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.

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

My Biggest Lesson of the Covid-19 Pandemic

I have been a slave to the gym for the past 25 years. Although I was a runner for most of that time, I always kept a gym membership as a support system during cool and rainy weather.

I don’t like to admit it, but my gym schedule ruled my life. I was a class-goer for the most part, so my favorite classes defined the hours I was available to participate in other social or business activities. The last few months before the lockdown I would be hard pressed to consider any invitation that would take me away from Nick’s 6 PM spin class or Chris’s Thursday 5:30 PM core class. You might think this is crazy, but it was my truth.

Although I prided myself on my 4 to 5 day a week dedication, I would often wonder what my life would be like if I could take back all the time I spent at the gym. Yet because staying fit is so important to me I never considered there could be an option to the gym.

On March 16, 2020 that belief began to change when I received an email from the owner of my gym that it would be closing for the next 3 weeks due to the Covid-19 pandemic. That 3-week projection has now morphed into ten week as I write this.

My Gym Withdrawl

For the first few days I was miserable. If you’re someone who works out frequently, then you can relate to the feeling that your muscles are begging for a workout. Parts of my body began to feel sluggish and I wasn’t happy with that at all. I didn’t feel like me.

Luckily my husband and I jumped on the idea to buy a spin bike before the rest of America was shut down. Three days later almighty Amazon delivered the box that I didn’t realize at the time would play a big role in changing my life.

During the days that led up to the bike’s arrival I started exploring fitness channels on YouTube. I had been a follower of Yoga with Adriene for some months, yet it never occurred to me that I could fulfill my weight training and ab workouts through videos as well.

Over the next few weeks I discovered Maddie Lymburner from MadFit, Amy Jo Palmquest from Athlean-XX for Women, and other inspiring women who have become my new personal trainers. They have given me a better workout in an intense 15-20 minute session than a 50-minute class at the gym.

How My Life Has Changed for the Better

I should start out by saying that I’m super blessed to not be one of the tens of millions of healthy Americans to be without work right now. I experienced that in 2008 and I understand the stress of the uncertainty of times.

One thing that comes up for me as a result is knowing that I’ve lived through some tough times and have survived. It’s given me faith. We will get through this and perhaps even come through stronger on the other side if we are able to look at the gifts that have come out of the challenges.

For me now in the midst of Covid-19, I am grateful that my family and I are healthy. I cherish the company of my husband. The Shelter at Home order has led me to design my life from a perspective that is totally under my control within that order.

No pressures to be anywhere/do anything that is beyond my home. I have found it very freeing to get in touch with what I really enjoy and need to thrive. I feel happier! Life is simpler.

I like not being a slave to the gym.’ I feel like I’ve taken my life back. I can ride the bike whenever I want. The weather has warmed up and my husband and I have been taking some great walks in the hills around our neighborhood. And the YouTube videos have become a new ritual that I look forward to every evening.

The Lesson for Me

I think the main lesson for me has been to explore anything that feels uncomfortable in my life. I began wondering years ago what life would be like if I didn’t spend hours of my life every week at the gym. But I never looked beyond the ponder.

The universe delivered a situation that forced me to look at the question. I am grateful for the opportunity to discover a new truth that I had been unable to get to when left to my own devices.

Coronavirus Spiritual Correction

It’s been a week now since the San Francisco Bay Area in which I live was put on a shelter-at-home order. While not all states have yet followed, communications I have had with colleagues and friends throughout the country confirm that this crisis has hit us all at our core in a way we’ve never experienced. But as scary, inconvenient and uncomfortable as it may feel right now, I sense that this may be good for us spiritually. Maybe, like a stock market crash facilitates a “correction” in financial markets, we’ve been led to a spiritual correction that we didn’t realize we needed.

I run a marketing agency and get emails from a plethora of individuals and organizations every day. What has struck me this past week as I’ve been working from home is that we are now communicating from a place of heart. I have felt that the business of the day has temporarily fallen in priority to connect at the human level first. The vast majority of the emails I’ve received and send acknowledge the understanding that we are living in unprecedented times. We express hope that each other’s loved ones and teams remain healthy. And we repeatedly remind each other that we are all in this together. We will get through this.

Communication right now begs for an acknowledgement of the truth about what we are facing. To not acknowledge the emotional fragility that abounds now with those we engage with seems insensitive and cold. Perhaps that’s one of the purposes of this crisis—to bring us back to a place where we feel our unity and express genuine care for each other.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this.

Wherever you are, please be safe and be well.

3 Simple Steps for Happiness

I have been noticing lately that I feel an intense admiration for people who have a passion for something, and then create a successful life that is an expression of that passion. It’s not that this is a new respect that I have. I’d describe it as more of a shift in my focus. In the past I would be focused more on honoring someone’s work. I’ve gotten in touch with the fact that I now honor the person because they have succeeded in bringing their passion to a level of success.

1. Get in Touch with What You Honor

I recognize that what I honor in others is what I want for myself. This is a huge life compass, especially for someone like me who is beginning to see that there is a limit to the time I have here on this earth.

2. Understand What is Driving You

I am someone who is driven by the need for financial security. I guess I equate it with freedom. I started working at a movie theater at age 14 because I wanted to have the freedom to buy clothes on my own dime. I changed college majors from psychology to business once I started looking at the job opportunities and pay scales in the newspaper want ads. The job choices I made through my marketing career were usually driven by compensation.

Seemed wise at the time, but now I can see how empty this can leave your soul, and its desire to be who it wants to be. I am convinced that alignment with our soul’s desires is the key to happiness. How can I be happy if I am faking who I am and ignoring what I really want to be?

3. The Recipe to Happiness

Pay attention to your feelings. Honor them. Take direction from them. Give them some kind of outlet in your life. Don’t have any expectations, yet see where they take you.

Give yourself the opportunity to be you, one step at a time.

Are You Living The Legacy You Wish To Leave Behind?

Yesterday my husband and I were doing some gardening out on our back deck when my neighbor of 20 years came out to ask what we knew about the schedule for our upcoming roof replacement, a current project in our waterfront condominium community. We haven’t seen much of Perry, 78, lately, so it was nice to have an opportunity to chat with him.

When we finished discussing the community business, Perry complemented us on the  flower beautification project we were in the midst of and shared that he hadn’t had the energy for gardening lately.  He went on to tell us that he hadn’t been well, and that he had cancer of the stomach… a terminal diagnosis.

What do you say to someone you’ve known over a fence for 20 years who tells you they’ve been told they have 4 – 10 months to live? How do you communicate to them that you’re deeply sorry, that the news has shaken you, and that there is something you wish you could do to help turn things around?

How does the prospect of loss impact how you look at your own life?

Over the past year cancer has been hitting close to my home in far greater instances than ever. I lost a dear uncle and a beloved cat. My father was diagnosed with Stage 1 throat cancer and completed radiation treatments. Two other good friends have undergone or are in the process of chemotherapy for lymphoma. My naively optimistic view of my own longevity is beginning to shudder.

My neighbor sharing his diagnosis has invoked a wake-up call for me.  How can I assume that my healthy life will continue through old age? What do I want my legacy to be? What do I need to do to push that legacy forward?

The commitment to your legacy

What’s come up for me in the last 24 hours is that I need to make a commitment to the legacy I wish to leave behind. And that means I need to commit time to it, to make it a greater priority than the other things I do to “entertain” myself outside of my day job. I know that it is doable because I’ve done it tonight. I’ve shared this with you.

 

 

A Personal 40-Year High School Reunion

Last weekend I got together with a friend I hadn’t seen since high school. That was 40 years ago for me! Lynn and I joked beforehand that we didn’t feel like we were old enough to not have seen someone in 40 years.

We were meeting for lunch at a restaurant that was only a half hour ride from my home, but it gave me an excuse to experience our new regional train system. Lynn offered to pick me up at the train station.  She told me that she had a dark red SUV, which I immediately recognized when I arrived at the top of the train platform, which faced the street where she was parked. I gave her a big wave as I walked down the platform steps and she waved back, like it had been just yesterday.

As I reached her car, Lynn jumped out and we shared a big hug. We climbed back into her car and made our way the half mile to the downtown area where I’d made our lunch reservation. We exchanged small talk while we circled the block looking for parking, but once we landed the car and got on our feet towards the restaurant, we began our process of catching up.

Lynn and I weren’t exactly close in high school, but I often hung around with a group of girls that she was close with. As we walked towards the restaurant, we retraced how she came to recently connect with me on Facebook and we were reminded that we shared a family connection. I have twin cousins who are close friends with her younger sister and her parents had shared a friendship with my aunt and uncle.

We arrived at the modern Italian restaurant and buried ourselves in conversation for over two and a half hours, before noticing that we had blown through their designated 3:00 PM close time. We told our waiter that we hadn’t seen each other in decades, and the staff graciously allowed us to linger in the dining room while they were technically closed. Once we realized this, it was time to get me back to the train station, where Lynn set me off with another hug.

I’ve noticed that the conversation that I shared with Lynn has influenced my thoughts over the past week. The process of sharing 40 years of my history has reminded me of the wide variety of interesting things I’ve done in my life that I no longer acknowledge in my day to day thinking. I am often guilty of being so fixated on what I want to accomplish next that I don’t give any attention to the cool things I’ve done that I feel really good about.

The Take-Aways

Spending time or sharing with friends from your past is a great window into your soul. These are the people who can help you to see who you are, and the possibilities that lie ahead.

 

My Voice A Passion

I have recently said yes to a journey to explore an interest which has lived inside of me for some 40 years. It began when I was invited to be a part of KFAL, the radio station for Crestmoor High School,  my now defunct Alma mater just south of San Francisco . Every Wednesday at 11:30 am I would step up to the microphone to read the announcements that were being broadcast throughout the campus. It was fun but I didn’t give any thought to it other than it gave me an opportunity to be in the same space with a guy I had a huge crush on.

Some twenty years later I was asked to do a voice-over for an apparel company that was one of my then employer’s biggest clients. I didn’t think any more of it beyond it being a fun give-back to my employer. I drove to a studio in Manchester, NH to do the taping. There were a few takes, but nothing excessive. It was a totally new experience that I didn’t know what to make of. Somewhere buried deep in one of my storage boxes lies the final packaged recording.

Since I moved back to California 20 years ago, my interest in doing something voice-related remains. I attended introductory classes to two different voice-over training programs, yet skipped out on each after the initial day, feeling intimidated and afraid that I could never be good enough.

After I left my corporate marketing job in 2005, I worked three seasons as a wedding officiant. I created personalized ceremonies that embraced the couples’ unique relationships and just loved to practice reciting the ceremonies out-loud. I loved using my voice to inspire an important message.

I’ve recognized this passion with my voice come up for me frequently enough throughout my life that I recognize there is something there that I need to explore. Over the past month I have thrown myself in as a student at VoiceOne in San Francisco. This time I’m ready to walk through the fear rather than walk away.

 

It’s Not About How to Lose Weight

woman holding bellyI have dropped a few pounds of body fat since I turned 50 three months ago. While being a bit leaner certainly makes me feel good, it’s the lesson behind the lost inches that means the most.

How I Lost the Weight

  1. I created a new habit. One evening my abs were feeling particularly flabby so I added some weights to my routine. I was actually more focused on how my body felt than how it looked, so as I discovered the weight work felt good, I moved the weights out of the closest and next to my desk where I began to use them daily. I wasn’t really aware of the physical effects the  weights were having until I put on a new tank top on my birthday, about 3 weeks after I started my new routine. Realizing that I felt and looked stronger at 50 than the years leading up to it made me happy and inspired me to want to keep it up.
  2. I became more aware of the control I have over what I become. I started asking myself if I was hungry before popping food into my mouth or if I was still enjoying the food as I continued to eat. As I began to look at my eating as a direct cause and effect of my body weight, I lost a bit more fat.

It’s funny, but losing just these 8 or 10 pounds reminds me of what I learned after successfully losing 40 extra pounds at age 19.  Having been an overweight kid my entire life and a failure at numerous diet attempts, I never thought I would be anything but overweight. There’s no doubt in my mind that my life would have been very different had I not made the commitment to change my eating habits.

It’s Not About the Weight

The lesson at 19
Your history does not dictate what is possible for your future.

The lesson at 50–
The actions you take every day shape what you become.

Does Money Define Success?

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Yesterday I took my place alongside thousands of other spectators who had gathered to watch the Blue Angels roar through the picturesque San Francisco skyline. The  jets flew across the bay, giving us a quick glimpse of their spectacular stunts before they were grounded due to fog conditions. Yet it wasn’t the aborted show that sent me away feeling disappointed; it was a conversation that took place in the crowd that I allowed to get me down.

Four and a half years ago I left a high-paying job because I had come to painfully recognize that I was only in it for the money. I’ve started a new business since then that has great potential, yet it is only now beginning to take off. My life lately has not exactly been a cakewalk financially as I continue to invest in my new venture.


What Does Money Mean?

I am not normally an envious person, so it took me some soul-searching to uncover why the couple behind me in yesterday’s crowd got to me when I heard them talking about the multiple homes they owned. I had let myself fall into the trap of valuing money as the gauge for success. As I listened to them discuss how they were currently looking at buying another home, I began to ask myself if I had been a fool to let go of my big paycheck, as if the amount of money you have is a determination of how wise you are.


True Success in Life

One question that always gets me back on track is asking myself what would make me feel good about my life when I reach its end. It is easy to forget that it is a series of little things that build a lifetime, not one accomplishment that defines us. My Blue Angels experience reminded me to honor how I want to be remembered, and to measure my success accordingly.