Enlightened State

How to Use Mindfulness to Recover from a Panic Attack

Mindfulness, Mental HealthMorgan Vanek2 Comments

In the United States, anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness, and they affect about 18% of people over 18 years old. By comparison, only 11.5% of adults are diagnosed with heart disease. It's becoming clearer that anxiety has become an epidemic in our country, and it's no wonder.

Our lives are fast-paced and stressful, and many of us feel constant pressure to perform at an impossible standard in our personal and professional lives. The advent of social media means that we constantly compare ourselves to others and seek validation from the very people we are trying to outshine. It's exhausting, and the price of keeping up is often our peace and mental health. 

Chances are, you already know one or more people who suffer from anxiety. And if you are the one dealing with this kind of disorder, you know that it can manifest in a number of different ways, from generalized and social anxiety to panic disorders. The worst part of anxiety is that it feeds into itself: the more your fear the symptoms, the more likely you are to experience them. It can feel like a never-ending cycle of negativity, and breaking that cycle is no easy task. 

But there are things that you can do to ease the symptoms. Paying attention to self care, connecting with others, going to therapy, and even taking medication can create an environment in your life that reduces anxiety. But when you are in the throes of a panic attack, those things are typically out of reach, and that makes the situation feel hopeless. However, there are things you can do to reduce that out-of-control feeling, and one of the most effective ways I've found is practicing mindfulness. 

Being mindful in the midst of a panic attack is difficult, but it is possible. When thoughts are flying through your head like cows in a Kansas tornado, pick a positive thought and focus in on it. I often repeat to myself, "I am safe. I am comfortable. I am warm." You could also choose to think of a happy memory, recite a Bible verse, or even tell yourself a favorite joke or story. It's important not to judge yourself for losing track of your thought, because that's a natural reaction and you'll only send yourself further down the path of panic if you're pressuring yourself into focusing. When your thoughts wander away, acknowledge that it's happening and then consciously turn your attention back to your thought.

Do your best to actually comprehend the meaning of your thought. Often, I find myself reciting the words quickly and without thinking, so I have to regroup and start one piece at a time. I think to myself, "I am comfortable. What does comfortable mean? What is making me comfortable right now? What can I do to increase my comfort?" Once I have answered each question, I move on to the next part. Doing so helps me slow down and makes it easier to focus. Even if you're not using a mantra like I do, you can still focus in on the details of whatever your thought may be. 

Usually, I'm feeling calmer and more in control of my mind by the time I  finish thinking through my positive thought. This is when I begin to notice my heart rate and my thoughts slowing down. Since I have more of a handle on the situation, I'm able to think more coherently and can start to relax, knowing that my panic attack is almost over. 

This method takes a lot of practice to master, but it's very effective. For the best results, choose some time when you aren't having a panic attack to go through this process, preferably on a regular basis, so that your brain is able to recall it more easily in a crisis situation. I've found that doing this also reduces the frequency of panic attacks. 

There are better ways of recovering from a panic attack than gritting your teeth and getting through it. What are your tips and tricks for coping when this happens to you? How have you been affected by anxiety in your life? Let me know in the comments. I would love to learn more!

Much love,

Morgan

The Best Way to Respond to Ignorant Comments about Mental Illness

Mental HealthMorgan VanekComment

I never realized how many misconceptions people have about mental illnesses until I was diagnosed with one. It's almost shocking how casually we refer to to these kinds of disorders in our every day conversations. Who among us has never told someone that we are "a little bit OCD" about something, or described someone else's behavior as being "bipolar?" 

I want to be clear right now that I am not a social justice warrior who is out to police everything you say. I am someone who has made comments like this in the past, and I said those things because I didn't know how hurtful they could be. There is such a thing as being over-sensitive, and I know that when I hear these things in casual conversation they are almost never malicious or designed to hurt others. But the truth is that we use these illnesses as a form of hyperbole to describe someone who is is moody, capricious, particular, or otherwise abnormal. What we mean when we say these things is that someone is crazy, and we overstate the issue to underline our point. To the people who are actually mentally ill, this sends the message that their condition is one of the worst things a person can be. Ignorant and hurtful comments perpetuate shame and stigma. Even if you think you are just making a joke, you could be really hurting someone. 

And while it's a perfectly valid choice to stay silent when something like this comes up in conversation, there is a way to respond without being confrontational or combative. It's hard to speak up in these situations, especially if you are someone who has just been cut down by a friend or colleague's unintentional ignorance. But if you choose to, you can make a small difference in someone's perspective, and start to remove the stigma around mental illness one person at a time. Use these tips to respond to hurtful comments about mental illness with grace and aplomb: 

First, don't get defensive. Most people make comments like this because they truly don't know any better. They aren't trying to hurt you, but that doesn't mean it's okay for them to keep talking this way. Lashing out at your conversation partner is only going to make them feel defensive too, and that's not going to make for a productive conversation. Most likely, they would be very embarrassed if they knew how you felt, so it's best to approach the situation with kindness and compassion. 

Say something like, "I don't know about OCD. I have a friend who has been diagnosed with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, and that's not really what his illness looks like." By gently correcting them and personalizing the issue, you will remind them that real people, some of whom they may interact with every day and even count as friends, struggle with mental illnesses. In this way, you can point out their error without directly attacking them and give them an "out" in the conversation. This will enable them to save face, while encouraging them to choose their words more carefully in the future. 

If they press the issue or seem interested, explain further. Tell them about your friend, and how you think he would feel if he were to hear something like that directly. Explain that people who have mental illnesses often feel ashamed of themselves for something that is beyond their control. You may even have the chance to educate them more about what mental illness really looks like, and how many people deal with this every day. In doing so, they will learn how common mental illness really is, and how damaging their comments can be to millions of others. 

Reducing shame and stigma starts with each of us. Whether you choose to take a stand when others make ignorant statements or simply to avoid making these kinds of comments yourself, you can make a difference. 

Have you ever been hurt by a casual statement made by someone else? How do you handle these kinds of comments? Please keep the conversation going in the comment section! 

Much love,

Morgan