“Nervous breakdown”, I am so glad they don’t use that term anymore. It suggests weakness and an inability to cope. The term actually implies that you are somehow broken! I guess that is why there was so much stigma and shame attached to it when I struggled with an anxiety disorder nearly 20 years ago. Thankfully, people are more open to talking about mental health issues today, and the stigma is slowly disappearing. But back in MY day…..
I was in my early thirties, with two small kids, a demanding career and the first stirrings of discontent in my marriage. I felt fine when I set off to Corner Brook for a psychology conference, but I found myself running late for my first session and that worried me. If there were going to be a lot of people in an enclosed space, I liked to get there early to get the chair nearest the door. From an early age, I had a kind of phobia of being surrounded by people in a room with closed doors. When I walked into the conference room, however the door seats were all taken. The room was already full, with about 200 people jammed in there. I scanned my surroundings for a seat. The only one available was smack dab in the middle of the crowd. I shuffled my way to the seat, brushing knees with my colleagues along the way. Already I could feel my face becoming flushed. Just as I sat down, something happened that put my anxiety over the top: they closed the doors!
My heart started to pound. My breathing became quick and shallow. My throat started to constrict. My legs went to jelly and my hands began to shake. Everything around me became surreal, like I was in a fog. My mind raced, “I have to get out of here or I will die!” Logically, I would later realize that nobody ever died from sitting in a crowded room. However, when that panic set in, there was no convincing me otherwise. I just had to get out of there!
I went back to my hotel room and waited for it to pass. I had experienced panic attacks before so I knew the routine. First that aura of impending doom. Then the actual panic attack, lasting about five minutes and slowly subsiding, leaving me feeling weak and exhausted. But this time was different. After about an hour of pacing the floor, wringing my hands and crying, I started to fear that the feeling…..anxiety…..would never go away. I was doomed to live my life with a never-ending feeling of fear, or at least that is what I thought at the time.
Over the next several months, things that I took for granted became monumental tasks for me. I could not go to work. I could not go shopping or even get my hair styled. I was even afraid of being left alone to take care of my kids. My future looked bleak and hopeless. Eventually, I gave in to my doctor’s pleas and saw a psychiatrist, and that was the beginning of my recovery.
I had resisted medication, fearing that I would become addicted or turn into a “zombie”. However, this doctor educated me on a then “new” type of medication, SSRI’s, which were gentle and non-addictive. After about three weeks of taking them, I felt the anxiety slowly subside. More important than the medication however, was the anxiety reduction techniques that I put into practice. As a psychologist, I already knew about these techniques and had used them with my clients. However, just like a surgeon cannot perform surgery on him or her self, I needed that expert to guide me. The combination of medication with these techniques really worked! I have not taken anxiety medication for about 15 years, but I continue to use my anxiety reduction techniques on a daily basis, and I have never felt better!
So what are these “magical” techniques that I speak of?
-Deep relaxation exercises
-Abdominal breathing techniques
-Building and strengthening the neural pathways for relaxation
It sounds complicated, but really these techniques are easy to learn and to incorporate into your daily life. About 90% of the clients I see in my psychology practice have issues with anxiety, such as panic attacks, OCD, self-harm, or just constant worry. Through a program called Mindful Mood Balance, I help them to manage stress and anxiety and find peace of mind.
On Saturday, Feb. 4th, I will be offering a free session in St. John’s for anyone who would like to try out these techniques. I also hope to offer a free online session. If you would like to register, please indicate whether you are registering for the St. John’s session or the online session.
Here is the link to register: https://www.florencestrang.com/upcoming-workshops