true story- i used to suffer from debilitating panic attacks. they started when i was in college, and at first i had no idea they had anything to do with anxiety. i went to the emergency room THREE TIMES in one semester with what i thought were ASTHMA attacks. they would come on suddenly with no obvious triggers; i felt like i was choking, like all the muscles in my neck and throat were tensing and closing, and like i couldn’t breathe.
while i was in the thick of it, even when i found out they were panic attacks, i couldn’t really figure out what was causing them. looking back now, it’s a little more obvious – i was treating my body like shit, getting almost no sleep, smoking, doing drugs, swimming in alcohol, and surviving primarily on fruit roll-ups and mozzarella sticks. i also had an overloaded course schedule, was a student-athlete, and had a part-time job on the side. on top of that, i have always been an over-analyzer, frequently getting lost in my head, re-imagining scenarios and sometimes losing touch with reality.
fast forward to now – a lot has changed. i try to make healthy choices and eat real food. i quit smoking and drugs and rarely drink. ok, i still don’t really sleep … but i share the blame with my toddler who seems to have inherited my insomnia.
after trying to take better care of myself, i noticed that i was still left with my natural tendency to over-think, especially if something didn’t happen in a way i expected. i would replay it out, re-live the event, over and over and over. i had trouble controlling it. i would say to myself, “let it go, it happened, it’s done” … but then within minutes, my mind would go back. my family tends to be a bit extreme and obsessive, so i think some of it is genetic, and my manifestation is in thoughts.
sometimes it’s future driven, hypothetical, and almost purely imaginary. my kid has a cold, my mind turns to worst case, and i’m in tears imagining his funeral. yeah, really.
one night last fall, i was driving home after a long day, stuck in this rabbit hole. i had super interrupted sleep the night before (and many nights before that), woke up early to teach and work at the farm, left mid-morning to teach at the township hall, came back and worked a full day in the fields, and left from the farm to drive 45 minutes to teach my last yoga class. by the time i got to the studio, my brain was totally fried. i forgot the names of simple poses i do all the time, didn’t manage my time well, fumbled through so much of it. to top it off, there was another teacher in class, attending for the first time. i felt awful. driving home on that dark windy road, i just couldn’t stop thinking about how much i bombed it. over and over and over. when i tried to let it go, it just kept coming back.
desperately wanting to give myself something else to think about, i just started pointing out stuff that i was seeing. actually speaking, out loud, to myself – like a bad narration. there is a speed limit sign. there is a turn in the road. i just passed a driveway. it is dark outside. i am using my high beams.
really, pointless stuff. observations. bland. factual. no feelings. no evaluations. no judgments. out loud.
i am speaking. i am sitting in a car. the car is moving. i am driving 55 miles per hour.
ok, you get the idea.
the point is, it actually HELPED. if i started to go back to wallowing, i just bluntly and literally TOLD myself what was ACTUALLY HAPPENING in that very moment, as lame and non-interesting as it was. and i brought myself back out of my head and into real life.
this is a trick i have used countless times since then (although, not always “out loud” … depending on if i’m by myself or not). it may seem trivial or silly, but if you struggle with getting lost in your thoughts (especially ones that are non-productive or even harmful), it might be just what you need to find your way back to what’s outside of your head.
try it out and let me know.
and if you’re just joining me now, welcome back. ♥