It was Superbowl Sunday. We were watching the game . . the only football game I’ve watched since last year’s Superbowl. The chest pains started, and unlike the previous Wednesday when I laid in bed doing a breathing exercise to calm my anxiety . . . this pain didn’t stop. It was troublesome enough that I told Greg to get my mother.
Off to the ER
There were two other times I was in so much pain that I called my mother and ended up in the ER. The first time I was 13. I’d collapsed on the floor between the bathroom and hallway. Lower back pain that had been bothering me on and off for days had taken me down, literally. At the hospital, x-rays revealed scoliosis, and life adjustments commenced immediately. I spent most of my high school years wearing a Milwaukee brace to correct the 18- and 36-degree curves in my upper and lower spine.
The second time, I’d been itching for a couple of days. I thought it was a reaction to an overly chlorinated pool I’d been swimming in a day or so before. I also remembered taking a bite of a coconut macaroon during that same time. The itching persisted to the point where I called my Mom to get me to the ER. That’s when I learned I was allergic to coconut. I’d never liked coconut, and now I’d discovered the feeling was mutual. The doctor said it was strange to see such a delayed reaction. Strange or not, that’s precisely what it was—more life adjustments. Today, I travel with non-drowsy Benadryl – just in case. I try to avoid coconut everything . . obviously, foods, but scented products, hair and skin products… if it has coconut in it, I’d rather not!
Back to Superbowl Sunday. One of the first responders who arrived was putting adhesive tabs all over me as he gave instructions and asked questions.
“Here, take these aspirins.”
“Has this happened before?”
“On a scale of 1 to 10, with ten being the worst pain ever, how’s your pain now?”
Nitroglycerin under my tongue on the ambulance, more questions, something to sign, and an IV started. At the hospital, an EKG, blood work, and me in observation mode listening and watching everyone else coming into the ER. A couple of hours passed – more blood work. They wait to conduct a second blood test to be sure that any troponin released into my blood from a heart attack would have a chance to be detected. The second set of tests . . all normal.
This past Tuesday was my scheduled stressed test. Ten minutes on a treadmill under tech supervision. Again, hooked up to a machine with a bunch of adhesive tabs and a blood pressure cuff to monitor me.
“You reached 85%. You can stop at any time.”
“You want to keep going?”
“Wow, you did really good, over 10 minutes.”
The nurse and the technician were encouraging. I was proud that I seemed to have exceeded their expectations, which convinced them that I was in good shape. The reality for me, as I was feeling more winded than I would have liked. Confirmation that I needed to buy the jump rope I’ve been threatening to get.
For the record, I’m 58-years old and in decent physical condition. I needed to take this episode seriously- and I did. My mother worked at Deborah Heart & Lung for about 20-years. I knew the dangers of ignoring signs. Recently, a dear friend of over 40-years, Tim, shared his heart attack experience. His happened as he was heading to work from the gym. Fortunately, he paid attention to his body and got help immediately. Being a “woman, or man, of a certain age” comes with some harsh realities. The possibility of having a heart attack is one reality. Anxiety attacks are another.
Yep. More than likely, I’d had an anxiety attack. Symptoms include but aren’t limited to – apprehension and worry, distress, restlessness, and fear. The causes can consist of work/financial pressure, family/relationship problems, technology frustration, life-changes, physical and health issues, and I will add dealing with a pandemic, which I’m thinking can exacerbate every one of the other causes!
Full disclosure. This happened to me about 11 years ago. The same scenario. Chest pain. ER visit. Blood work. Stress test. All normal. I made changes back then, and yes, it still happened again. So, I share this as a reminder to myself that self-care is ongoing and ever-changing. You have to figure out what works for you today. Here are a few things that are working for me.
Acknowledge the Anxiety
I don’t pretend it’s nothing or that it’s something else. The stigma to anything associated with mental wellness is real, and we do not have to feed into it. I give myself permission to acknowledge when I’m feeling anxious. There are different degrees of anxiety, it could be mild, moderate, or extreme. By paying attention, I can catch my episodes earlier rather than later. And, with the same energy that I would say, “I have a little headache,” I can say, “I’m experiencing a little anxiety.” And at that point, I can take action to address it.
This is an exercise in self-care. I look at it as a self-care intervention when it happens in real-time. Otherwise, these activities can be preventative and exponentially beneficial to your ongoing well-being. For me, this was about using the tools I already had.
In real-time, it might look like this: I feel my heart start to race. I may have been overthinking something or undervaluing myself by thinking I won’t be able to handle an outcome. Either way, my heart is racing. Here are five things I do because they are comfortable and practical.
Pause for the Cause: Take a break. Stop! Whatever it is can probably wait. If I don’t arrest the anxiety and it builds, I will become less and less productive. Changing my physical activity helps me change my thinking. Breathing and tapping techniques are behavior changes that help me regain stability. Sometimes, simply sitting still and breathing is the best gift I can give myself. That might mean finding a place to sit outside in the sun where I can spend a few minutes or a half-hour focusing on nature. Daydreaming is 100% allowed.
Get Moving: Yes. Right in the middle of the day, I can walk, dance, or just move around in the midst of whatever I am doing. Maybe I’ll put on a song, and for the entire time it is playing . . . I move! It gets my blood circulating and my heart rate up. Sometimes we need to find a way to dislodge the stressful feeling. You can always take a few minutes afterward and go back to Pause for the Cause, but you may find that this energy shift was just what you needed.
Create Beautiful Boundaries: A beautiful boundary is one I can embrace because it is designed with my wellness in mind. Beautiful boundaries are guilt-free, and if I smile when I implement them – they feel good. How much stress do we create because we simply do not have beautiful boundaries in place? You can’t be available to everyone all the time to complete just about anything.
Get Grounded in Truths: I’m passing this on from an article on Shine written by Martha Tesema. She learned it from Dr. Racine Henry, author of “A Palate of Love.” They refer to this tool I’m sharing as a list of truths. I might write or think about how vivid the green colors are on the trees on my property. Or the fact that I slept well last night and woke up this morning. I might write about my weekly accountability and empowerment meeting that provides me with unwavering support. A list of truths is when you ask yourself what real and true things or experiences in your life right now. This list is your very own set of universal truths that can be anchors in this ever-changing world we live in today.
There’s an App for That: Several apps are designed to help release the stress of the day or moment. Recently, I started using the @TheShineApp. I love that it is set to provide me with several different things to experience throughout the day. In the morning, I can start with an empowering meditation. In the middle of the day, I can read a recommended article. Before bed, I am loving nighttime meditation and music. Falling asleep has never been easier.
I’m headed outside to sit in the sun for a few minutes. Do what you need to do so that your mental wellness is nurtured.
Dr. Lisa Summerour is a speaker, coach consultant, author, and founder of the Live Empowered Institute. Her desire is to create a space where, through different experiences, people can find paths to self-empowerment. Dr. Lisa earned a doctorate in education with a focus on ethical leadership from Olivet Nazarene University. She has a master’s degree in Management from Indiana Wesleyan University, and a master’s in Christian studies from Grand Canyon University. Her bachelor’s degree in sociology is from Trenton State University. She recently authored the “Get Ready to Work Workbook” designed to help individuals with limited resources, on their own or through job readiness programs, prepare for the interview process. Dr. Lisa is also COO of The Learner’s Group – a consulting organization that moves clients from focusing primarily on D & I to improving D & I efforts by focusing on engagement.