Panic Attacks| My Struggles + My Tools

photo by: Sara Tramp

photo by: Sara Tramp

I was standing in the middle of a Target in Chicago the first time I had a panic attack. I still remember the moment clearly because it was so terrifying. My vision became impaired, almost like tunnel vision, and I started to feel like I was losing control of my mind- like I didn't know who I was. At the time, I had absolutely no idea what was happening to me. It was only after I talked to my mom about it later that I realized I had a panic attack. That was the beginning of my story with anxiety. I was a senior in high school and had so many uncertain pieces in my life. I didn't know which college I was going to go to, what life post high school would be like, or what the rest of my life would be. With so much changing around and within me, my body reacted with anxiety.

Thankfully I didn't have any panic attacks again for quite a few years until senior year of college. See the pattern here? Apparently my mind/body doesn't like uncertainty. From there my anxiety only got worse. I graduated in 2012 and moved to New York City to pursue a Fellowship I had been granted at the Lincoln Center Institute. As I made my way through a new city and essentially a completely new life I struggled. I had panic attacks in the morning on the subway, in the afternoon walking around, in the evening on the subway, and in all of the spaces in between. It was hard. The amount of anxiety I was struggling with was almost unbelievable. My nervous system was constantly in a state of fight or flight. The only time I felt truly calm was when I was in bed with my cat watching 30 Rock on Netflix (I swear that show saved my life).

What I didn't realize then was how much of a role I was playing in my own anxiety. At that time I was also struggling with disordered eating; I ate a restricted calorie diet while on a very busy schedule and while dancing, so needless to say my body wasn't being taken care of. Back then I had no idea or concept that the way I was eating could affect the way I was feeling so significantly. For the sake of an interesting "Aha!" moment I'd like to say that there was one magical moment where it all clicked for me and then I started eating well and my whole life changed, but it didn't happen that way at all. It was more like 10,000,000 moments added together that helped things change for me over time. 

This journey through my struggles with anxiety and eating and to health was a huge reason I decided to become a certified Health Coach. I found it so remarkable that I had so much power over the way I felt just by changing my diet and lifestyle that I wanted to share that knowledge and empower others to do the same. Now, 3 years later, I'm still on my journey. I still come up against anxiety producing moments. I am not perfect, but I am better and I'm proud of that.

I want to share my 3 most reliable tools I use when I feel anxious to help me get grounded and to avoid a full on panic attack. These are personal to me, so they may or may not work for you and that's fine. Use these tools however you see fit for yourself.

1. I eat foods that are as clean and nourishing as possible- What does this mean? This means that I eat whole foods, avoid highly processed food items, keep my sugar intake very low, and load up on protein and healthy fats. I eat a vegetarian diet so for protein I turn to tempeh, beans, nuts, broccoli, spinach, and other plant based sources. 

If I'm starting to feel anxious I take inventory of what I've eaten so far that day and then move forward accordingly so that my body feels really nourished. For me hunger=anxiety, this step is so key. 

2. I tell someone- As hard as it can be to get the words out, I always try to talk about what I'm going through because it helps me feel supported and loved which in turn helps the anxiety subside. Over time I've learned that there are certain people I can tell, and others that I prefer not to. When I tell them, I also express that I'm not looking for advice or help, just someone to hear me and be with me in the moment. This is monumental and honestly makes more of a difference than you might think.

3. I move my body- Anytime my anxiety starts to act up I either dance, go for a run, or take a yoga class. Just a couple of minutes changes my state of being. There's something very powerful about getting out of my head and into my body. The amazing thing is, you don't have to have a lot of time to move your body- I'm not kidding when I say just a couple of minutes of movement can change everything.

These are things I make sure to focus on in times of high stress or during transitions in my life and they have proven to be incredibly helpful time and time again. Whether or not you struggle with anxiety, I always feel like it's important to focus on taking care of yourself- especially when things feel a little bit crazy in your life. 

Do you have any tools you use to help you with anxiety? Let me know in the comments, I'd love to hear from you.