What to Do *Instead of* Taking Deep Breaths to Treat an Anxiety or Panic Attack

Mental-health issues are becoming less stigmatized and easier to talk about by the day, especially with celebs like Mariah Carey and Carson Daly getting real about their personal struggles. Still, articulating the experience of having conditions like depression or anxiety can seem confusing or even impossible, so larger scale conversations about defining, then researching and treating them can likewise suffer. A product of this plagues panic disorders, a condition that the Anxiety and Depression Association of America reports effects 2 to 3 percent of the national population each year, despite many of these people not even knowing what they’re battling is treatable.

Both anxiety and panic attacks can feel like having a heart attack, says therapist and social worker Scott Dehorty, executive director of a mental-health treatment facility: They can bring about dizziness, loss of balance, increased heart rate, nausea, chest discomfort or pain, choking sensation, and sweating. If you find yourself experiencing this scary laundry list of no-fun symptoms, you’ve likely been told (maybe even by yourself!) to try to calm down and take deep breaths. But that might not be the best course of action.

Psychologist and Mindsail expert Carder Stout, PhD, says the best breathing technique during these attacks is to “take medium, regulated breaths, inhaling through your nose and exhaling with your mouth” since both deep and shallow breaths pose their own issues. Deep breaths have been thought to exacerbate the problem by elongating the hyperventilation that commonly occurs during an attack. Alternatively, Dr. Stout says breathing too shallowly “can cause a feeling of suffocation and increase the levels of terror.” In addition to taking medium measured breaths, he says it can be helpful to imagine “that you are breathing in love and blowing out negative energy.”

But your breath might not be the only function to focus on in order to quell a panic attack; in fact, Dr. Stout contends the best thing you can do is actually irrelevant to breathing. Rather, he suggests addressing your body’s need to calm down by “taking off your shoes and socks and getting your feet in the dirt.” This is not a metaphor, folks—Dr. Stout heavily advocates this practice, AKA grounding

To have a grounding sesh, find a patch of nature (grass, dirt, sand, etc.), and really get your feet in there. What comes next is all about mindfulness: “Imagine that all of the harmful, negative, anxious energy is flowing through your body and into the earth,” Dr. Stout says. Then, “imagine that all of the nutrients, minerals, vitamins, and positive energy is now flowing from the earth back into your body.”

If you can’t bury your feet in literal dirt when panic strikes, Dr. Stout says to excuse yourself from whatever situation you’re in—whether that’s work or a social gathering—and find a quiet place to recover. While there, close your eyes for a moment and conjure a place you’ve been that’s relaxing, safe, and calming to you. Once you’re mentally in this space, he instructs to then visualize yourself grounding. “Remember, anxiety is energy, and it can flow out of the body and mind just a quickly as it arrives.” 

Although anxiety and panic attacks can be terrifying, learning coping mechanisms can help you feel more prepared and in control when they strike. Just consider it a bonus when those tools happen to involve restorative, mindful exercises you can practice at any time.


As published in Well + Good

How to Spring Clean Your Mind

Even though Punxsutawney Phil saw his shadow on Groundhog Day, the beginning of March is making us dream about spring break, pastel wardrobes, and — you guessed it — spring cleaning. While we often associate the warmer weather with a physical decluttering, it’s worth taking a page from the mindfulness book to declutter your brain too. Taking care of your mental health is so important, and spring is a great cue from nature to pause for some self-care. Experts from Mindsail — a wellness app that offers on-demand programs from experts in the mental health field — have some tips to encourage our mental spring cleaning.

1. Get rid of “toxic waste.” Sometimes it’s hard to tell when a relationship (platonic or romantic) is causing you stress — and other times, it’s perfectly obvious. Wherever you fall on this spectrum, Dr. Jill Weber recommends taking a moment to think critically about the relationships in your life. Her measuring stick for toxic relationships? Fulfillment. “Many people feel stuck in an unfulfilling relationship,” she said. “But sometimes, it can be hard to see the signs when you’re right in the middle of it.” If a relationship isn’t making you feel fulfilled — or if it’s actually taking away from your feelings of fulfillment — consider taking a step back to focus on other people in your life. In this way, your mental spring cleaning mirrors your physical spring cleaning; you’re simply removing parts of your life that no longer benefit you.

2. Allow yourself to physically declutter. “We collect things for a number of reasons: Maybe we think we’ll need to use it later, it has sentimental value, or we spent good money on it so we feel we need to keep it — even if we haven’t touched it in weeks, months, or years,” says Mindsail expert Lauren Wallack. “But oftentimes clutter in the eyes leads to clutter in the mind.” Utilize physical spring cleaning in order to feel less overwhelmed by your space. A great way to start is to start small: You don’t need to clean your whole home or apartment from top to bottom in order to feel decluttered. Instead, tackle one room or space at a time. Begin with your coat closet, for instance — or take a weekend and focus solely on your makeup drawer. When you devote energy toward making your living space as livable and happy as possible, your brain will feel the positive effects.

3. Overcome your emotional attachments to clutter. One way to physically and mentally declutter is to consider your emotional attachments to your stuff. “Whether you’re letting go of an old pair of jeans you’ve been saving until you lose the weight, or an ugly sweater your friend bought you for your birthday, it’s important to assess the true value of that item,” Mindsail expert Aimee Falchuk suggests. “How much enjoyment is it really bringing you? If those pants are just reminding you of your self-consciousness or you’re holding onto that sweater just to please your friend, it’s time to chuck them.” By letting go of the physical reminders of emotional turmoil, you’ll feel mentally refreshed and ready to tackle the rest of 2018.

As seen on Brit + Co

Want to be happier? Try a mental detox

We all want to be happy, successful and confident, but the reality is we have no idea how to achieve this. When it comes to our physical fitness, the formula is simple – workout regularly, eat a clean diet and get lots of sleep. We even have a plethora of digital tools and wearables to help us track every step taken and calorie burned to reach our wellness goals. But when it comes to our mental health, the rule book isn’t as simple. While our physical diet, activity and sleep are all important aspects of our mental well-being, a large part of our happiness is derived from our environment.

I’m sure you’ve heard the saying “you are what you eat”. Just as important as diet is to physical fitness, what we feed our minds has an impact on our emotional well-being. If you surround yourself with negative people, you’re likely to find yourself in a worse mood.

Thanks to technology, the mental diet we’re eating is full of crap.  We’ve become dependent on our devices, and as much as they add value to our lives, they also deplete our energy and dissipate our focus because of the fractured and abbreviated nature of the content they expose us to. Tweets, Instagram posts, and Snapchat clips have significantly displaced novels, movies and other lengthy and substantive forms of content. As a result of this shift towards bite-size, mindless content, opportunities for self-reflection and growth have diminished.

Furthermore, we spend hours a day analyzing other peoples’ lives that we forget to fully live in and appreciate our own.  We feel sorry for ourselves that our lives aren’t as fun and glamorous as they appear in other people’s feeds (news flash: it’s all a mirage).  We live such curated lives through social media where we are (literally!) filtering out only the good, happy times and hiding the real struggles that build character and help us feel more connected to others.

Unfortunately, these changes are here to stay, so the solution isn’t to pine for the good old days. Instead, it’s up to us to make a conscious effort to eliminate these digital distractions and seek out content that aids in our personal growth. Take a mental detox by turning off the news, deleting Instagram from your phone, and avoiding anyone who creates negative energy around you. Seek out content that inspires and educates you. The healthier and more positive content you feed your mind, the more emotionally fit you will become.

The Power Trio: 3 Foods You Should Eat First Thing in the Morning

Many of us think of nutrition from a purely physical perspective. But eating well doesn’t just affect the way you look, it also plays a huge role in regulating your mood and creating healthy brain functionality. Having a balanced, nutrient-rich diet helps increase your memory, boosts your energy and can even make you happier and less stressed. I think we can all cheers a celery stick to that!

I’m sure you’ve heard the saying “you are what you eat”.  Well, this doesn’t mean you’ll turn into a cow if you eat too much cheese. What this means is that you are the sum of the nutrients you eat, and each nutrient plays a different role in how our bodies function. Eating high-quality foods that contain an abundance of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants nourishes the brain and protects it from free radicals, which can cause cancer and other serious health issues.

Studies have shown that healthy diets such as the Mediterranean diet - which is high in lean proteins, healthy fats, fruits and vegetables – reduce the risk of depression by 25-30% in people that eat it versus those that eat a diet high in fats and sugar.

What we eat also plays a huge role on our energy levels.  Mindsail expert and Holistic Health Coach, Daniela Kende, says the biggest myth to increase energy is to turn to energy drinks.  These “energy sinks”, as she refers to them, are simply stimulants that spike your energy temporarily, but ultimately lead you to crash later on in the day. Instead, people should turn to fresh fruit, iron-rich foods such as spinach, and foods high in omega-3 such as fish and nuts, to increase their energy and keep their blood sugar levels steady throughout the day.

To start your day right, Kende recommends eating within the first hour of waking up in order to jumpstart your metabolism and get your brain functioning properly. She recommends people stick to the power trio: fiber, fat and protein.  This will ensure your energy levels stay elevated throughout the day, and your mind is clear and energized to take on any challenges that come your way.

Your Dreams Are Real So Pay Attention

By Dr. Carder Stout

Did you ever have a dream as a kid that sent you scurrying to your parent’s room? You were convinced that the dream was real, but your parents reassured you it was not. They may have said, “Don’t worry. It was only a dream. It wasn’t real.” As you curled up between them and fall back asleep there was a whisper of safety tucked in next to you. The two people you trusted most had delivered a message that was designed to lull you back to sleep. And it did.

No wonder most people disregard their dreams. We’ve been conditioned to believe that they’re insignificant and unimportant — we discard them like the unread sections of the morning paper. We live in a culture that is focused on what is real. We want to know more about the things we can see and touch — like how to make a heart in the foam of a decaf latte or who makes the softest t-shirts. There is so much external stimulation drawing us out, we have forgotten how to look inside.

When we sleep we hover in a realm that traverses the unconscious and the conscious. The images in our dreams are meant to help us rebalance ourselves when the psyche becomes damaged and fractured. They are a lantern in the darkest of night to shepherd us back to health and well-being.

Dream Analysis

Humans are spiritual beings. We are comprised of both essence and matter. We have a shape from flesh and bone that encapsulates our purest self — the soul, which is our most authentic being. It is the part of us that feels deep love and resounds in great joy. It is our elemental self lodged in faith and understanding.

As soon as we experienced pain, loss, or fear we began to develop the counterpart to the soul — our shadow. Our shadow consists of the qualities we repress, deny, or dislike in ourselves. It is the dark side of our personality. The shadow grows as we experience suffering and hardship in our human form. Each one of us is a hybrid blend of shadow and soul. We are a balance of what is seen and unseen.

All of the figures in our dreams represent aspects of ourselves. There is not one but many of us present at any given moment. You are a mother, a father a businesswoman, a friend, a chef, an artist, a hero, a diva, a little boy and a romantic all in the same breath. The multiple people living inside you are called personas. So, if you dream about an encounter with a painter or writer, you are dreaming about the creative energy inside your psyche. If you dream about having lunch with a group of children, you are viewing the childlike qualities that remain with you.

Try to remember all of the people, places and symbols in your dream. It may help to keep a dream journal so you can write them down first thing when you wake up. The symbols that we dream about have significance. If you dream about traveling in a red car to a house with a blue door, mind the details. What do the colors red and blue mean to you? A door may symbolize making a transition in your life. We call this process unpacking the dream images. Often dream images will unlock memories from our childhood, perhaps even our earliest memories we forgot even existed.

And what about nightmares? Well, don’t worry. The monsters in your dreams are not real. They are dark symbolic figures that represent the aspects of yourself that you do not like. So, these monsters that are chasing you are actually not trying to harm you but get your attention. They are asking to be seen and attended to because they have been neglected and their fangs have come out. The more that we try to ignore them, the more agitated they will get and the more apt they are to show up in your dreams.

Dreams are important and happen to us for a reason: Listen to them with excitement and curiosity. They will help you to understand yourself in a deeper and more honest way.

Dream Glossary — Common Dreams

These are common dreams that many people have during different phases in their lives.

Losing teeth: This is a dream you may have when moving through a transition in life, i.e. moving, changing jobs, breaking up, etc. It simply means that you are growing out of one phase and into the next — like a child losing his/her teeth. Embrace the change!

Falling: This is a dream you may have when you are feeling overwhelmed. Symbolically, the earth beneath your feet has vanished and you don’t feel like you have solid footing or a firm foundation in life. Maybe you have taken on too much and need to slow down. Take care of yourself.

People You Know: When you dream about people you know it is only natural to interpret this at face value. This is not the case. Remember that the people in your dreams represent aspects of yourself. If you dream about a close friend, then think about their strongest character traits. If you think of them as being humble then you are dreaming about the humble side of yourself.

Flying: This can be a wonderful or scary dream. If you’re up in the sky looking down and feeling blissful like a bird, this simply means you’re gaining a new perspective on something. If you’re afraid, then this could mean you’re holding onto old ideas and do not want to change your understanding.

Losing Someone: This is another unsettling dream. We tend to be afraid that we will never find them again. If you dream that you are losing your child it refers to ignoring those childlike qualities in yourself. So, play more and stop being such a grown-up. If you lose your spouse there may be a need for you to address the masculine or feminine energy that pulses through you. Remember, you are the perfect blend of both.

Being Chased: This can be a frightening dream, often demonstrating that some unresolved part of your personality needs attention. Perhaps you are being dishonest with someone or are ignoring something that has been difficult to admit. This is a shadow dream and whatever chases you is simply an unwanted aspect of yourself. Do not ignore this or it will get bigger. If you feel you cannot move and are stuck this means that you feel helpless and are not sure how to address the issue.

Dying/Being Killed/Death: These can be disturbing and confusing dreams. Do not worry — this is not a premonition that your death is near. These dreams refer to a part of yourself having a symbolic death. What in your life that is slowly slipping away? Is it your anger or your lust? Is it your dream of becoming an actress? When something in us dies we go through a natural grieving process so don’t be surprised if you feel sad. You are saying goodbye to something you have known. This can actually be a good thing as you may be losing something that was not serving you anymore. If it is someone who is killing you then you are probably in conflict about letting go. Your narcissistic need for adoration could be killing your hope for real intimacy.

Naked: This can be an unsettling dream. It refers to the fact that you feel unprotected and vulnerable, as though the shield you have put up is not working and people can now see the real you. This may create anxiety, because in our most natural form we are exposed for all to see. You may feel unprepared and shy to show the real you. Don’t worry, you’re beautiful.

Water: Water represents the unconscious. Submerging in any body of water means exploring your psyche. Enjoy!