As a teenager and into early adulthood, I struggled with severe panic attacks before there was even a name for them and, back then, you didn't dare tell anyone what you experiencing, lest you be deemed crazy. Feeling alone and not voicing it made it all the worse. My step mother - whom we considered the health guru since her dad was a doctor, asked me questions that seemed to make no sense. "Have you eaten today?" The answer, most often, was "No!" As a counseling, then psyche major my focus was on trying to find some etiology for my symptoms and, to be perfectly honest, what I was learning in college about it was pretty grim. It took a trip to the emergency room to know that something needed to change, if I could only figure out what! Over time, I began learning about holistic health and mind-body connection and realized that drinking six cups of coffee a day - on an empty stomach - and then drinking wine at night and eating the typical college diet of pizza and Mexican food (margaritas included) may well factor into the problem.
Coming from a split home and having had some childhood traumas - a cousin who drowned, numerous students, teachers and parents in my small town suffering sudden deaths during high school - it seemed most certain that this anxiety and panic was rooted somewhere in these tragedies. But it didn't matter what attempts I made through therapy, smoking, alcohol, and even yoga and meditation. Nothing could penetrate that anxiety as long as my diet continued to be as it had been. For a test, I stopped drinking coffee for several years (now mix half decaf and half regular) and began eating high protein, but small meals or snacks every two-to-three hours. Anyone who has panic attacks knows that solutions offered when you are in a sensitized state render hopeless on your ears so I was unprepared for the immediate and completely effective change.
The panic attacks stopped immediately and I was able to quickly see that, tragic as those events were, they did not have to haunt me for the rest of my life and, in fact, were not even remotely tied to the anxiety. What I didn't realize at the time is that when we are in a state of dysfunction, distress, dis-ease - basically being out of balance - for a length of time, we adjust our behaviors, beliefs, and interactions accordingly. Relationships formed during that time play by different rules of engagement then those that are formed in healthy times and those rules don't work when we are healthy. Therefore, there is still work to be done - often undoing patterns developed during that time. But in order to get to that point, we must FIND OUR BASELINE! Correcting the diet and any habits that put our bodies into stress is what first brings us to our baseline.
Once we find our baseline, many of the things we thought were trauma and problems naturally fall away. Then the relationships and habits that we formed during that time can be clearly seen and we can begin our work there. Two analogies make this clearer. Think of a car. If we don't change the fluids, keep oil levels filled and water in the radiator, it can overheat or blow an engine because we haven't given the car what it needs. When it has no gas, it simply stops running. What if your car was out of gas and, knowing nothing about automobiles, you took it to get a new transmission (that it didn't need) but didn't fill the tank. What would happen if you tried to start the car? Would the problem be fixed? We do the same with our bodies by not giving it the basic and proper nutrients that it needs (hint: fast and processed foods are not it) and then we expect it to run with all fluids on empty. When it breaks down - via displaying symptoms at first - we give it a new transmission (medication) and then try to continue on with no fluids - wondering why we are in perpetual states of dis-ease, illness, and emotional distress with no results.
The next analogy is that of an onion. Think of your baseline as taking the loose peels off an onion. The loose peels are the 'noise'. Noise are the things that block you from truly knowing where you stand - your baseline. Once you get to the tighter peels - that still need to come off in order for the onion to be completely edible - these are the true things that need work - and this is often the unspoken relationship rules and the habits that you developed in a time of imbalance. Today, I challenge you to find your baseline. Look at your habits - eating and drinking, exercise or lack of, smoking, caffeine, or anything else that may be throwing you off balance. Consider eating home-cooked meals made from scratch (boxed and packaged mixes are not scratch!) Add fresh (not canned or processed) fruits and vegetables to your diet. Fresh (live) foods have energy and give your body that energy. Think about your caffeine intake, your alcohol consumption, and exercise habits. Are they feeding you or bleeding you? Remember, an initial feed can quickly become a bleed when we overindulge or continue to indulge after it's useful expiration date. Are there people or relationships that have expired their usefulness in your life? Or that never should have been there in the first place? Basically, everything in our lives feeds or bleeds us. Ask yourself what your bleeds are. GET TO YOUR BASELINE! Always start with nutrition, diet and exercise, then look at who and what you have surrounded yourself with. When you discover your baseline, that's when the vision and goal becomes clear, and the true, adventurous work can be done.