About five years ago, I suffered the enormous shock of a dear friend dying in a tragic accident. This was followed a year later by a stressful wedding, in-law problems and a family death. Where I was once outgoing and confident, I am now a panic-attacker, and was told by a therapist that I have post-traumatic stress.
Although I am not a basket case, I fret about certain events from which I would have a problem escaping, like a closed-door interview, and I often think in worst-case scenario terms. I would like your opinion on the best way to get back to my old self without drugs, as I would like to try and get pregnant in a year or two.
You do not give many details about the exact symptoms you are experiencing, but I gather that over the past few years you have started to have panic attacks, anxiety and pessimistic thinking. You have also had some serious losses and stressors, including the tragic death of a dear friend. I gather also that you are a female in young adulthood — a high risk group for depression, anxiety and panic disorder.
Without having more information, I would say that you probably do not have a true, full-blown post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). PTSD occurs when a person survives, or witnesses close at hand, a severe traumatic event that involves death or serious injury, and when the person’s response involves intense fear, helplessness, or horror. PTSD is a chronic disorder with a host of disabling symptoms.
However, you are possibly having some depression and anxiety symptoms that were initially brought on by the losses and stresses you experienced, but that have now become autonomous (have taken on a life of their own, due to changes in your brain chemistry). Your panic attacks may also signify a true, full-blown panic disorder. In any case, you should also make sure that your general medical health has been evaluated by your family doctor, since some medical conditions (thyroid problems, metabolic problems) can also give these symptoms.
There are a number of actions you can take to help yourself heal from chronic depression and anxiety. As for panic attacks, a useful response to learn is to begin slow, deep, even breathing when you begin to feel an attack starting. Making your breath even and slow, and making your mind quiet and still, can often stop a panic attack from occurring.
You might try the following general lifestyle approaches to reduce the symptoms you are having:
- Regular sleep (at least eight hours — or more, if you need it).
- Regular exercise at least five days a week, including a mixture of aerobic exercise and mind-body work.
- Healthy nutrition, plus the use of supplements for calcium, magnesium, B vitamins, selenium, and omega-3 fatty acids.
- Regular relaxation-meditation daily, with attention to breathing techniques.
- Self-education about managing the symptoms of depression and anxiety, through web resources or self-help books.
- St. John’s wort and SAM-e are over-the-counter preparations that are effective for depression and anxiety. However, they should not be used if you are trying to get pregnant, and there are some precautions you must be aware of.