It was a beautiful Sunday morning in Dallas and I was sitting at Church listening to the sermon. The building was completely full of families preparing themselves for another school year to start the next day. My daughter was next to me and she was excited to see her friends again after a long summer.
Suddenly I noticed the invisible force giving me signs of revisiting my body and my mind. A feeling that has been familiar to me. It started with the sensation that I can’t remain still and just relax. Because I couldn’t stay still, I started to look around and suddenly my body started to receive the signs too. I kept changing the cross of my legs, I kept touching my hands, my arms and my skin and when I least expected, my heart beat went up. In seconds, I felt that I was going to pass out. I increased my breathing, deeper and longer to calm my mind and my body, but the force kept coming back. I told myself: “Anxiety is back and I have to leave now”.
I told my daughter that I was going to the bathroom and I left. I went straight outside and I took a deep breathe looking up to the beautiful blue sky and the incredible green trees. I felt better right away. I needed the outdoors, I needed nature.
Anxiety visited me for the first time in 2017. I was in a session of meditation training as part of my Psychotherapeutic Yoga Teacher Training that I started in 2016. I remember lying on the floor and suddenly my entire body started to shake and my heart beat went up. I had never experienced something like that. I stayed for a minute or two trying to see if it would go away, but it only got worse. My brain started to spin and I felt dizzy. Feeling a little embarrassed of what was happening, I stood up and told the teacher that I needed to leave the room because I was not feeling well. I stayed outside of the practice room and I couldn’t go back. I had to go home.
It all started that morning in 2017. For a period of 12 months I faced many episodes of anxiety and panic attacks, putting me in some situations where I couldn’t even talk. My brain was completely frozen. I met my Doctor, an incredible Indian lady that has taken care of me for more than 10 years, and we went over a test for depression and anxiety. The results confirmed that I was experiencing mild depression, anxiety and panic attacks. The situation was severe and was affecting my life and I required medication to begin the rescue efforts to find calm again.
In the followed years I became deeply connected to my yoga practice during my teacher trainings between 2017 and 2019, practicing and teaching daily. Anxiety fade away, medication was not necessary anymore and my functionality was balanced. And it stayed that way until Sunday, August 8, 2021.
But what happened to me in 2017 that happened again in 2021? What were the similar scenarios that caused anxiety and panic attacks to come back? I questioned myself many times as I was trying to understand the cause of my terrible symptoms. Only when you face and feel anxiety you really understand how scared it is. My answer was: emotional experiences (trauma) and environmental effects. The combination of these two aspects can be the cause of an unbalance in the nervous system and the results can be manifested in many different types of illnesses; in my case, mental health illness.
When I look back at 2017 and compare it to my life now in 2021, I see big similarities that contributed to my anxiety. I can attest to both years seeing myself surrounded by an excessive amount of obligations, responsibilities, do’s and more do’s, lack of rest, and private life circumstances. Well, let’s add the major factor that we are still under a pandemic crisis. The social, mental and physical effects are slowly emerging to the surface as life tries to get back to “normal”, if this word will ever be the same one day.
Physiologically and scientifically speaking, when a human being gets affected severely by those aspects (trauma and environmental effects), the autonomic nervous system becomes unbalanced which can result in experiences such as anxiety and depression. The autonomic nervous system (ANS) is the part of the nervous system that regulates the internal organs (heart, lungs, intestines, brain) in the body without conscious awareness. The name reflects that the regulation occurs in an automatic manner. The ANS is divided in two branches: sympathetic (functions to increase blood flow throughout the body to support movement and fight-flight behaviors) and parasympathetic (primarily supports health, growth, and restoration). (Porges, 2017)
Science says that ANS should always, or as much as possible, operate under an optimal autonomic balance, where sympathetic and parasympathetic are regulated and balanced. For example, as you wake up in the morning after a good night sleep, your parasympathetic branch is dominant; then you brush your teeth, shower and get ready for the day; your sympathetic should take place for the day ahead. The opposite is the case as you come back home, shower, eat, and prepare yourself to sleep: from the sympathetic your brain should rest into the parasympathetic.
However, humans can often operate under unbalanced ANS and that’s what leads to the number of mental health disorders escalating nowadays. The pandemic has affected the world population's mental health in a caliber that we can’t see yet, but the invisible force of an unbalanced nervous system is everywhere. I have seen more and more requests from my students regarding their minds than their bodies; the overwhelming feeling is so impactful these days that our awareness is the key to prevent or cure what the pandemic is doing to the human being. Also, it's important to note: children and elderly are the most affected and I am not sure how much our school systems and teachers are prepared to handle. Time will show us. Presence and courage to see and find care are absolutely necessary.
In my own circumstance, it was impacting my work as a yoga teacher, my role as a mother and wife, my personal mood as I was becoming irritated, and my quality of sleep. I was under a concurrent activation of my sympathetic nervous system and going back to an optimal regulation was a must.
So how did I get back to a regulated ANS?
I acted quickly and went to see my Doctor again. Levels of serotonin should be reestablished and together we made a plan.
With myself, I made a commitment: more breaks on the yoga mat, deeply practice into the poses that would promote relaxation, safe feelings and calmness, more silence and quiet times during the day, going to bed earlier, exercise, good nutrition and slowing down my commitments. Medication for anxiety is fading away again. If I feel the invisible force coming back, as soon as possible, I lie down with my stomach on the floor and I turn my neck a few times to the right and to the left, take deep breath and close my eyes in silence until I feel balanced again. For a few times I looked into my purse and saw the pills and told myself: “no, the floor, the yoga mat and the pose will take care of my feelings now”. And it did. Silence and quiet yoga practice really were the source of me changing the rhythm of my nervous system.
I am still doing. I will be doing and this is the way I will continue my life. Once you've had anxiety, the invisible force can always visit you again. It’s very easy to fall into a concurrent activation of commitments because, at the end, that’s how the world functions. However, slowly our body, mind and spirit will reflect the negative effects of overwhelmed ANS and that’s when the situation and habits become a problem and a health issue.
I am happy to share with you that I am feeling more balanced now, my anxiety remains dormant and I am committed to a more balanced life. I also feel happy and honored to be able to share with my community that as a yoga teacher I also feel vulnerable sometimes and have my own struggles. The secret is to find support and feel safe again.
Remember. It happened to me, it can happen to you also. How would you like to be supported if anxiety or panic attack knock at your door one day? Share with me by writing to me personally at email@example.com.
Gratitude and Love