By Adam Drake
At about my 40th panic attack, I decided to see a doctor. These panic attacks had become all-consuming, ruining my work, my days, and my social life — I couldn’t go on like that. After going through a checklist of ailments: high-stress job, limited sleep, living and working in New York City, among others, the doc wrote me a prescription for Xanax. Now, don’t get me wrong, Xanax worked incredibly well, but the highly addictive nature of the drug gave me something else to stress out about. Once my refills ran out, I began researching other ways of reducing stress. I couldn’t quit my job and I couldn’t move, instead I found these five easy ways of decreasing the amount of stress in my life.
I hate running. Anyone who tells you they love running is probably lying. But I began to view my anxiety as extra energy stored inside my body that released itself through panic attacks. To combat that, I needed a release that was easy and quick, and could be done on the streets of Manhattan. My running routine started small. I lived near Riverside Park and would jog up and down the Hudson for a few miles, before getting so winded that I’d hail a cab to bring me home. These jogs became runs, and the runs started adding on miles. Soon enough, I felt great after each run and I noticed a massive reduction in my panic attacks. Running still sucks, but thinking about how great I’ll feel afterward makes each mile worth it.
I had some warped ideas about meditation. I figured I’d sign up for a class, be whisked away to India, brainwashed, and come back playing the tambourine in Union Square while asking people for change. But getting to know Sweat Life founder Aly’s brother Aaron over the years — knowing that he actively practiced meditation, and seeing how seemingly calm he was toward everything in his life — made me take a second look at the practice. The truth is, I don’t have hours a day to sit in a concentrated state, nor do I work in a company that would appreciate me humming mantras from my office. After some research, I found Headspace, which is run by former Buddhist monk Andrew Puddicombe. I downloaded the app on my phone and dutifully listened silently on my way to work. The next day, I did the same thing. It’s been over a year, and I look forward to my 10-20 minutes of meditation before work. Headspace isn’t spiritual or religious. Instead, it’s founded on the principles of mindfulness, and offers a litany of downloads ranging from meditations to help creativity, addiction, and relationships.
Now meditating for the better part of the year, I can absolutely say that it’s helped my stress. I’m able to focus on the problems I’m facing, and attack them with a clearer head. The breathing techniques taught in the program are useful every time I feel a panic attack begin, and as a nice by-product, I’m able to have closer and stronger personal relationships with people. While Headspace hasn’t been able to make me lift an X-Wing out of a swamp with my mind, it has helped me silence a demon.
3. Quit Caffeine
You still with me? That’s a bold statement right there: “Quit caffeine.” Who the hell do I think I am? You can’t simply quit caffeine; it’s just not done. Everyone who has tried has either failed or died. (Okay, I kid.) Except I’m living proof that it can be done. Caffeine is a stimulant. It’s a very good stimulant. It’s so popular that it’s offered in gum, shampoo, and pills. But because caffeine raises your heart rate, it also makes you more nervous. It’s basically the anti-Xanax, and they’re both incredibly hard to stop using.
I’ll be honest; I tried and failed to quit caffeine on several occasions. But what worked and what stuck was quitting while I was on vacation. Trust me, no one wants to ruin their expensive trip by having a killer headache everyday, but this is an absolutely fantastic way to quit the addiction. When we’re on vacation, we are outside our routine. You wake up later, you eat new foods, and you do different things. And because this is new, your mind is busy wondering what’s coming next, not that you haven’t had your daily cup of coffee. Truthfully, the first few days were not exactly fun. I had a dull headache for 48 hours and snapped at every child, animal, and wife I came into contact with. But on the morning of the third day, I awoke refreshed and feeling great.
4. Sleep More
Living in the city that never sleeps, increased sleep seems like an impossibility, right? But it isn’t. Sleep gives our brains more time to relax, more time to rebuild, and more time to heal. If we’re moving at non-stop speed throughout the day, and only give our brains a few hours of sleep each night, they’ll break down.
Step one to getting more sleep is to be in bed earlier. Make a point to get into bed a half an hour earlier than you normally would. Step two, leave your gadgets, phones, and TVs outside the bedroom. We’re tempted to check that one last email, or watch one more episode — remove the temptation and you remove the problem. (My apologies for sounding like an evangelical preacher here.) Step three, if you can’t sleep or don’t feel tired, try the breathing exercises you learned during meditation. Your thoughts will begin to slow, your heart will relax, and your breathing will be more regular.
5. Be Social
I wanted to write “have more sex” here, because that would honestly work at reducing stress, but it really falls under the same category as running. Instead, I’m recommending that you be social. What I mean by this is: talk to people. During and after each panic attack, I’d want to stay inside, curl up in a blanket, and watch a movie in my dark apartment. But I’ve found doing the opposite is actually a lot more beneficial.
Talking to people about your problems helps you gain perspective. By verbalizing your issues, you’re creating a subconscious roadmap on how to tackle them. Hopefully, your friend will offer their advice on the situation, giving you an alternative plan of attack on how to handle it — but if not, you still got your worries off your chest, a huge step in unloading stress.
Or, you know, have more sex.
Adam Drake is Creative Director for the Sweat Life, a former four-year varsity rower for the University of Miami, and currently rows for the Maritime Rowing Club. He is the co-founder of Kayak for a Cause, a charity event based in Connecticut. As a writer, Adam has developed television shows for Comedy Central, Bad Boy Worldwide, and Sky, written ad campaigns for clients such as Bacardi, Starbucks, Dove Men+Care, and HBO, and was a contributor to the pop culture site YesButNoButYes. In his spare time, he enjoys skiing, boating, and working on his tremendous collection of unfinished novels.