S.T.O.P. – June 9, 2020

Elite athletes (whom I’ve had a fair amount of exposure too) know the value of rest in their formula for performance. Rest may be active, and not look like rest to the average person, but in relation to their training regiment it’s a significant deceleration of momentum for the purpose of getting stronger.


I’ve been thinking about this as I still feel my bodily system in fight or flight mode most of the day. Earlier this week I had the worst middle of the night panic attack that I’ve had in years. Terrifying.

Panic Disorder is something I developed during the year I focused on caring for my 42yr old brother battling a surprise diagnosis of stage 4 brain cancer.
Living on opposite coasts presented additional strain to the grief of watching a strong man decline quickly.
Additionally I wanted to prove myself at work. My boss generously did not put pressure on me to be at my desk, all he cared about was work done. So much of my work was done at 5am PST, between doctors appointments for my brother, on flights and weekends. Still, I had spent the first two years at the job being the smiling face girl-Friday and was only now starting to get some traction and visibility that maybe one day someday maybe lead to a better position. I didn’t want to kill my momentum. So I worked around the clock to close deals, open doors, make big moves way above my level. The pressure I put on myself, combined w 42 flights that year, and the untimely death of my big brother… it all made something pop.

Have you ever had a panic attack?

I didn’t know what was happening at first so I spent a lot of money on middle of the night emergency room visits, 911 calls, doctors visits, medication.

However the (irrational) mortal fear of emanate death would send my heart from resting to 150bpm within 10seconds… limbs numb, cool tingles on the side of the head, unable to focus sight, confusion, loud heartbeat thumps in my ears.

The panic attacks started picking up about a month after my brother died, and pop up at least 5-6 times a day. It became difficult to go into work. I stopped socializing.

I did a 21 day Panchakarma which helped balance my adrenals. I grieved… I slept for a year. Then I started teaching yoga full time. It was the only profession where in I could literally breathe through a panic attack while working. I could invite the whole class to take childpose while I counted my heartbeats and we would breathe together as my body calmed down. No one ever knew.

In time my attacks became more manageable but still frequent. Until I met Tim. We got each other. Both struggling w PTSD of vastly different variety but still scary and disorienting. An unspoken understanding of walking softly and unconditional acceptance. His hugs literally healed me. The engulfing nature and his insistence to hold a hug for at least 20 seconds, heart to heart. << Go do that with a friend or loved one >>

The safety and peace I felt in his embrace (physically and spiritually) stopped my panic attacks. Even after losing him, my panic attacks never returned to the veracity of my life prior to his companionship. Likely because I still feel his energy present and I have learned how to make myself feel safe.

The last few weeks have rattled that knowing. The beginning pandemic pulled at the thread, but no panic attacks. I jumped right back into weekly therapy in March and have navigated coronavirus relatively well mentally.

Violence… injustice for sure- those two things w the backdrop of pandemic, a horrible President, and economic uncertainty… of course I had a panic attack.

I’m considering how to S.T.O.P. …. not my activism or creativity or voice but how to give my nervous system a break and make my sense of personal safety the priority even while I actively participate in education and change. A more sustainable pace.

Here are the four pillars of safety that I pay attention too:
Nutrients – Vit D & electrolytes, B12 – supplementation and whole food meals
Circadian rhythm- in bed at a decent hour and up before sunrise (thank you Jessie for creating a whole community of support)
Movement- gentle to moderate movement everyday. For this beginning stage of somatic grief response, nothing too intense (like HIIT etc) Swimming has been amazing for me.
Order- keeping a clean house w order and peace. This is what I struggle hardest w when I feel unsafe. I make little piles of mess to feel safe… discipline to maintain order helps my brain recover.

I hope this is helpful, for anyone feeling tired and burnt out but afraid of withdrawing in anyway (out of guilt or pressure to always fight so we don’t atrophy) Strategic time out is imperative to overall performance.

I will be joining Jen Pastiloff again tomorrow afternoon during my lunch break to talk about the somatic effects of grief, moving pain and emotion through the body w writing and of course a meditation. Follow @jenpastiloff Instagram LIVE at 1pmEST/10amPST

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