Five years ago, I was on a hike with my parents, deep in the Rocky Mountains. My parents were nearing their 60’s, but have always been highly active and healthy people, with the exception of my dad having a heart condition called atrial fibrillation (rapid heart rate) and an anxiety disorder.
We were 6-1/2 miles into this strenuous hike when my father began to have heart palpitations, sweating, and rapid breathing. Something, and we don’t know what, triggered one of his anxiety attacks, but this time we were in serious trouble, because his medication was back in the car. His heart condition started to act up as well, his left arm was going numb and my mom was panicking right alongside him. He was dangerously close to collapsing.
“Being that deep in the mountains, there was no way to call for help.”
No cell phone signals, and it would take several hours to get through the rocky terrain to the head of the trail to call for help. We didn’t have that kind of time. I remembered in one of my physiology classes years ago that one of the best ways to calm the central nervous system was to have the person hug their chest and then have someone else squeeze them tightly. Deep breathing was also necessary to help slow the heart rate and calm the nerves.
My dad’s face was flushed and his eyes were full of fear. I calmly instructed my dad to hug his chest and to follow my breathing pattern. I wrapped my arms around him, and told my mom to do the same and she squeezed him with me. After a few breaths, when he was finally able to take them with me, he began to calm down and his pulse rate started to slow.
His face went back to normal color and he told us, very playfully… “get off me, you feel like a human straightjacket.”
He was exhausted, but he was alive. He told me later he was certain he was going to die that day, and that is why he has done everything in his power since then to learn alternative measures to controlling anxiety. He started with learning the true value of deep breathing exercises, which he learned through a regular yoga practice with my mom, and he also learned to control his thoughts with positive affirmations.
For over 30 years, my dad was taking up to 4 mg of Xanax daily to control his anxiety. Today, he is doing yoga, meditating, listening to my advice (for once) and is down to 0.25 mg of Xanax only as needed, which is very rare. He has not only been able to cut down his anxiety medications, but his heart condition improved as well and he was able to cut those medications too.
It took my dad a long time to hike into the mountains again, but today, he is hiking more than ever and doing so with the knowledge that should anxiety strike and threaten his life again, he would know exactly what to do.
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