

Perhaps COVID-19 is your personal invitation to create this new change?

I know that I have been challenged to give myself permission to dream big, to believe that fulfillment of my deepest dreams are actually possible for me. I come from a blue collar middle class family and have accepted the belief all of these years that living below the radar in middle class was my destiny.

It wasn’t until I started reading recently about the early lives of some incredibly successful people and learned that many started out with nothing. That tells me that your history doesn’t dictate your destiny.

What I’m working on now is getting clarity on what I really want to create in my life. The hardest part for me is to allow myself the luxury of thinking big. I’m now telling myself that getting the clarity will require some time and disciplined focus. It won’t happen overnight.

I’ve been doing 5-12 minutes of ab exercises every night for the past 3 months thanks to some awesome instructors I’ve discovered on YouTube. I didn’t expect immediate results, yet I didn’t expect it would take this long to begin to see a vague resemblance of a six-pack. I guess that’s how I need to look at creating my ideal life—with dedication and the belief that I can change my status quo.

Everything Happens For A Reason

Purpose is a principle that drives my life. I am constantly looking to understand the purpose behind what just happened. I believe that our Universe surrounds us with wonder and that our day-to-day experiences are far from random events. Most of us just don’t pay close enough attention to receive the clues that are designed to guide us in the direction our hearts yearn to go.

If you were to believe that everything happens for a reason, is there something you can see that you are being invited to do during this time when the life you’ve known is no longer an option?

Be well,
Susan

Choosing Your Habits Can Be Easy

Ducks

This summer as we’ve been sheltering at home we attracted a male and female duck couple who started coming around to our deck. And of course we fed them. Not bread though, because we learned bread fails in nutritional value. Instead we created a mixture of dry oatmeal, tiny bits of organic rice cakes, and the ground peanut and sunflower mix that we fill the feeder for the doves, sparrows, bluejays and other birds who visit our trees.

Let me tell you. Word has gotten out about our food supply! The other ducks who hang out in our waterway have begun to stop by. The Canadian Geese who cruise by began to notice the ducks dining at our deck and now they are stopping by. Tonight they brought their young children.

It’s been fun observing the behavior of these birds and recognizing how similar they are to humans. The male will tend to make sure his female partner has had enough to eat before he goes at the food. There is a territorial nature where the birds nip at each other to fight for the ability of their loved ones to eat. They are social creatures who respond to the words of us humans who they are beginning to trust.

How Quickly Habits Can Form

What has fascinated me the most is how quickly and seemingly natural all of their initial visits have turned into habitual behavior. We see the birds once and then they return the next day and following days. They have discovered a ritual that feels good to them that they immediately make a new habit.

I relate this to new habits and beliefs that I have recently created in my own life. The most significant is how I can choose the thoughts and energy that I invite into my life.

I’ve recently developed the habit of getting on my spin bike first thing in the morning with an inspirational book on my iPad. Just like the ducks realizing how well this feeds me, it became a habit immediately formed. When I rise in the morning there’s no wavering. Whether it’s 10 minutes or 45 minutes, spinning with positive thoughts is how I think of myself of starting each day.

For me this has been a lot more then an exercise in workout discipline. It’s been a discovery of recognizing how good it feels to feed my soul and how easy it can be to make that a habit once I tell myself this is what I do.

The book that has been my morning spin companion this past week has been Change Your Thinking Change Your Life by Brian Tracy. One of my biggest takeaways is how important your choices are in how you spend your time as it relates to the goal of creating the life you want.

Every day is a new slate. Can you think of one new habit you’d like to make to take a step towards creating the life you want?

Be well,
Susan

Are the Routines of Your Life Working For You?

One of the greatest lessons I’ve learned in my life is that challenging times are actually opportunities that can lead me to thrive in ways I would have never undertaken on my own.

Twenty-five years ago, I was in a marriage in which my husband left me for another woman. I felt like the framework of my life had been ripped out from underneath me. My need to overcome my pain led me to study teachings that I would never have explored on my own. I’ve come to recognize that this experience laid the foundation for philosophies which now govern my life.

The Organic Necessity of Change

There is no doubt that we are living in tough times. We have all been sacrificing things which typically provide us with a sense of physical safety, financial security, and overall pleasure. Yet there is a great opportunity here to approach things differently. So often we keep on trying to force something to happen in the same old ways, without considering that perhaps it’s not working because it is no longer meant to be. It no longer fits who we are right now.

Eggs, milk and yogurt are not the only things in life that have expiration dates. Who we are ages and changes as well. What we value changes as a result of every new day of experience. To expect that we will feel the same level of fulfillment by keeping our routines steady for long periods of time is unrealistic and a recipe for unhappiness. We must listen more closely to our soul.

Questions to Ask Yourself

I am welcoming this as a time to ask myself the question of what’s working for me and what’s not. It’s made me realize how my experience of life is not made in one wide swoop, but rather a tapestry of decisions involving minutia ranging from where I feel safe shopping to who enriches my emotional joy to what work fulfills me to when, where and how I work out.

You know how we are frequently being asked by businesses to complete a survey about our satisfaction of their service? How about asking ourselves how fulfilled we are with the routines we have established for our life?

Please stay well.

Susan

You Always Have Choices

You always have choices

Have you ever felt like you were stuck in a situation that you didn’t really like, but you couldn’t see that you had any options except to remain on that path?

I have.

And I learned that feeling stuck was a message to me that my life was begging for change.

One thing I’ve learned recently is that all of my habits that formed my day-to-day life pre-COVID-19 were not iron-clad. I was forced to make a different choice…because the choice I was used to was no longer available.

And you know what? I’m happier for it.

I learned that I didn’t have to feel like I was a slave to the gym.

I learned that I could shop for groceries once a week instead of stopping several times a week just for a few choice items.

I learned that I could be more productive setting distinct goals for my work day at home than clocking in 8 hours in at the office without.

I learned that I am actually capable of coloring my own hair.

I learned that I don’t need to travel and have days and nights out on the town to feel gratitude for my husband and life in general.

I learned that phone calls with my family and friends could be far richer when I rely on non-physical means for our main connection.

I would have never considered I had these opportunities because my blinders were so fully set on the picture I’d created of my life.

As we all maneuver through the various challenges of the time, let’s consider these days as an opportunity to rebuild our lives in ways we never seriously pursued.

It’s a time ripe for reinvention. Let’s cherish the opportunity.

Take care.

Turning the Chapter With Elderly Parents

This past Sunday my husband Dean and I went down to my parents’ house to do some much-needed work in their backyard.

My dad is 85 and my mom 83. My dad has been suffering with bad arthritis in his back for the last 8 years and can no longer stand upright. He spent his career as a longshoreman and until the last decade or so, had always been a physically strong man. Now he can no longer reach the shelf above the refrigerator to pull out the bottle of bourbon for their nightly Manhattan.

My mom has essentially become his caretaker since my dad is legally blind in one eye and can’t drive. She does all the shopping, cooking, and most of the household chores. She’s recently developed an issue with her sciatic nerve and is walking with great pain herself.

I’ve been lucky to have had an enjoyable relationship with both my parents and this new reality is heart-wrenching to watch. I haven’t been able to stop thinking about their physical conditions since the visit on Sunday.

Treasuring the Memories

I have wonderful memories of my parents visiting me when I moved from California to New England in my 30s. From Cape Cod to the southern coast of Maine to Montreal, we were explorers of a new world together. It was a time of sharing different pleasures that you rarely experience in the Bay Area. Like picking up steamers or lobsters for dinner, or just sitting on the front porch relaxing into life at the end of a long summer day.

When I moved back to California I was blessed to have the opportunity to buy a modest waterfront condo which became the foundation for many good times on my deck. We would enjoy each other’s company for hours as we watched the wildlife and the boats cruise by.

I’ll never forget the delightfully surprised look on their faces when I opened my front door to welcome them to their 50th anniversary party where 50 friends and family were waiting inside.

Accepting What We Can’t Change

This latest visit has been a reminder to me that we should never take anything for granted. Things change, and we need to come up with a way to respond to and deal with each new reality. Just like we’re living now in pandemic times. We want things to be like they used to, but we don’t have total control over it.

For me with my parents, the new reality is that my mother really needs some support. The quality of both of their lives is not good. I can pretend it’s not happening, or I can take action.

My parents live 30 miles away. While that doesn’t sound like much, it’s an hour’s drive each way in brutal San Francisco traffic. I can’t quickly pop over to put the air conditioner hose in their family room window when the weather forecast points north.

I’m slowly coming to terms with the fact that I need to start to develop a plan to see that they get the care they need. I need to be there for them more. It’s a new chapter and I need to step to the plate.

Demonstrating Love in a COVID-19 World

After we finished our yard chores my dad was urging me to sit across the couch from him in the family room. Yet in a COVID-19 mindset I kept my distance, instead standing in the kitchen some 6+ feet from both my mom and dad.

Looking back I feel bad about my response. Who knows how many more opportunities I’ll have to share with the people who have been there for me my entire life?

We are living in a time where we need to adjust how we express love to the people who mean the most to us. I’ve begun to call them more frequently to demonstrate that I care. I’ve told them that I miss hugging them.

Next time I visit my parents I want to focus more on eye contact. If I can’t touch them with my body, I can connect with them from the windows to my soul.

Stay well,
Susan

Finding the Confidence to Show Up as Yourself

confidence

I have been feeling antsy since the COVID-19 pandemic shut down the world around me as I know it. It’s not at all a feeling born out of boredom. In fact, I’m blessed to still be working and I have been finding many joys in living a simpler life.

Imagining the Role of Purpose

My feeling antsy stems from my mindset that I am always looking for the purpose behind events. I believe that we live in a universe that operates from a far deeper level of purpose than we typically credit.

For me, I’ve been feeling a nagging thought in the back of my mind over the past couple of months that there is something I am being called to do differently as a result of this crisis. I want to make a positive contribution to people’s lives as we endure this and beyond. Yet I have disappointed myself. I’ve done little to carry out what I want to do.

Getting in Touch with Obstacles

Today I got in touch with a theme in my life that holds me back from taking steps in important new directions. I haven’t given myself any leeway to just show up in any form without having a fully crafted plan on what I want to say or do.

My perfectionist tendencies have been holding me back.

There are areas in my life where I feel super confident and then there are places where I feel that I need to “practice” being me. For example, producing videos to promote the business I run with my husband. I’ve felt like I need to script everything before we shoot. Consequently, the shoots get flubbed by the fake sounding script memorization and nothing gets produced.

Other people show up comfortably for a video shoot. Why can’t I?

My Lesson Learned

I’ve realized that the best way for me to make a positive impact on others is to show up with my flaws. I just need to practice feeling more comfortable in front of the camera. And trusting my spirit to guide me as I begin to write without knowing where things will lead.

It’s not about knowing what the end game will be. It’s more about participating and believing that you will be led to the place that is uniquely right for you and what others can learn from your unique perspective.

There’s so much we can all learn from each other during this time. Let’s support each other in doing so.

Be well,
Susan