UPDATE: July 20, 2020: It turns out that my initial diagnosis of panic disorder was incorrect. After months of relapses and symptoms indicative of post-viral inflammation syndrome I sought answers. What I found was that I was not alone and that many other Covid-19 patients encountered the same newly recognized symptom of Covid-19 known as dysautonomia. Now, four months after my infection, I am still dealing with a form of post-viral inflammation and belong to a support group of fellow Covid-19 “long-haulers.”
I had been battling the worst sinus infection I’d ever experienced after dealing with a nasty cold the week prior. The top row of the right side of my mouth ached like an abscess and I had the most intense headache I’ve ever experienced. I found that breathing through my right nostril was no longer an option as the air passing over my sinuses felt like a hammer on a raw nerve, so I decided to use medical tape to ensure that no air could enter. Sleeping was uncomfortable and often interrupted since my left nostril was still fairly congested from my cold. The pain, lack of sleep, history of asthma and the fact that I came down with H1N1 after a trip to Japan in 2009 gave me a lot of anxiety about the newest threat. This coupled with the fact that I had been closely following YouTube channels including Dr.John Campbell, Peak Prosperity and MedCram who started covering the outbreak in China since January. Kind of like watching a monster in the distance very slowly approach until it was banging at my door.
I visited my doctor who described my condition as acute sinusitis due to an unknown viral infection. He prescribed me a 7-day supply of Amoxicillin and asked to update him if my condition changed. My cold had subsided the day of my visit and after a few days, I decided to attempt to remove the medical tape and attempt to breathe out of my right nostril for the first time in over a week. Success! No pain. Everything seemed like I was on the mend until the night of March 16th.
Am I Having a Heart Attack?
At around 5 pm, I started to feel the same cold symptoms return so I took some medicine and went to bed early. I woke up to a racing heartbeat, high blood pressure and feeling short of breath. I calmed myself down after about 20 minutes and retested my blood pressure. While still higher than normal, it was no longer in the danger zone. I had purchased a blood pressure monitor last year identical to the one below.
While I still felt ill and a bit short of breath, I continued on with my day until deciding to take an afternoon nap. Several moments after laying down, my heart began racing again and I became extremely short of breath. It felt like I was at war with my diaphragm. Breathing exercises seemed futile as my diaphragm seemed to interrupt my every breath. I felt dizzy and nauseous as a sat up and felt like I could be experiencing a heart attack. I chatted with a couple of friends about what I was experiencing and one told me to go to the ER immediately and the other told me I was having a panic attack. The former is a friend who has a heart condition that was discovered after I convinced him to go to urgent care when he felt short of breath several years ago. The latter is a friend who raised a daughter with chronic panic attacks.
911 and a Trip to the Emergency Room
I didn’t know which one of my friends was right, but since I live alone and was terrified, I called 911. The operator was prepared to send an ambulance and firetruck to my house, however, I was alert and didn’t feel that was necessary. I asked the operator to cancel and phoned an RN at my doctor’s office. She told me to visit urgent care or the emergency department as soon as I could. I stayed on the phone with her and drove myself to their ER which is only about 5 minutes from my home. I parked and waited for about an hour until she could locate where I should go considering my symptoms. Since I was already at the ER, I decided to go in, while wearing a mask I had bought years before for removing old wallpaper. As I approached the front desk, two receptionists immediately raised their surgical masks. They took my name and phone number and asked me to wait in my car until they called me.
Only about ten minutes after my check-in, they took me inside for the first set of tests including an EKG and chest X-rays. After they wrapped up they send me back to my car until a room was available. About an hour later, they walked me to a glass-sealed room in the circular-shaped emergency department. I was soon greeted by a friendly nurse wearing full-on Contagion hazmat gear. I shuttered and asked, “Should I be concerned?”
She smiled and calmly replied, “No, we do this as a precaution for everyone,” which put me somewhat at ease.
The doctor arrived a few minutes later wearing the same gear and began to evaluate my EKG and chest X-rays. “Ok, we can take these off,” he said after seeing that my lungs were clear of any signs of infection. What a huge relief! Although, I wasn’t sure if that was because I truly didn’t have the virus or due to the massive amounts of Vitamin D I had been taking at the recommendation of Dr. John Campbell, who said there was evidence that Vitamin D can boost your lungs’ resistance to viral infection. Always consult with your doctor before taking supplements since too much can result in toxicity.
I was discharged around midnight with a clean bill of health and prescribed with a mild anti-anxiety medication that is really just an antihistamine. Once home, I quickly realized that my anxiety and panic attacks were triggered by simply laying prone. “Great!” I thought, “I need sleep more than anything yet I get an anxiety attack the moment I lay down.” I tried slightly propping myself up and continued battling my anxiety and diaphragm until I eventually lost consciousness.
Now that I was certain that I had not suffered a heart attack, yet still dreading the thought of trying to sleep, I decided to learn as much about anxiety and panic attacks as I could. I also picked up an oxygen absorption monitor, similar to the one below, to make sure my feelings of light-headedness were due to too much oxygen and not low blood oxygen levels.
When dealing with anxiety, it’s important to understand your triggers. For me, it is my long history with respiratory issues, from multiple trips to the ER from childhood asthma attacks to H1N1 and bronchitis and of course the elephant in the room that we are all living with right now.
Take a Break from the News
The news is so overwhelming right now and there is an endless amount of sources that could easily keep you in a 24/7 rabbit hole of worry. Don’t do it. Use this time to relax and enjoy your hobbies or discover a new one. Read a book that’s been gathering dust on your shelf for the last couple of years. It’s also time to listen to those recommendations and finally start binging that show your friends have endlessly bugged you about. Except no, I’m never going to watch The Wire! That ship has sailed!
As we already know, diet and exercise play a huge role in our psyche, but certain foods can contribute to your anxiety. Keep a daily digest of what you are digesting and track how these foods affect your level of anxiety. Experiment by cutting out potential triggers and see how your mood is impacted.
Exercise While Social Distancing
Any exercise is better than no exercise to not only relieve anxiety but enhance your overall well-being. It’s obviously tougher right now since gyms are closed and your local paths might be too crowded for ‘social distancing’ comfort. Still, there are plenty of effective exercises you can do in the comfort of your home without any equipment. YouTube is a great resource for these as demonstrated below.
Getting Out and About
Getting outside at least once a day is good for your mental health, not to mention a little dose of Vitamin D. If you live in an area with congested sidewalks, please strongly consider wearing a mask to protect those around you. For extra protection consider a DIY mask made from a HEPA filter or even shop towels. Any mask is better than no mask. If you feel that masks are not sufficient enough protection, you may consider using something like a ‘social distancing’ umbrella to deflect any particulates from passersby away like a sneeze guard on a salad bar.
If you’ve ever had a panic attack, you know how absolutely terrifying they can be. To be clear, a panic attack is not the feeling of being panicky. A panic attack feels 100% like a medical emergency as your reptile brain’s fight-or-flight mechanism is telling your brain that you are about to die. It’s the exact same mechanism that is triggered if you happen to see a tiger walk across your path on a trail. They can closely mimic symptoms of a lot of life-threatening conditions like heart attacks leaving the stricken short of breath with chest pains. Lucky for me, this was being triggered every time I laid down to go to sleep.
I found this video that talks about a crazy circuit breaker technique for defeating panic attacks. Rather than fighting the symptoms, you actually think about making the symptoms even worse.
I have found this technique only works in the middle of a full-blown panic attack and not in the stages of anxiety leading up to one. I’ve found that only gut breathing helps with pre- and post-panic attack anxiety. That is, breathing from your stomach area below your diaphragm instead of from your chest.
Breathing exercises can be difficult when you are fighting off a panic attack as it feels like a tug-of-war between you and your diaphragm. When you feel like this is a losing battle, take solace in knowing that a panic attack can’t kill you even though it feels like it will. As I mentioned earlier, I have given up the fight and passed out only to wake up alive. The last thoughts I can remember having are “Well, I’m either going to live or die. Let’s see what happens.”
Every video I found on YouTube for calming down involved focusing on your breathing. Focusing on breathing has been my primary problem, so I came up with my own method to relax and let my body takeover my breathing. I fill my mouth with air like I’m about to blow into a trumpet and then very slowly blow out. This preoccupies my mind and forces my body to takeover my regular breathing pattern.
Trick Yourself Into Falling Asleep
While looking for ways to calm myself down both before and after a panic attack, I stumbled across this TEDx Talk video where a professional musician discovered a way to trick his brain into falling asleep. Since the brain is a sucker for patterns, he uses rhythmic beats to slow his brain down into a relaxed state. Check it out below.
Let’s Focus on the Good
Desperate times call for desperate measures as well as innovation. The Spanish Flu taught people and medical professionals about hygiene, and WWII brought us jets and rockets that propelled us into the Space Age. Where will this latest challenge take us? We are already seeing ways families, friends and companies are adjusting to a world connected together online.
Many companies are scrambling to pivot to a ‘work from home’ format. If the model is proven effective, many of these companies will realize the savings on rent, transportation and other expenses they can eliminate from embracing this approach long-term.
As more companies become virtual offices, employees will look to live where they want to live rather than where they have to live. This will contribute to a decentralized society where small towns will grow and large cities will become less congested. That will mean lighter traffic and easier commutes for those you do not work from home.
Better Air Quality
We are already seeing stunning differences in air quality around the world in countries like China, India, and parts of the United States. Once our workforce becomes more and more decentralized, expect to see better air quality in our most polluted cities as roads clear from heavy commuter traffic.
Watching Movies Together
There are a lot of options for watching movies and shows together online right now with more in the works. Below are a few options.
- Netflix Party – This is a browser plugin that allows friends to text chat while streaming a Netflix movie or show together.
- TwoSeven – This browser plugin is similar to Netflix Party but supports more streaming services like Hulu, Amazon Prime and more. I found this service to require a lot more technical know-how than the other options, but I know they are working on making it simpler.
- Zoom Video – Zoom is a best known for online work meetings, but has really come in handy for connecting with friends over webcams. People can share their screen and share anything they want including videos. Quality will vary depending upon your internet connection, but I’ve had a lot of success with it so far. Just make sure to enable the “Optimize Share for Full-Screen Video Clip” found in the “More” menu after you share your screen!
- Google Hangouts – Similar to Zoom, but I’ve found Zoom’s quality to be superior over the past several years of telecommuting.
- Apple FaceTime – FaceTime is a good Apple user option for running in tandem with a video streaming service like Netflix Party. While Netflix Party only supports text messages, you can augment your experience with FaceTime.
Virtual Board Games
Similar to watching movies, there are a lot of games that can be played online as well. No, I’m not talking about video games. Card and board games can be played face to face using the same video services mentioned above. Check out some of these services if you find this intriguing.
- Tabletopia – Tons of official digital versions of board and card games available for free and premium memberships. Browser and mobile app available.
- Playingcards.io – Play Cards Against Humanity (AKA Remote Insensitivity), Checkers, Go Fish and other custom games fully in sync with your online buddies.
- Boardgamearena.com – Free and premium (inexpensive) memberships to play dozens of popular board and card games online with video chat support.
- Catan – If all of your friends pick up digital copies of the game, you can sync it over the internet while video streaming with Zoom, FaceTime or Hangouts.
- Jackbox Games – Jackbox Games provides games like Drawful, Fibbage and You Don’t Know Jack and provide a video walk-through for playing their games over Zoom.
People are finally paying attention to the proper way of washing their hands. Anything under 20 seconds is totally ineffective as demonstrated in this one minute video.
Also, consider cutting your nails to make washing your hands more effective. Germs can accumulate underneath your nails.
If you are a parent of children in school, you are now no stranger to online education. While online degrees have been popular for quite some time, mass online public education is pretty new. You can expect a lot more of it going forward as a possible solution to overcrowded classrooms and long student commutes.
It can definitely be difficult to keep your kids focused on homework since they are so used to using the online world as their digital playground. Consider a device like the Ryfi Parental Router to limit screen time and access to various websites.
Getting More Out of Less
With the great toilet paper run of 2020, people are becoming a lot more mindful of their single-use supplies. This will hopefully lead to people being less wasteful after this whole thing is over. I find myself tossing gently-used paper towels into a basket for later use. I’m also using far less toilet paper than I am used to and noticing how wasteful I’ve been up to this point.
Finally, an excuse to tell Close-Talkers to Back Off! Seriously, who likes people getting right in your face and breathe all over your in between words? This can forever make that uncomfortable conversation a thing of the past.
Please Talk to Your Doctor
If you are feeling anxious or suffering panic attacks, always consult with your doctor. We are all different and even if what I’ve described sounds exactly like symptoms you may be experiencing, you may in fact have something else going on entirely. That’s why it’s always necessary to let your doctor know what’s going on. No website, blog or symptom checker can compete with the knowledge of a medical professional.
If what you are dealing with turns out to be related to anxiety, there are likely people who your doctor can refer you to. If that is not available to you, there are a lot of apps making waves these days including Headspace, Talkspace, and others found here.
Scott is a social media and advertising veteran with a professional background in video games, design, production, video, graphics, writing and front-end development. He is the co-founder of Patchy Beard Games and resides in Portland, Oregon.