If you have ever experienced a panic attack or witnessed one, you know. You know the terror, the end of the world humiliated out of control feels and the debilitating experience of it all.
I experienced a fresh and major one very recently which prompted the strong call to write about them.
I was driving home from Montreal after a perfectly awesome day of dancing to amazing music, in good company and pretty high on life. Get in my car, it’s late, it’s dark but I have music and podcasts and I am ready to roll. It’s only two hours home after all….I start on the highway and there goes my heart. Flip flop. That heightened tingly feeling starting that I know all too well…uh oh.
Panic attacks are a byproduct of anxiety in live volcano form. A total cumulative eruption. Some people live with more or less anxiety but medically it is considered a by-product. Spiritually? Well its a holy shift for sure. We get into that further down.
For the record, I don’t tend to get typical panic attacks with the almost heart attack unable to breathe kind of special experience. No, I have to get right into the ether and leave my body alien style. From the research I have done, they are more in the verging on hallucination, out of body derealization kind of special attack than the kind that physically debilitates you. I’m an expert escape artist after all. I get to really question my sanity and capacity to survive and not become a banana in my mind.
No one version is more special a treat though, believe me.
Add to that that my trigger is night time, lights and an agitated nervous system and you have a really special blend of terror. So reading through this, I admit getting in my car at night after being exposed to loads of people and energies maybe wasn’t the smoothest move, but I was convinced I was A-OK to do so which falls under my Pitta problems umbrella.
I made it about 10 min on the highway then had to stop at a gas station while my entire body was vibrating and feeling pretty out of sorts. I then made the decision to turn around and check into the closest hotel. The second I made that decision thankfully my nervous system started to calm the fuck down.
A good night’s sleep and I was on the road the next day. Two days later and the adrenaline/cortisol/fight or flight energy wore off and I was in post attack recovery. Adrenaline/panic attack recovery can be long and slow depending on the severity of the attack. In this case it was Godzilla size so dropped into the depths a little, being very sensitive and tearful and having to stay quiet and regain balance with my trusty toolkit. A headache and other physical symptoms as well can show up for good measure for that epic come down.
I am sharing all of this not to trigger or to create worry or pity but to say hey, when we get into the depths, into the other spaces where the shadows reside, it’s very real. The human experience can heal when we share and do the work collectively.
That being said, in all honesty, I don’t have any single answer yet as to how to best treat these attacks. I am working on it. I think even as teachers we are always thrown loops in the spiral to learn and grow, it’s how we show up to the loops that counts.
You have to go through to understand it.
I do now arrive with more awareness and ease more than ever after years of practice. I listen to my intuition and ask for guidance and help. I am also 10x better at this panic stuff than I was even a year ago now. If you are wondering, the first experience came at 16 with years of on and off bouts, then about 7 years ago, they came in strong after a dark night and stayed. I can say that I haven't always been kind to my nervous system to this can be a by-product of my intense lifestyle before.
So what are the spiritual implications of panic attacks? I mean, I wish I could say the info out there is epic, but to me it felt a bit convoluted. Maybe I need better sources. I get into the vortex when things happen and research and research but somehow this cross between biology and spirit-ey intel seemed harder to find.
I believe that when you are working with energy/Prana/the cosmic fluctuations, there is room for these shifts to happen in ways that we least expect them or want for that matter. Holy shifts for the most part are gritty, they have beautiful light filled moments but the real work happens with a kick.
So from a Spirit/Yogic realm capacity here is what I have deduced:
Stuck energy is trying to move out. Something that needs to shift and evolve and your body created a giant ball of volcano lava shifting that is trying to move past a protective ego barrier. That protective barrier was once there to protect you, so gratitude and softening is the key to moving through.
Something may be trying to keep you safe when you aren’t listening. In this case on the weekend, my angels were saying it’s too dangerous to drive or when you make big life moves and your body says nu-uh, not ready. Even in Tarot there are cards that say….wait. It’s okay.
Rehashing of trauma manifested in the body to work through. This is definitely a vibrational thing that occurs and as you work through, your mind/body/soul has to process and sometimes it’s harder resulting in panic. Working through, the results can be really impactful though.
A story we repeat based on a trigger that our nervous system is trained to respond to. Sometimes these attacks are recognizable to our system and becomes a repeat offender via that trigger. So unlearning is the best. I do this work with my therapist and set the stage for this work with my toolkit.
When we are going through a large shift that does serves us and our nervous system is like holy shit, I’m not safe/can’t keep up.
Ayurveda, the Yogic life science states that Anxiety and Panic are result of a Vata Imbalance. So when we are working with the air element and it’s topsy turvy all around us, the answer is grounding all the way. Grounding doesn’t just occur with our feet on the ground, it’s steady practices and rituals you commit to, it’s the food you eat and focusing on what you consume aka less scrolling. More on that in the tips to follow.
I often think of Carolyn Myss and the medical intuitive work she does and the discussions she has around the energetic body. What it means physically to ignore the spiritual or inner knowing calls. When she says “The soul always knows what to do to heal itself. The challenge is to silence the mind” it makes me think of the Yoga Sutra 1:2 Yoga Chitta Vritti Nirodhah - the journey to the self is through the cessation of the fluctuations of the mind. All theories lean towards that grounding, quieting and connecting.
So when we lose awareness, some of us more sensitive to our surroundings and processing traumas results perhaps in imploding a little more.
Tending to your with anxiety and panic tendencies as well as the nervous system recovery involves a number of tools so I created this hefty list of tips:
Therapy is always first and foremost in my books. Have professional support that aligns with your journey, please.
Energy work to help move the stuck energy - whether it be Reiki, Shamanic journeying or dancing, intentional Pranic movement is powerful.
Have a go-to practical magic self care tool like flower/salt baths, calming essential oils and herbs, tarot etc. that help you reconnect to your body awareness and tap into what your inner landscape is saying.
Cleanse your energy - whether it be with sacred smoke, salt bathing as mentioned above, diving into the ocean or taking an auric bath. If you are empathic, the energy you are carrying may be stuck of yours or someone else’s.
Simply change the language around it. For instance, instead of saying you suffer from panic attacks, say you experience them.
Guided journey work or even Yoga Nidra to help you get subconscious elements.
A movement practice that grounds you so say less flow yoga, more stabilizing with long holds. It’s part of balancing the Vata Dosha.
Meditation also that grounds you aka nourishes your para sympathetic nervous system and creates body awareness, again Yoga Nidra is an amazing tool as is a simple body scan or laying down connecting to mamma earth with one hand on heart and one hand on belly observing the flow of breath.
Get some rest! Keeping a sleep schedule that’s early to bed and rise and consistent. Sleeping more if and when needed. Take a day during the weekend to just let yourself be. In this period of heightened anxiousness and Prana movement, this can be the most healing thing.
Eating whole foods and avoiding sugar and caffeine.
Getting your feet on the ground in nature.
Gratitude for whatever it is that has been keeping you safe but you are now ready to let go and ask your guides to help you release it. I did this tearfully out loud the other day. There is no wrong way to have this internal convo.
Learn how to belly breathe and use soothing Pranayama. I’ll write more about this in the future but 1:2 breathing, Nadi Shodhana and circular breathing are your friends.
Watch what you visually and auditor-ally (is this a word?) consume - social media actually is a trigger for anxiety.
Make a list of the things you want to manifest in this world, start to awaken to your hearts calling and what you may need to let go of to get there. I am all into five year and month to month planning now but leave room for flow and my hearts calling to come in. I revisit this plan weekly.
Focus on releasing not gripping.
Have a cheerleader and even one person to support you. This is someone you can say hey, I am not okay to, and they will hold that space for you without shame.
Honestly, I would say engage in some play too! Let loose, be childlike. Life can get really serious.
Bonus point: the Ayurvedic practice of Abhyangha - self massage is very soothing. I would also say from an Ayurvedic perspective to think of consuming nourishing foods as well.
I know there are other therapy tools like counting to 10, noticing colours and objects, if they work for you, amazing. They never have for me so I thought I’d focus on alternate options.
I am going to close by repeating in large format that there is no shame in this experience. I think my own shame and humiliation experience has easily been one of the hardest work in progress things I have to overcome, so clearly needs to be shared. You are not alone and you are loved. There are tools and ways to cope, I promise.
Also just as the title says. When you’re “in it” whether it be anxiety or panic, take each breath, each moment, each minute, each day….gently. I also didn’t talk about meds because I don’t think it’s my place but there is a place for them with no shame.
If you ever need help to form your toolkit, don’t be shy to reach out. I am here for you.