How Anxiety Helped Me with CHD
Monday, July 22, 2019
When I was in graduate school, I literally thought I was dying—having severe palpitations and waking up sweating and unable to feel my limbs. A few cardiology tests later, it turned out it was anxiety: body-paralyzing, completely overwhelming panic attacks and night terrors. Chalk it up to not sleeping, too much caffeine, demanding work and school schedules, family things—it was undeniable.
Being a naturally anxious, type-A person (please find me someone with a heart condition who isn't, I would love to talk shop!), having CHD can be quite a rough diagnosis. But sometimes, there’s a silver lining in it. Here’s how anxiety really helped me personally get in tune with my body.
Concerned cardiology visits turned to therapy sessions and some self-searching, aka practicing ways to calm down. While I won't say I'll ever be “cured” of my anxiety, being able to know when it is anxiety versus an actual cardiac episode is something that I've slowly learned as I've become more in-tune with my body.
A few of the self-care tips that have helped and things I’ve learned in my 10-year journey with anxiety:
Warm compresses on my face and neck—while it sounds very intuitive, it’s relaxing, calming, and has the effects of a massage experience.
Meditation and Yoga
Mindfulness is one of the hardest things to achieve, and being a type-A quite busy business owner who loves a good multi-tasking session, this was virtually impossible. But even if it’s downloading the Calm app and spending two minutes a day sitting with yourself—doing nothing but listening to it tell you to breathe—you’re doing something.
We all know the basics: low saturated fat, go easy on red meat, eat your veggies—the list goes on. But when you have CHD, you take these things a bit more seriously. I was always told never to put on extra weight if I could help it, which I've tried to follow with a healthy diet low in red meat and high in fiber/veggies. While some can have caffeine, for me that is a definite no as I'll have palpitations for days. It's all about listening to your body—and yes, your doctor. Caffeine and chocolate were the first on the list to go, and it helped both heart and nerves, that’s for sure.
If you've grown up with CHD, then you know it's a common occurrence to hear doctors to tell you conflicting things about exercising. “Don't exercise too much, don't do competitive sports, don't lift weights” were the ones I heard the most. While I mostly listened to their advice, it was also a really great way to figure out how in-tune I was with my body and what I enjoy to get my blood and heart rate up without feeling overwhelmed. Alternate, less intensive ways to get exercise (besides running, which was never my friend/desire) that I began to enjoy: bike riding, dance, aerobics, and even light weight training became a central part of my life. Oh and yoga? We're getting there. Marathon training? No thanks—you couldn't even get me there with a normal heart. Exercise and endorphins worked miracles for me.
Research on “relaxation” for heart and its beneficial effects—there’s plenty.
If getting a massage and a pedicure is what relaxes you, schedule it in. If drinking a cup of tea and spending time reading a book or watching a favorite TV show makes you happy, do it. These small things matter and contribute to our well-being over time.
Write It Down
Journaling, keeping notes, even if in my phone—can be quite calming. In fact, that’s where I wrote this little piece. Write down whenever you’re feeling anxious.
Talk to Someone
While these blogs do not provide medical advice, I’m thinking of the advice I’d give anyone in my/our shoes and which has worked for me—seek some therapy. If not to deal with heart-related issues, just to deal with life’s every day occurrences and bigger picture. It can work immensely when you give it a shot.
These are just a few of the ways that I truly got to the core of my bouts with severe anxiety. And although it can rear its ugly head at any time, I know that I have a few tools to break it down before it affects my well-being. Hope these help you, too.
Add yours below.
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The contents of this blog are presented for informational purposes only, and should not be substituted for professional advice. Always consult your physicians with your questions and concerns.