I was 10 years old when I first experienced symptoms of panic attacks. At that time, I had no idea what was wrong. For no known reason, my heart would race, I’d feel dizzy, shaky, and disoriented. There were times I thought I was going crazy or dying. When I was younger, I didn’t know how to describe the strange feelings. I thought I was the only one who felt that way. I managed to keep my problem a secret, even when I got married.
In my early 30s, I couldn’t take it anymore. I didn’t want to drive or go to the grocery store, because that’s where the awful sensations would inevitably come. One day I was in the mall with my mom, pushing my daughter in the stroller, and it felt like the walls were closing in. I was light-headed, and needed fresh air. I had such a strong urge to leave and when we finally got outside, I took deep breaths and felt better.
My mom encouraged me to go to the doctor and tell him about these situations where I get anxious and feel panicked. That was a turning point for me. I’d never thought of my weird feelings as anxiety. I was diagnosed with panic disorder and agoraphobia, fear of leaving the house. My doctor said I needed to take an antidepressant to correct my levels of the brain chemical, serotonin. The medication worked. I was able to drive and go to the store without panicking. My doctor also explained that incorrect levels of serotonin are hereditary. I hoped I wouldn’t pass it on to my children. Unfortunately, I did.
My youngest daughter, Talee, showed signs of panic attacks at nine years old. We’d be at a public place and she’d get dizzy, wobbly, and her heart would beat fast. Since I knew the symptoms firsthand, my gut instinct was that she was experiencing a panic attack. I was heartbroken. The last thing I wanted was for my sweet little girl to have to deal with these terrifying symptoms like I did.
Panic severely interrupted Talee’s life when she was in fourth grade. She missed several weeks of school and didn’t want to participate in her normal activities. My husband and I took her to a child psychiatrist, who prescribed an antidepressant. Within a week, she felt better. She returned to school, basketball practice, and had playdates with friends.
While antidepressants helped Talee and I resume our normal lives, I know that medication doesn’t cure panic attacks. I’d learned that if we kept our minds and bodies healthy, we could better control our stress levels and, in turn, our attacks. Nutritious food and exercise were crucial to our recovery process.
I limited Talee’s sugary treats and made sure to serve plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables. I’d use whole grain breads and pastas. Talee loved eggs, peanut butter on toast, and turkey sandwiches with avocado. We ate plenty of chicken and fish, and usually had red meat just once a week.
Talee is in her 20s now and continues to eat healthy. She loves salads, veggie patties, grilled vegetables, and acai bowls. I enjoy Greek yogurt with blueberries and strawberries, chicken, and fish. One of my favorite treats is sliced apples with peanut butter and pecans.
In addition to our healthy eating habits, both Talee and I have made exercise a part of our daily routine. It’s not only good for our bodies, it’s great for our minds. We focus on our workouts instead of on our anxiety. Exercise raises feel-good endorphins that help when we’re stressed. And when our bodies are stronger, we feel like we can handle our panic easier. We enjoy hiking in the mountains. Talee also runs, goes to the gym, and plays basketball. I walk at least two miles a day and ride a stationary bike.
Deep breathing has also become essential to controlling our panic. When we’re anxious, we remind ourselves to take deep breaths in and slowly exhale. We’ve found that doing yoga helps us practice proper breathing techniques.
Today, Talee is in college and rarely has panic attacks. She’s been off her medication for years. As for myself? I also live a full, productive life with minimal anxiety.
I used to think no one would understand what I was going through. I thought I was the only one dealing with the horrifying symptoms of panic. The stigma of mental illness made it hard for me to speak up. Now I know there are millions of people who struggle with mental health issues. One of the most important steps on my journey to recovery was to realize I wasn’t alone. Once I accepted that, I could focus on truly healing through lifestyle changes and a conscious effort to be in the present.
If your experience is similar to Jenny’s, check out When Panic Attacks by David D. Burns, M.D.
Want more? You might also like:
Note: PLEASE consult with your doctor before making any changes to your diet or medications. The material on this site is provided for educational purposes only, and is not to be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.