On March 17, 2013, I called 9-1-1…on myself.
I was in Panama City, Florida on Spring Break with a group of friends.
It was our last day there.
The amount of damage done to my body from binge drinking from the previous 4 days was lurking in the back of my head.
I (ironically) came from a health & fitness background, so I was aware of the internal damage of excessive alcohol.
It wasn’t the first time I’d ever drank, but for some reason, this felt different.
We decided to go to breakfast, and then have fun on our last day (which meant more drinking).
While eating, I started to get light-headed and dizzy…
Surely – it was dehydration from alcohol.
But it got worse.
My breathing shortened, heart rate increased, and I started tingling…
“I’m having a heart attack,” I said out loud.
My friends didn’t know what to do.
I started panicking. I called 9-1-1.
The ambulance pulled up….
EMT’s carried me out.
The restaurant was staring.
They checked my vitals in the ambulance (even though I was shaking profusely)
“All normal,” said the EMT.
“What?!” I said shakily. Surely this was real. I felt it. I know it was real.
“Check again!” – I said.
Blood pressure and heart rate slightly elevated. But not abnormally high. Oxygen levels 98%
What the heck, I thought to myself.
What just happened??
Full on hyperventilating, heart attack feeling, panic attack.
I’d never had one before.
It was my first one.
I was always the confident athlete. The fitness fanatic. How could I be having panic attacks?!
Those shouldn’t happen to me.
But – that day began a 2-year battle with anxiety…and many more panic attacks to come.
It was miserable.
I felt imprisoned in my own body.
I skipped class, scared I would have one in the middle of a lecture.
I stopped exercising (I was afraid the elevated heart rate from working out would spark a panic attack).
Every step I made I thought something was wrong.
I felt like my heart would stop at any moment, and I would just collapse or die.
I was, as clinical terms defined it, a true hypochondriac.
Over time the panic attacks stopped, but I continued to live in a constant state of anxiety.
These faux symptoms I was feeling led to REAL physical problems in my body…
I would feel things like not being able to satisfy a breath (imagine feeling like you’re always short of breath…but you’re not really…it just feels like it).
I was in and out of doctor’s offices…
Cardiologists, thoracic surgeons, pulmonologists.
I lived in Houston, home to the best medical center in the world.
But – they never found anything wrong, besides elevated blood pressure, which was a side effect of consistently living in stress.
I would beg them to give me holter monitors (overnight heart monitoring) just for my own peace of mind.
I spent hours online, googling my symptoms, reading forums…I finally came across someone with similar symptoms (can’t satisfy a breath, feel as if they will collapse at any moment).
Their solution, ironically, was to stop trying to take deep breaths…and to breathe less.
Turns out I self-diagnosed myself – I had chronic hyperventilation – (I was always over breathing, which expanded my chest, causing me to feel like I wasn’t satisfying breaths).
So I solved the physical symptoms issue, but there was still the root cause…
My mental state.
Eventually, I got over it (and I’ll tell you how in a minute).
But, this experience peaked a serious interest in psychology for me.
What triggered this? My whole life, I never had any previous battles with anxiety.
It all just…happened.
I started to read books about what happens in an anxious brain, and how to combat it.
Finally, I overcame my anxiety without medication.
It took a reconditioning of the mind and a lot of support, but I used things like:
- Breathing exercises
- Meditation & mindfulness training
- Daily expressions of gratitude
- Support from loved ones
- Volunteering & helping others
- I got a dog
All the cliché things you read about actually helped me.
You see, I noticed a pattern when I was consistently anxious. I was in my own head…every second of every day.
I was always conjuring up “what if” scenarios that never actually came to fruition.
In other words – I was focused on myself. My worries. Me, me, me. What’s wrong with me? Someone help me.
It’s hard for me to put into words exactly why this causes stress and anxiety…but Tony Robbins explains it well.
“Our brains aren’t designed to be happy or fall in love. To take risks. To make money.
Our 2,000,000-year-old brains are designed to keep us alive and survive.
The reason we’re suffering is because we’re focused on ourselves.
Suffering comes from a “me” focus.
From three words.
Loss, less, never.”
Are you afraid of losing something? (For me it was my health)
Are you worried that you have less than others? Are you constantly trying to keep up with the Jones’?
Do you feel the doom and gloom of your ideal self NEVER happening?
This state of mind comes from always focusing on ourselves, what we’ve lost, what we don’t have, or never will have.
Nothing positive happens in this state.
Also – it’s impossible to solve a problem in that mind frame. Without getting all science nerd on you – the chemicals that promote creativity and problem-solving are depleted in an anxious mind.
You must get out of that state to solve a problem.
Here are 5 ways do that.