Thursday, July 25, 2013

Listen to your body! Plus, how to stop a panic attack.

I'm in the home stretch of my second week of the Total Body Happiness project, and I feel:
  • A sense of pride and accomplishment
  • Muscle soreness
  • Super tired by 10pm (this is new)
  • Calmer already!
Three days ago, I had to make a tough choice.  My wrist (injured around New Year's) had been aching all day.  I hadn't been using modifications for any of the burpees, mountain climbers, and other on-wrist exercises in the T25 workouts, assuming my wrist should be healed by now, but the pain came rushing back.  On Tuesday morning, I elected to switch Total Body Circuit (perhaps the most intensive routine of the bunch) with Stretch, which is T25's yoga-based stretching routine.  

Stretch felt awesome.  My whole body needed it, and my wrist needed a break from the speed.  I still did planks and other poses on my wrist, but not jumping down onto it quickly did help.

I felt bad not being able to check off the box for Total Body Circuit on my workout calendar, but I'm sure I did the right thing.  Sometimes it's more important to see the big picture.  I still woke up early and was active that day, and that aspect of consistency can be one of the most important components of creating successful new habits. Committing to a routine improves things like sleep quality and digestion.  And exercising for a half hour, 5 days a week, seems to be the standard advice of medical professionals for weight loss, maintenance, and just better overall health. That advice applies whether you do strenuous aerobic exercises every day, or switch up some days with stretching, yoga, tai chi, or other non-aerobic workouts.  

Tuesday is also a 17 hour day for me, so it's a definite challenge to do an exhausting workout early in the morning. My 6:30 wake-up; work in the office (a 45 commute); then, I kill time in the city (often meeting my boyfriend for a healthy favorite dinner at Shabu Zen); and then, my band practices from 8pm til 10 or 10:30, after which I make that commute back home again, and try to wind down and get to sleep as fast as possible. (Valerian root capsules help; you can buy 'em at Whole Foods.)

When you feel exhausted after a long day of running around from the early morning til the late, late night, it's likely because you've burned plenty of calories!  So, I don't take small actions for granted.  Mindfulness is teaching me to appreciate the nature of what I'm doing at all times, instead of taking all those movements for granted. This involves listening to my body, tweaking and modifying for it as needed -- as long as those needs are weighed with some discipline.  Wrist injury: modification okay.  Clinging to bed when you've already had 8 hours: get your ass up!

Notes on Challenges, and anxiety: After dinner at Shabu on Tuesday evening, we went for a walk over to the Asian market, Super 88.  This is an interesting place that makes you feel like you've entered China (or LA's Chinatown) just by walking through the door.  In the front, food court style dining; the food counters hang whole cooked ducks by their necks, along with other things you don't see every day in Allston. In the back, a full market features, what is to me, a very peculiar and not very pleasant smell.  Rows of unfamiliar packaged items, meat counters in the back. Hog's feet. Cow hooves. A fish counter with whole fish staring up at you from ice and tanks, and all the sounds and smells that accompany said fishmongering. I eat meat but as a semi-sensitive former vegetarian, these things can get to me sometimes.

Although I find this place interesting to explore, it's also dirty, dingy, and drab.  I saw someone behind the counter drop a fish on the floor; it flopped and slid, and he picked it up and kept going like it was nothing. Somewhere between the packaged quail eggs and the bags of wasabi peas, my pulse started to quicken a bit and my breathing got shallow.  These are things I'm learning to sense much sooner to when they first start.  I thought about telling my boyfriend that I was feeling anxious, or even that I wanted to leave but I chose not to.  I have to be responsible for my own mood-management. Part of me even got a little excited for an opportunity to practice my skills.  This was my first freak-out in a while.  I immediately went into "counteracting panic" mode.  "Don't run from this," I said to myself.  "Don't run from anything."

How to STOP a panic attack dead in its tracks:
  1. Do a quick body scan to assess where you feel the unease or tension.  I've noticed that I immediately clench my stomach and other muscles when I start to feel uneasy.  
  2. Release the tension in those areas.  Roll the shoulders, let your belly stick out, alternate kicking each foot out to release tension in the legs or sit down if you have to.  Turn your head from side to side and touch your ears to each shoulder.  Shake your hands out.  Yawn.  
  3. Remember: nobody around you is going to mind what you're doing; just listen to your body and move in whatever way feels better to you.  Your number one goal in this moment is to do whatever it takes regain a sense of calm.  The calm is patiently waiting for you beneath this anxiety, which will pass.
  4. Take a full, deep breath, expanding the lungs and the belly to capacity.  This releases endorphins.
  5. Slowly exhale, at half the speed with which you inhaled.  Controlling and slowing the exhale of breath slows your heart rate.
  6. Stay engaged with whatever activity or conversation is going on, to the best of your ability.  Even if you can't speak, listen and focus on what you're hearing.  This distances you from those pervasive things your mind is saying about how you're not going to be okay, and you need to run away.  You are okay.  "You don't need to run away.  You just need to calm down." -- my constantly cool and collected boyfriend.  :)
  7. Are you scowling?  Stop that!  Smile and laugh if possible.  Laughter releases tension.  And, when you smile, people smile back at you.  When you scowl, people scowl back at you, which is unnerving.  This is one of the subtle ways in which freaking out actually contributes to creating a hostile atmosphere.  You can influence your environment either negatively, or positively.  
"Change the way you look at things, and the things you look at will change."

The good news is, this isn't a comprehensive list of tips and tricks; there are tons and tons of solutions out there, including EFT tapping and other work with pressure points, breathing, and redirection of awareness. But these 7 steps happen to be the ones I did at the market on Tuesday to stop my anxiety level around 4 or 5, and bring it back down to 0.  Success.  :)

Did you smile back at this zebra?  Bet you did!

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