When I started getting panic attacks over a decade ago, I immediately was prescribed an anti-anxiety med alongside an antidepressant. My doctor told me that these episodes of intense fear were “normal” for a young, college-age women and that I would most likely need medication for the rest of my life.
That is when I stopped going to doctors and started to become my own health advocate, looking far and wide for any type of natural anxiety treatment known to man. At first, I was looking for things to treat my symptoms. That’s when I found L-Theanine, a game changer for my anxiety because it acted like a natural Xanax. Theanine is a natural amino acid found in teas that produces a state of calm alertness. For me, it helped at the onset of a panic attack and I would carry it with me EVERYWHERE I went.
But over time, I wanted to look deeper into my panic attacks and anxiety, and treat the root cause. I started seeing a therapist who helped me process feelings of abandonment and betrayal from my childhood, and things improved but not all the way. After several sessions, she suggested that I start meditating. At first, I was hesitant, but this same answer kept coming up in every Google search that I went on, trying to find answers to treat chronic anxiety, not just the symptoms.
It wasn’t until I picked up a book called “Stress Less, Accomplish More” that I found the evidence for mindfulness meditation that I was unknowingly looking for. The author, Emily Fletcher, provided scientific evidence on how mindfulness meditation can actually shrink the size of your amygdala in a matter of 8 weeks. The amygdala is the infamous “fight or flight” center of the brain that is responsible for panic attacks and every other type of fear response. By shrinking it’s size through mindfulness meditation, you are actually changing the way your brain responds to fear, and you will eventually experience less anxiety and panic over time.
The Fight or Flight mode that our body enters when we are in danger for our lives is necessary to keep us safe from harm. However, when this part of the brain is overly active, like in people who experience panic attacks, the response is unwarranted and can create chronic stress in the body over time. Mindfulness meditation has also been proved to help with chronic pain, addiction, tinnitus and symptoms of certain physical conditions, such as irritable bowel syndrome, cancer, and HIV.
When starting a meditation practice, I suggest starting with guided meditations. You can find thousands of guided meditations on YouTube, or there are plenty of apps like Headspace that can provide daily meditations that suit your style. Start with 10 minutes a day and slowly increase by 5 minutes every week until you hit something that is sustainable with your lifestyle. For example, you could do 15 minutes twice per day, or do 30-60 minutes all at once. Try a few different methods out until you find what works for you!