I planted one foot in front of the other, feeling into each step as I allowed my hips and arms to swing wide. Breathing in deeply, slowly, my lungs filled up with the crisp fall air.
I could smell the prior day’s rain in the damp leaves on the ground around me, and I tasted the clean water from the bottle I brought with me. I spread my fingers and opened my hands to feel the breeze touch my skin, my cheeks, and my lips. I gazed up at the golden sunset making stained glass cathedrals of the leaves of the trees as it slowly blended the sky into a backdrop of soft blues that faded into pinks, oranges and reds.
I was in the middle of some sensual nature therapy. And I was using it to help me through yet another transition.
In this case, transitioning from feeling a deep sense of sadness over some current situations, and back into a sense of peace, and gratitude.
Transitions occur on a daily basis, but most of the time we don’t even notice them.
We tend to think of “transitions” as meaning something big and life-changing. And certainly, they are that. On a collective level we’ve all been going through some tremendously large transitions this past year what with Covid and all the chaos it’s created.
And on an individual level many more of us have also been experiencing other large life transitions this past year as well. Raise your hand if you went through (or are going through) at least one of the six big life events recognized by therapists as ones that create the highest stress levels:
The loss of a job or the beginning of a new one
Moving out of your home and into a new place
Serious health issues in ourselves and/or someone close to us
The ending of a serious relationship and/or beginning of a new one
The birth of a child
The death of a loved one
Job. Home. Health. Relationships. Birth. Death.
Those six are constantly shifting and changing in our lives, and generally if we are going through one or two of them at the same time, we can handle it. But for a lot of people this past year they’ve gone through four or even all five of them – at the same time. This on top of the world crisis that has caused so much division and extreme chaos.
This can cause a lot of stress, to put it mildly.
In my case, it caused panic attacks.
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Joyful, happy, anticipated and exciting can cause stress
It’s interesting to note that even the things which are joyful, happy, anticipated and exciting can cause stress. Just because it’s a transition doesn’t mean it’s a scary or negative thing.
Buying your first home, the birth of a child, finding a new important person in your life, beginning a new job that you wanted – all of these are really wonderful things. They are the joy-bringers in life that make it worth living. They are the memories we cherish and want to hold onto. But even they can create chaos or anxiety as we navigate them.
There’s the worry over getting started on the new job and making it work. The hassle of Escrow and the move itself into that beautiful first home. The nervousness of wondering how the other person feels as you get to know them, or (depending on your insecurities) how you feel about them getting to know you. The overwhelm every new parent feels, especially once that child is here and they have to figure out, well, everything about it.
And whether we recognize it or not, we are having to pick our way through some sort of transition on a daily basis.
We may not see them as part of the “Big Six”- but in a way, even the smallest of changes are connected to one or all of them.
We look in the mirror and realize we are aging. Which, as my husband says, is better than the only other alternative. But still – sometimes it can come as a shock to our system to see that slow transition happening on a daily basis.
Or we lose a friendship we thought would last forever. Maybe they moved away, or maybe this past year just helped to create a division the two of you cannot seem to overcome. Or maybe they just… ghosted you, as the kids would say. Disappeared out of your life. Hurt you in some way. Couldn’t be there for you when you needed them to be. Or you weren’t able to be there for them. Whatever.
The reality is, while it may not be a “significant” relationship in terms of the “big six” – it was and is still significant to you. Every relationship is.
One of the transitions I was having to work through with my sensual nature therapy walk is the grief over a family member who recently had a severe stroke and is fighting for her life. She is young, younger than I am, too young for this. The possibility of losing her – and the reality of how her life will be if she recovers – deeply affected me.
I thought of all the dreams she and I had spoken about over the years, of the plans she’d told me about, of the long-term laughter and love we’d both hoped to share into our futures. I thought about our various insecurities and talking about wanting to look a certain way or have a certain kind of successful career or do something extravagant with our lives.
And I realized that the only thing that really matters is her presence in my life.
It’s all that we require of anyone, when it comes down to it.
So when someone pulls that presence away from you, regardless of what that relationship is, it can hurt. And that’s a transition that may not be large, but is still important to work through.
Grounding into the sensuality of my five senses has helped to keep me sane.
After my mom passed at the end of 2020, we went into another round of lock-downs in our area. The small bubble of friends we’d allowed ourselves to have during the Covid lockdown times was now disbanded as we went into the holidays and new year. Most chose to stay home and stay away from all others as the numbers of sick in our county and state rose to extreme levels. Others literally moved away and out of my life completely.
So it was that for several months I found myself with the support only of my husband (and I as his support) – and I was and am so grateful to have had that. However, as the new year of 2021 unfolded, various stressors caused me to feel extremely anxious, completely alone, and out of control, and that’s when I found myself experiencing something I’d never had before. Not even when I went through breast cancer.
I began to have panic attacks.
I didn’t know this is what they were at first. For several months I knew there were physical issues happening with my body, but I didn’t associate them with the fear, anxiety, worry and overall hurt I was feeling. Mainly because they’d often appear after the actual stressful event, when I was relaxed and even in a place where I felt safe.
I spoke to my husband about it a bit, but I didn’t want to burden him. There were other friends and family members I knew who would listen, but they were also going through so many things themselves at the time, it was the same reaction in me – I didn’t want to be a burden on them either. So I kept it inside.
I felt I ought to be stronger. I ought to deal with it on my own. I ought to be the one giving advice, taking the phone calls, having the shoulder to lean on – not the other way around.
Basically, I was going through a classic case of anxiety and depression, with a side helping of a sense of isolation and pain that dug me deeper into the hole.
Just at the moment when I was feeling I couldn’t ask for help from my friends, it was, of course, my friends who reached out and helped me anyway. (Isn’t that so often the case?)
Once things began to open up again, so did our lives.
We began to see our friends and family and as we did, they reminded me that
(a) their shoulders are wide and I can cry on them anytime,
(b) they want me to call and
(c) they have great advice to give, and love to share it with me.
And so, during a visit with one such dear friend, she saw me begin to go into a panic attack. Realizing what was happening, she hugged me first, and then she gave me a book to read that had helped her, and finally she gave me some really great advice.
She told me how to use the sensuality of my senses to bring me back into my body and use this to ground myself when I began to feel I was spinning out of control.
This method she showed me is one of three things I began to practice consistently these past months that brought me out of those panic attacks and back into a calm balance again. All of them use the sensuality of my senses, in varying degrees.
So here are my three “Panic Attack Prevention Practices,” perhaps they will help you too:
Panic Attack Prevention Practices
Meditate, meditate, meditate. Daily.
The type of meditation I use is focused on the breath. It is just turning your mind onto the breath itself and feeling it in your body as the air from outside enters into your lungs and fills them. Allowing yourself to really feel that in your body as you then breathe it slowly back out again. If you can, do it in a slow count of four… breathing in to four beats, holding it for four beats, breathing out to four beats, staying still and empty for four beats, then breathing in for four beats once again. But it’s not necessary – it is more about forcing the mind to pay attention to what the sensation of breathing is like in your body.
For those so inclined, you could use a guided meditation by someone such as Deepak Chopra to help you get into the focus of it. He has so many good ones, and free ones, that are simple and easy to understand. But not everyone is into that, and for those who aren’t, this simple method of just focusing on your breath itself will help bring you into your body, which helps to relax you while clearing your mind.
The goal is to get your mind to quiet down from the chatter that keeps circling around in it keeping you from being able to fully calm down. It’s also getting you in touch with the rhythms of yourself – not just your breath, but the sensation of air as it enters your body through your nose and mouth and travels down into your lungs, the sensation of your heartbeat, of your blood as it flows through your veins. It’s helping you to feel the calmness that is naturally within your body with every breath you take and every pump of your heart.
Note that meditation is different from prayer in that it is about being quiet and listening, whereas prayer is really about, as the Bible says; “letting your requests be made known to God…”.
Prayer is about releasing your thoughts and speaking out your emotions – both the fears and the gratitude – and handing that over to a higher power. I highly recommend prayer as well, because prayer and meditation go hand in hand and are a beautiful balance together.
Touch yourself – go ahead, it’s natural
This is the method my friend showed me that helped her, and has helped me. It is very similar to the Tapping Method that Nick Ortner has developed.
When you begin to go into a spin of anxiety, fear, panic, whatever – stop. Whatever you are doing, saying, thinking, just stop, and close your eyes, and begin to pat or tap yourself.
She had me cross my arms over each other so that my right hand patted my left arm and vice versa, but it’s really about just touching your body with your hands. Tap your hands or your palms or fingertips along your face, your arms, your thighs, your belly… basically lightly pat or tap yourself on various places on your body, starting with your forehead or face and moving downward, crossing your arms over your body so that your right hand is patting your left side and vice versa.
She then told me to say to myself as I did this; “I am here, in this body. I am present in this body. I am safe in this body. I am aware of this body. I am OK here in this moment in this body right now.”
It doesn’t really matter what you say, just use words that make you feel calmer or bring a sense of safety and peace to you. The point was to, again, turn my entire awareness onto my body and my five senses in the present moment. By doing that, it helped to take me out of the spin cycle of anxiety producing thoughts that were keeping me in crisis mode.
This was my friend’s method, and I modified it a bit to work for me, but I highly suggest looking into The Tapping Method for more information about how this simple technique really helps to calm you, especially when going through a highly stressful time.
Get out and take a walk
I had been going for nearly daily walks during most of Covid, and even before that, but during those months when I began to go into panic attacks I’d stopped my walking habit.
So it was significant to me that when I began to walk on a daily basis again, that my heart issues and anxiety also went down again as well. There was an obvious correlation.
Of course, we know that walking, or any kind of daily exercise, is good for your heart on a physical level. But I experienced it also being good for my heart on an emotional level. And this in turn made it even better for it on the physical level as it reduced my anxiety and the panic attacks went away.
As I walked, especially when I went on walks alone, I focused on my body – once again, utilizing all of my senses to really allow myself to feel into my body, to be present in my body. It’s what I described at the top of this article. I purposely focused on different aspects of the physical sensations of walking, bringing my conscious awareness into it.
This not only made the walks more enjoyable as I found myself more in tune with the nature around me and appreciating it, but it made them go by faster. Suddenly walking for an hour became easy to do, and I had to force myself to head home to get back to work or get dinner or whatever it was that was next in my day.
Invariably after a walk, I come back in a better mood than when I left.
I wasn’t trying to push myself with these walks either. I wasn’t trying to train for a marathon or make it a specific “exercise walk.” I purposely chose to make this simply and quite literally… a walk in the park. By doing this I took any pressure off myself to “perform” in some way, to have to be strong or fast or “get healthy.”
Instead of a chore, it became a pleasure to do, something I was doing for leisure and relaxation, rather than as a workout of some kind. And consequently, I began to get better at it, walking faster, further and longer. Ironically, I began to get healthier anyway, despite my leisurely attitude toward the walk.
And it gave me my nature therapy.
These simple exercises were easy to do, and yet they had profound healing effects on me. They really did help me to center myself into the present moment awareness I needed in order to face everything from a place of inner strength and confidence.
By refocusing my mind onto my five senses in this second of Now, it forced my mind to let go of the scenarios running through it that were causing me chaos inside. Scenarios that either brought me pain because they were reliving and rehashing hurtful memories from the past, or caused me to fear because they were imagining the worst that could happen in the future. Scenarios that were doing nothing but creating that anxiety that led to the panic attacks.
The irony is that, as we know, it is only in the present moment of Now that we can actually do anything to remedy the past or prepare for the future.
It is only in the present moment of Now that we have any control.
And the only thing we have any control over in the present moment of Now is ourselves.
But this is all we need.
Happy Mind. Happy Planet. Happy Headlines for Good Living!
Happy Headlines for good living! Mind. Body. Soul. Earth. It’s all connected & taking care of each leads to a happier, healthier life & planet.
By JEANETTE DUBOIS
Jeanette is a film & tv editor, writer, director and producer who’s worked on Emmy & Telly Award winning shows, movies, and music videos for a variety of networks. She’s also a trained operatic who mostly sings to her cats now, though sometimes she expands her audience to her family & friends. She loves gardening, good books, good wine, and good conversations, preferably all at the same time.
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