I woke up at 6:13 in the morning to find my husband sitting on the edge of the bed, gasping for air.
He stumbled into the bathroom, sat on the floor, and he sat there, crying and muttering about how he didn’t know what to do.
It was his second panic attack in less than a week.
He had never been prone to anxiety or panic attacks before, but his stress levels were like nothing he had ever experienced before, either.
Only this time was different. When he calmed down, he was confused and couldn’t remember what year it was or other simple things. When he told me he smelled burned popcorn, I knew I needed to take him to the hospital.
Google assured me that smelling burnt popcorn was not indicative of a stroke, that it was only a myth, but my intuition told me otherwise. So we headed to the VA hospital.
At first, the doctors believed what he experienced was a panic attack, and they prescribed Prozac and referred him to the mental health department. Just before they released him, however, the doctor decided to run a CT scan “just in case.”
Twenty minutes later, they told us that he’d had a stroke. A nurse came in and told me they were admitting my husband for testing, and I would need to leave. I wasn’t allowed to stay because of COVID. I was devastated.
While he was at the hospital, doctors ran an MRI and found that he had a subacute lacunar stroke, most likely when he had the first “panic attack” and an acute hippocampus stroke when he had the second one.
The doctors also ran several other tests looking for the cause of the strokes and found nothing. No blockages in his arteries. No thinning of his vessels. No leaks in his heart.
The strokes were stress-induced. It was all because of stress.
When he came home from the hospital, we talked about making some life changes, but we couldn’t remove every danger from his life.
So, how do you rid yourself of stress? He’s self-employed during a pandemic and national crisis. Life is hard for so many right now. There is no escaping what is going on in the world today, but there are tools to help manage it. Here are some of my recommendations.
Exercise or Go for a Walk
Exercising or going for a walk can be very beneficial I prefer getting outside and being in nature. Nature is very calming. Very grounding. According to Harvard Medical School, exercise helps improve your mood by releasing endorphins and makes you feel better. Time to get your body moving.
I know, I know. Meditation is hard. That is why it’s called a practice. I’ve been meditating almost daily for 12 years, and I’ve learned a few things.
Meditation isn’t about being thought-free. It’s about sitting still with your thoughts and allowing them to pass without following them down a rabbit hole.
That means when you have an intrusive thought you refocus your attention on your breath or brow/3rd eye. Some days you might only have to do this 5-6 times, and other days you will have to do it constantly. Either way, it is ok.
Plus, there are many mindful activities you can do if you feel you just can’t meditate, like mindful eating, mindful walking, or even coloring.
I love listening to Solfeggio Whole Tones. Whether or not you believe these frequencies have healing qualities, the music is generally very relaxing and peaceful. I’ve found it soothes my husband when he starts getting anxious. It slows his heart rate down, which I think makes for a winning situation.
When we get stressed, we will often hold our breath. When we get anxious, and our heart rate goes up, our breathing becomes quick, and our breathing becomes labored.
Stopping to focus on your breathing and doing a deep breathing exercise can help you regain control of the situation. Michigan Medicine suggests a method called Belly Breathing.
I know it seems like it’s “relaxing” to play games or mindlessly scroll through social media, but studies show that the heavy use of technology actually causes us stress. It’s important to unplug and have downtime. Pick up a book or use your phone and call a friend and chat instead.
I was so happy when my husband agreed to go to therapy. I think men especially hold in their thoughts and feelings instead of allowing themselves an outlet. It’s good for everyone to be able to talk to someone who isn’t emotionally invested in what you have to say.
Stress is a killer. Make no mistake.
It’s believed that up to 90% of all illnesses and disease is stress-related. Let me say that again for the people in the back—up to 90 percent. Stress is breaking down your body and making you sick.
It’s crucial to get control of it now before it is too late.
I’m very aware of how lucky we are that my husband’s strokes were minor. Especially since he had two, the next one might not be. I want to do everything I can to avoid “the next one.”
My husband just turned 56. He is too young for us to lose him. We should have a lot of good years left. And I intend to have those years.
We need to normalize these conversations. Talk about real self-care more. And have those conversations amongst circles of men as well as women. Self-care isn’t about just going to get your hair and nails did. Real self-care is managing your physical, emotional, and mental health. Keeping your stress in check is a great place to start. It could be a matter of life and death.