I have a long and illustrious career as a sufferer of an anxiety disorder. Loooong, I tell you. I was 6 when I had my first panic attack (picture poor little 1st grader Meredith, clutching her heart, sure it’s about to stop) and now, I’m so good at it, I bet you $100 I could have a full-blown panic attack right in front of you and you’d never know it.
I mention this because I know lots and lots of Penelopes who either have a diagnosed panic disorder or are somewhere on the spectrum and struggle with symptoms. As I see it, this is at least partly a Penelope problem – it affects a lot of us. And I plan to talk a lot more about it in the coming months because it’s a big part of my life.
It’s such a big part of my life that I’ve spent these last 35+ years trying to deal with it. I’ve seen therapists who’ve taught me coping skills (thank you!) and doctors who’ve tried to medicate me (no thanks, not yet.). I’ve tried yoga and all manner of different ways to eat and drink (and not drink) to make my symptoms better.
What I’ve found is that exercising at least 5 days a week is the #1 key. That, and eating clean 90% of the time. (I love a burger, so…)
Taking Vitamins B & D has helped me, too.
But even all of that has not been entirely effective. I still have daily low-grade symptoms and sometimes months of terrible ones, known as “flares”.
So lately, at the behest of a good friend who saw me really struggling with my latest “anxiety flare”, I’ve tried Mindfulness Training. And it’s really, really useful. And really, really, REALLY hard.
I can hear you right now, Penelopes. I hear your collective response: “Yeah, quickest way to drive me insane is to tell me to stop doing everything and focus on my breathing. Ain’t. Gonna. Happen, chica”.
I’m with you. It’s super hard. But, I’ve found an app that has really helped.
Headspace is simple to use, free to start, and you use only what you need thereafter. They start you out with a simple 10-session trial period and you can get a sense of whether or not this will work for you. The app will even send you friendly notifications on your phone so you don’t miss a session. I find this very useful and, pretty much, if my phone doesn’t remind me to do something, I don’t do it.
Here are a few screenshots to give you a sense of the user-friendly interface of the app.
Though many people like to do this kind of meditation first thing in the morning, that doesn’t work with my life right now. So, I do mine in the middle of my afternoon, right after lunch and before I dive back into work. I find that this has made my afternoons much more productive. I get a clarity of thought that I didn’t have before. It’s almost like taking a power nap without the pesky napping.
And do know that you have to commit to at least 10 sessions. Preferably 10 days in a row. Because it takes time to get into the flow. And it is going to feel really difficult to quiet your mind at first. But it will get easier. And you’ll feel benefits right from the start.
I really, really think you should try it. Today. But I feel you resisting still.
Here’s something that helped me: instead of thinking of this as “meditation”, think of it as “mindfulness training”. Like a workout for your brain. That way, you won’t feel like you’re just sitting still, wasting time. You’ll realize you are, instead, becoming a clearer, stronger version of your already badass self.
Oh, and this is Andy. The guy who narrates the sessions. In a beautiful British accent.