panic attack

Eek, Screech, Rush Up A Tree

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Procrastination can lead to terrible stress. I haven’t had the time to procrastinate recently, but after the last couple of weeks of wall to wall stressful happenings, I started to get a little concerned about the old cortisol levels. Not fond of cortisol.

Cortisol occurs naturally in your body. It’s the “Fight or Flight” hormone. This is usually a good guy. Just say you were moseying innocently down the road, humming a little tune, when all of a sudden a large gibbering hyena (I do live in Africa, so…) fell off the back of a truck right on top of you, teeth all gnashing, and looking you right in the eyeball with malice aforethought. Your brain sends an instant message to your body that it’s time to run like hell, your cortisol levels head for the roof, and off you lope to hopeful safety, after extricating yourself from beneath that huge hairy chest, with superhuman strength. After spending a little time cooling off in the dumpster you leapt in to cower in till the beast moved on, your hormones settle, and you smilingly head off to your local to tell your friends how you beat that thing into submission with your handbag, over a nice glass of wine. The end.

Sometimes though, if a person goes through prolonged periods of repeated stress, it appears that the body takes over, and thinks that it’s in danger all the time. This can lead to chronic and debilitating disorders, post traumatic stress disorder being an example. Once you get to this point it’s incredibly difficult to stop the cycle, although many people do, quite a lot live their lives in constant fear. A few years ago life in my little spot of Africa was stressful to say the least, pretty much for most waking hours, seven days a week. Added to that quite a few other random, but pretty horrible, bits of nastiness, and I found myself experiencing some really alarming symptoms. A nebulous feeling of utter terror, heart palpitations, inability to breathe, dizziness, and uncontrollable shaking to name a few. In the beginning they would come on for a specific reason, be it a small fright, or a large problem, but they always receded for a while. Then after about a year of this, they stayed. This was how I felt from the moment I woke up till the moment I went to sleep, for around six months straight. Often I thought that the grim reaper was at the door.

I didn’t have a clue what was wrong with me. I’d never been one to scare easily before. After a lot of research (there was no way I was going to tell anyone – they’d think I was nuts!), I realised that I’d been having panic attacks. Panic attacks that had now decided to hang around as a permanent thing. Cortisol levels so high that your body is always ready to fight or flee, and your mind is looking desperately around for the danger when there isn’t one at all. It’s a rotten way to feel, and no way for anyone to live. I for one was absolutely not prepared to anyway. So I researched some more, and after quite a couple of months of fairly difficult mental and physical exercises, I got a grip on myself. I won’t bore you with the details, but at the end of all that, I found myself in a better place than I had ever been in my life. I felt really strong, and that’s the way I’ve felt for quite a few years now. Now I’m mainly happy, positive, and ready to face whatever life brings on – good or bad. Of course I get stressed sometimes. That’s natural, but I’m not the tiny ball of fright that I was for a while back then. I’ll never be that person again, but I do recognise the signs that you could allow to push you over the edge if you don’t know how bad your destination could be.

Any sort of fear will nobble you if you let it hang around. Fear that you’re incapable. Fear that you’re helpless. No matter how civilized we think we are, we all still operate on instinct. Unless you force your mind to really be in charge of your trip, you could experience really horrible feelings that you shouldn’t need to feel. I’m not suggesting that you hop over the fence at the zoo and say “Hi kitty!” to a panther, but very often things will pop up in life that appear to be daunting, terrifying, insurmountable, but only a tiny few really are.

I like to look at these things nowadays, and ask myself, “What’s the worst that can happen?”, and unless the worst involves the death or injury of someone or something I love, I pull up my sleeves and try to fix what is or appears to be wrong. I’m not talking about the really hurt people here. I can’t imagine what they’re going through. I just mean people who have fairly happy lives, that sometimes crumble when confronted with really tough life challenges. Apart from the innocents so damaged in childhood, or the people that have been abused by real monsters in their adult lives, and also those with chemical imbalances in their brains that only medication can heal, we all have the power to face whatever demon happens to pop his nasty face into our lives. Strength always comes if you really mean to call on it. So…

I didn’t mean to launch into a medical saga, neither am I qualified to, apart from my own experiences, but who knows, this might be a tiny help to anyone who wonders why they always think that the sky is about to fall on their heads. As an end to this holding forth, I have to also mention that among other really bad effects on the human body, too much cortisol also slows down your metabolism – conserving energy in a dangerous situation – so when you are in this state, you’ll also likely pick up weight around your middle.

Bad things do happen. Really horrible things happen to all of us at some point. It’s part of life I think. But apart from beasties falling off trucks, or real and visible dangers, no thought or fear should ever be allowed to harm you.

Till next time friends.