25 May 2011
Macrobiotic food consultant Shonali Sabherwal turned inward to get over her panic attacks
In January this year, something started happening, which I had never experienced before – every time I flipped sides in my sleep my heart rate increased rapidly, and it felt like I had come off a treadmill after a run. It was accompanied with breathlessness and panic. My doctor said it was ‘atrial fibrillation’ or an abnormal heart rhythm. This continued till March and I did nothing to address it. Each time it happened, I would sit up and take a few deep breaths, smell eucalyptus oil and go back to bed.
When I started analysing what was happening, I realised I was going through stress on account of my business and a recent relationship. It was a classic case of anxiety – worry, nervousness, fear, apprehension, concern or restlessness.
Normal feelings of anxiety often serve as an alarm system, alerting you to danger. But too much anxiety can be debilitating and interferes with your daily routine. However, trying to force anxiety out of your life is like trying to force an idea out of your mind by hitting your head against the wall. It doesn’t work.
In my case, because my food habits were good, my triggers were emotional. Once I established this, here is what I did:
I addressed my emotional triggers with a psychologist. On the work front, I set such high standards for myself, I often get disappointed and fail to notice my accomplishments. I can be a harsh critic of myself. I started focussing on my accomplishments and let go of self–criticism.
On the personal front, I always pictured myself as loving, compassionate and a super woman. But I am only human and have other aspects of which I am nonaccepting. I could get too trusting and co–dependent, and because I left myself emotionally vulnerable, I kept beating myself about it. This is something that surfaced perhaps for the first time in my life. I had to learn to accept all of myself – the good, bad, and ugly. Taking a spiritual view helped me do this.
I enjoy writing and so I wrote a lot during this time. I cultivated humour, which I lack otherwise, with funny pieces. Writing is known to release ‘serotonin’ (a neurotransmitter that promotes confidence and security).
Change in Routine
I work long hours. I break my day with a swim, yoga or exercise. This helps me re–charge for the next half of the day. I don’t have to tell you about the endorphins released while exercising.
I increased my meditation (Vipassana) time to two hours a day instead of the one hour I was doing. I suggest whatever helps – kriyas, pranayam, breathing exercises, laughter clubs, knitting, chanting. Please use anything that keeps your heart in a state of ‘joy’. In this hectic life, we lose touch with the simple tools that help us function in tandem with the rhythm of the universe.
I focussed on simpler meals of whole grain, beans, vegetables, quality fermented foods, soups. I don’t drink tea, coffee, stimulants, or eat sugar, or chocolates, which people with anxiety issues must stop.
I also incorporated bitter foods into my daily diet, which I also advocate – mustard greens, amaranth (whole grain), asparagus, aruhgula leaves, fenugreek (methi), celery, dark chocolate, gourd, dandelion (baunphal), papaya, karela, curry leaves, liquorice root (mulathi), and leafy greens.
Add, corn, quinoa, red pumpkin (bhopla), kidney beans, melons and berries to your daily diet. However, the most important thing was realising that no one is perfect and are all fallible. With the simplicity of what I incorporated into my life, I bounced back to normal.