Don’t Panic! Breathe and Create a Routine

Sorry for the disappearing act this week, but I desperately needed a little break. On Sunday, my body let me know that it couldn’t keep up with my crazy workaholic lifestyle anymore. How? By having a panic attack.

Have you ever had a panic attack? They are freaking terrifying! I was sitting on public transit, making my way home, when all of a sudden my heart started to race. I couldn’t see straight, the back of my neck started to sweat, I was nauseous, and all I wanted to do was jump off the train, away from everyone, and into some fresh air. Unfortunately, that wasn’t an option.

For the next 20 minutes, I stared straight ahead and focused on nothing but my breath. Deep breath in, deep breath out, don’t throw up. (Oh yea, I was also focusing on not throwing up.) I tried to take a few sips of water but each one tasted worse than the last. I counted down the number of stops I had left, feeling as though time couldn’t possibly go any slower. As we finally approached my stop, I jumped up too fast to realize how weak in the knees I was, and I stumbled onto the platform.

I immediately burst into tears. My entire body was trembling, sweat was dripping down my neck and back, and my arms were so weak I could barely bring up my hands to wipe the tears off my face. I eventually sat down, cried it out and texted a friend to tell her what was happening. “I’m having a panic attack.” “Breathe from your belly button,” she said. It took over an hour before I could stand up again – two hours until I felt somewhat normal. And then I started asking myself.

What the heck just happened?

My friend’s suggestion made sense. “It’s been a crazy year. Sobriety, the accident, all the moves.” But sobriety feels good. Well, except for those reoccurring dreams about being a closet drinker – having just one beer, when I’m alone at night and no one is watching. Moving has definitely sucked. Sure, I feel at home in Port Moody now, but it took one move from Toronto and three across the Lower Mainland to get me there. But the accident. Aside from the physical pain I’m still in, that’s definitely screwed some things up.

The most obvious thing that has changed since the accident is my daily routine; I just don’t have one anymore. In a split second, I went from having an active, care-free lifestyle to being stuck on the couch. I am getting better but, to put things into perspective, it’s been 93 days since the accident and I still can’t sit comfortably for more than a couple of hours. I basically stopped going into the office (unless I could work from the couch in our lounge) and, with that, I lost my daily routine.

When you don’t need to leave the house, you don’t really need to shower – by a certain time, anyway. When you have nowhere to go in person, you go online. When you can’t physically do your usual hobbies (gym, hike, run, etc.), you start new ones – ones you can do from your computer. When you don’t workout, you go a little stir crazy. When you take on more side projects, you add more deadlines to your schedule. And when you live like this for three months straight, I guess you have a panic attack.

What a typical weekday looked like before the panic attack:

6:15 a.m. – Wake up, open my laptop and work in bed for a couple hours
8:00 a.m. – Eventually make my way into the living room
9:00 a.m. – Remember that I should eat breakfast and maybe drink some coffee
11:00 a.m. – Think about showering
12:00 p.m. – Think about showering
1:00 p.m. – Eat something quick
2:00 p.m. – Take a break to shower (finally)
3:30 p.m. – Finish up work, go to physio / massage therapy
5:30 p.m. – Eat something quick then tackle some dishes (maybe)
6:00 p.m. – Blog, blog, blog, write, write, write
9:30 p.m. – Realize it’s too late to go to the pool / hot tub
10:00 p.m. – Watch a show in bed (usually something stressful, because apparently I only like dramas)
11:30 p.m. – Go to bed and toss/turn all night

I know what you’re thinking: that sounds like a really crappy day. Add to it that I’m usually uncomfortable, especially while waiting for painkillers to kick in, and you’re right. What I’m wondering is how I didn’t have a panic attack sooner! This “routine” was full of stressful thoughts, procrastination and ineffective work habits. The minute I realized that my lack of a routine was likely one of the causes of my panic attack, I decided to take a week off of blogging and work on creating a new one.

What a typical weekday looks like now:

6:15 a.m. – Wake up, stretch, drink water, shower, make coffee and eat breakfast
7:00 a.m. – Open my laptop and start working
9:30 a.m. – Pack up and leave for the office (hit up Starbucks, if it’s in the budget)
12:30 p.m. – Take a proper lunch break (away from my laptop)
4:00 p.m. – Finish up work, go to physio / massage therapy then go home
6:00 p.m. – Make a good dinner, eat, have a cup of tea and do all of the dishes
7:00 p.m. – Watch TV, write a blog post, work on other side projects, etc.
9:00 p.m. – Go downstairs to use the pool / hot tub
10:30 p.m. – Stretch again then go to bed (and fall asleep reading, of course)

I know it still looks busy (and it is) but it includes breaks – real breaks – away from my laptop. I even have four alarms on my phone (at 6:15, 9:30, 12:30 and 9) to remind me to take them! It’s only been a few days, but I can already feel the difference. For starters, showering before starting work. Who knew how good that felt? That sounds so stupid, but working remotely (and starting as early as I do) is really different than having to be in an office by a certain start time – it’s easy to lose yourself.

My days still seem to flash before my eyes, but not without me taking the time to enjoy parts of them. Stretching in the morning helps me wake up. Swimming a few laps and soaking in the hot tub helps me fall asleep. And getting outside and breathing in the crisp fall air helps me clear my head. I’m slowly starting to feel less stressed about everything, which is helping me get excited (again) about all of the projects I’m working on right now – including some volunteering, which I’m grateful Jess suggested I do.

Things I need to remember going forward:

  • Just because I work remotely, that doesn’t mean I have to work 24/7
  • My side projects are supposed to be fun – not work
  • The exercises I have to do for my back are not a chore – they are part of the healing process
  • I can’t run or go to the gym yet, but I can swim (a bit) and I’ve always loved being in the water
  • Most importantly, I don’t have to do everything myself – it’s ok to ask for help

So, that’s how my week was. How was yours? :)

  • Cait …very sorry to hear about your panic attack! That must have been really scary. I’ve never had one but I’ve had a little big of anxiety for as long as I can remember, and I think learning to manage it is key.

    I admire that you were able to recognize there was a problem, and get back to a routine that makes you feel happy and healthy. I am a big believer in routine for productivity and overall balance in life. My routine is very important to me :) …kinda similar to a budget in that it may be changing all the time, it’s important to be a little flexible (I’m learning this first-hand right now with what’s been going on in my life, that sometimes it’s ok to skip the gym for dinner out! Haha) … but the concept needs to be there for success. You and I are so alike!

    I really hope you continue to feel better, and have a wonderful weekend!


  • I’m very sorry to hear about your panic attack, Cait! I sincerely hope that getting on a better routine helps remedy what’s going on. I understand what you mean about the need for a routine – I love routine. *Crave* it. I loved going to Fincon last week, but by Saturday morning I felt uncomfortable and ready to go home and just get back into my usual daily rhythm. 3 days out of stride is about my maximum. :)

    • TOTALLY! Carrie and I both wished we’d left earlier on Sunday, because we were desperately craving some downtime at home.

  • I am so sorry to hear about your panic attack, but I am glad you have a plan of attack to combat them in the future.

    I haven’t experienced one personally, but I have seen enough of them effecting someone I love. Routine is so key for him – if he strays for just one day, it’s a huge back slide.

    • Sorry to hear that, Alicia. But thank you for sharing that, as it shows me I really do need some sort of a routine to ensure it doesn’t happen again. <3

  • Panic attacks are no fun, sorry you had to go trough that. I had one while driving and couldn’t pull over. So I just kept repeating breathe. For me they are stress related. Thank you for the reminder to take care of my routine. It is hard when you work from home.

    • Oh my gosh, Louise, that sounds awful! I can’t even imagine what it would’ve been like to be driving… I hope part of your routine includes relaxing on the weekend. :)

  • I’m sorry that you had to experience that. I haven’t had a full blown panic attack, but I do have anxiety on a daily basis, and it can be really stressful. I really like how you are taking the recovery, though. Having alarms set on your phone for taking breaks is a really good idea! There’s been many busy days at work recently where I haven’t been able to take a break, and it makes a difference. I imagine working from home, it’s easy to lose track of time. It’s great that you developed a schedule that works for you, and I hope it continues working out well!

    • Thanks, E.M. And I’m sorry to hear you have anxiety on a daily basis. I can honestly say I don’t think I’ve ever noticed it, other than while driving, but the panic attack was certainly eye-opening. I hope you have a nice weekend. :)

  • I’m so glad you listened to yourself and slowed down. Your new routine sounds much more balanced than your old one, which will definitely set you up for success in the next few months.

    I’m very lucky that I have my husband to pull me out of the electronic world. If he wasn’t there insisting I shut my laptop and put away my cell phone and spend some time with him, I’d probably be a workaholic too.

    • Yea, sometimes I think it’d be beneficial to have a partner, or even a friend closeby, to tell me when to stop working! But you know I suck at listening. ;) Anyway, the new routine seems to be helping a bit, which is a good start.

  • Oh Cait, I know what having a panic attack is like all too well! But thankfully mine have always happened when I’m alone at home (and once when I was alone in an office) – never in public. That must have made it so much worse for you!! I’m glad you can identify what caused it, and that you are being proactive about changing it.

    My counselor (and every one I’ve ever talked to who suffers from panic attacks) suggests this really great book called: When Panic Attacks. Might be worth checking out?


      • Thanks, ladies! I’ve never noticed anxiety on a daily basis, other than while driving, but maybe it’s there and I’ve never really identified it before. Anyway, appreciate the advice and the book reco.

  • You’re very wise for such a young age! ;-)

    I had several panic attacks when I was in my 20’s — like you, I realized the stresses in my life had gotten out of control. I also realized, almost tangentially, that I had taken ibuprofen the morning of each attack. After I put two and two together, I changed some things in my life, including adding in exercise and making time for reading. And, I stopped taking ibuprofen, which was a regular feature of my life b/c I always had a headache. I think I was caught in a vicious cycle — stress, pain, panic, repeat — it took a few years but I haven’t had a panic attack since.

    I believe the changes you’ve made will make all the difference for you. Panic attacks are extremely frightening — it’s hard to believe they don’t kill you when they’re so all-encompassing. I hope you never have another.

    • Interesting points about ibuprofen, Bette! I was taking it daily, up until a few weeks ago, but still take small doses here and there. I’ve also been reading a lot about how cutting back on caffeine will help. Anyway, I’m happy to hear you haven’t had a panic attack since. I’m definitely hoping I never have to experience one again :)

  • Cait, I was wondering whether you were ok or not earlier (since I hadn’t seen any sign this week of you blogging). Glad to see that you survived that panic attack. Sounded pretty scary. Perhaps it was a minor “wake up call”, your body / mind telling you that changes were needed in your daily routines. Anyway, I’m happy that you’re feeling better now.

    Your new daily routine looks better. A suggestion or two: limit yourself to a maximum of 3 coffees a day and see if you can work into your schedule a daily 20-30 minute walk outside ( just to quietly think and enjoy your surroundings, with no thoughts of any pressing demands). I do that and it really makes a difference, I find.

    My past week’s been “messy” – in preparation for house painting, I’ve been sanding and patching walls and ceilings – fine dust everywhere! My “better half” is not amused! :-)

    Hope you have a great weekend, my friend!

    • Oh, it was definitely a wake up call!

      I usually only drink 2 cups/day, but am going to ensure I don’t go over that limit going forward. And walking is definitely being added to the routine. During the lunch breaks I’m forcing myself to take, I try to get outside for at least 15-20 minutes – at least while it’s nice out and before the season of rain kicks in!

      I hope you have a good weekend too, Rob. Good luck cleaning the dust!

  • Oh Cait, I’ve totally been just there before, more than once unfortunately. I’ve spent the last year actively making time for myself and saying “no” to extras for the first time in my life. Only good can come from slowing down and creating a spacious routine is such a great way to start that ongoing process. Have a wonderful and relaxing weekend! :)

  • I had a lot more anxiety in my 20’s that seemed to go aways on its own as I got older. Although I hear menopause brings that back. Oh goodie. A lot of times when you’re going through something like the moves and the accident, your body stores all that stress, but now that things are leveling out your body finds ways to release that. I’m not going to give you advice unless you want some, so feel free to email me if you want some helpful hints about stuff that helped me (no prescription meds). At the very least, it’s probably a one time thing and letting that once incident go and not think about it or worry about it too much will help. Hope you enjoy your new routine.

    • Happy I emailed you. Thanks for sharing your tips and tricks with me, T. Here’s to healthier days ahead :)

  • We all need breaks. I’ve only had a true panic atttack once in my lofe and I’d rather never experiance it again. Thankfully I was at home and my husband helped me. Take breaks, enjoy life and listen to your body!

    • Thanks, Catherine! I’m sorry you’ve been through the same thing before, but am happy to hear your husband was there for you. I hope you guys have a great weekend :)

  • Many people don’t know this but I suffer from high anxiety so I know all about panic attacks and they suck! It sounds like you are already taking action to have a more balanced schedule. You rock Cait. Just remember that you can still take over the world … but one day at a time ;) xo

    • Thanks for making me smile, hun, but I’m sorry you suffer from high anxiety. Let’s go for more walks together soon, ok? xo

  • This might be your best post yet, Cait, at least for me. Thank you so much for writing out the symptoms of your panic attack. I’ve wondered if I had them before but never really understood what the difference between a stress attack and a full-fledged panic attack was. It’s really helpful to hear about your experience but I’m so sorry that this happened so soon after we were all together. I wish I could have been there to help.

    “it’s easy to lose yourself…” I may not work remotely, but boy do I understand this phrase.

    What an improvement your second schedule is! Your first schedule did sound pretty rough but the second one seems healthy, productive, and well-balanced. The hard part might be keeping up with it and not letting work creep itself into all the crevices of the day. I’ll be here rooting for you to stick to this much better team! And in fact, I could certainly learn from it myself.

    • Thanks for commenting, hun. You’re right in that I still let work seep into my thoughts. Just this morning, I remembered something I forgot to include in an email to my boss yesterday. I immediately opened my work email to send it off, but then told myself it could wait until Monday – because it can!

      Anyway, I sure hope you don’t ever experience a panic attack. I hope you know now that you can talk to me about anything, anytime.

      I’m excited to talk this week :)

  • I think its a great technique to keep these little reminders about some things which can very quickly go wrong if we don’t think about them. Sometimes, its essential to remember why we have to do a task, why it is benefiting us, both in the short and long-term.

    I hope the recovery keeps progressing well and I’m sorry to hear about the panic attacks.

  • Sorry to hear you had a panic attack! I hope things are better now :) I know all about those, in college I had very bad anxiety issues. I had all the same symptoms you did and in most cases I would get very little sleep because my brain was ticking away thinking too much. They were usually accompanied with chest pain that made me feel like I was having a heart attack…not fun.
    On occasion I still get them but I know how to deal with them better now. Breathing helps and thinking of a happy moment. They happen when I have too much caffeine and/or I overwork myself or take on too many projects. It’s just your body’s freaky way of telling you to slow down. It can be extremely unsettling.
    Feel better! :)

    • Too much caffeine – I’ve read that a few times! Sorry to hear you still experience them, but am glad you know how to get through it. xo

  • I’ve had a panic attack like that before once as well. I was on a train from Norwich (England) to London to catch a plane to South Africa after visiting some friends in England. I took the wrong train to London and I nearly passed out from the stress of potentially missing my flight. Heart racing, sweating incessantly, feeling the world spin around, nasuea… all those things! So sorry you had to experience that! But that bad event seems to have cleared your focus on your goals and priorities in life so maybe there is a good in the bad!

    • I was in a different city too, so the experiences sound very similar. But, you’re right, there is some good in it – I definitely know what my priorities are now. Thanks, Steve!

  • Cait, I am very sorry that you had to go through a panic attack. Was it your first one? I know all too well what a panic attack is. I have a long history of anxiety going back to my school days and my panic attacks are of a regular occurrence. I continue to seek medical and psychological help but sadly it is not *quite* working. Hopefully, one day soon, I am showing some progress :P Luckily, panic attacks are not dangerous to your health (they are more to do with you psychological well being), but it is a frightening experience indeed.

    I like your new routine! :P I hope you feel better and I also hope you will never have to go through this again.

    • I’m sorry to hear you suffer from anxiety, Eva, but it’s good that you’re seeing some progress from your treatment. Yes, it was my first panic attack – and will hopefully be the last! Thanks for sharing your experiences, xo

  • Cait, I can only sympathize with panic attacks – I’ve had them all my adult life & recently decided it was best to resign from my job to allow me to finish my studies without having a breakdown. It’s horrible & really stressful in terms of keeping our finances in order x

    • I’m so sorry to hear that, Lynsey, but I do hope you know that your health is the most important thing in life. Our time is also more valuable than money. It’s hard to stay on track w/ your finances, I’m sure, but you always have to do what is best for yourself. Hugs.

  • Cait, fantastic that you were able to analyze that your panic attack was triggered by a loss of routine and you were able to reconstruct one. I was feeling completely overwhelmed last week – I am going to University and should have my BA at the end of this semester. I teach piano. I take pipe organ lessons. I play cello and keyboard in a praise team at church. I had assignments due and a major one coming up for Nov. 8th. I could barely breathe. Did I mention I turned 61 this month? and that I’m bi-polar? I did what I always do when some emotion or dilemma threatens to pull me under – I journaled. I wrote everything out and got a sense of how to break down the assignments looming over my head. I felt so much more in control. The anxiety went away. Hope you feel better soon and that you make a quick recovery. May you never have another panic attack!

    • It took a couple days for me to realize that my lack of a routine might have been the issue, but as soon as it dawned on me I knew it was true. Like you, I started writing – but I wrote what I was doing, the times I was doing those things, what I was eating, etc. It was really eye-opening. I hope journaling continues to be a good tool for you. :)

  • Sweetie, so sorry to hear about this, it is not a pleasant experience by anyone’s telling! Your plan for routine is a good start. My free advice for you is think about balance….a restorative yoga (specifically restorative, talk to the instructor about what you have been through lately) class would probably help you to gain some. I also think hearing about the assault in New West after your experience with the “lurker” could have subconsciously activated your stress response too.


    • Thanks for the suggestion, EJ. I just searched online for a restorative yoga class and it turns out there is one around the corner from my place on Tuesday night! I grabbed the coupon for one free class and am going to check it out. :) xo

  • After 4 years since I started working at home, I got myself into a good groove. I work and also rest a lot. It’s good you made a change, you can’t keep a stressful schedule too long without consequences ;)

    • So I’m learning! My goal is to have a really good, healthy routine in place by the end of the year – one that I don’t have to “stress” about sticking to, because it’s just a part of my life.

  • Oh no! I don’t think I’ve ever had a panic attack but I’ve been close to fainting twice (usually do to stressful situations, one being my wedding). I also took a bit of a break this week. I don’t think my year has been as crazy as yours but it has been a whirlwind. The first part was awesome, the second part not so much. Routines are so important though I’m realizing. I’m just not one of those carefree people who can just go with the flow, I need a schedule and a routine, which is why I’m so glad I’ve got a job to go to everyday now. But I still worry about doing well in my school course and going the right direction for my career, so I think I need to go to a yoga or exercise class to take that stress away.

    • You have definitely had a crazy year, lady! It looks like we both needed a break at the same time – not really surprising, since we are both adjusting to new things. A couple people have recommended yoga, so I think I’m going to try the studio around the corner from my place this week. Find a class today and promise yourself you’ll go one day this week :)

  • Holy cow! Glad you’re feeling better about things. I had an experience sort of like that when I was unemployed, except it was because I wasn’t doing anything. It was horrible! Getting a routine down was so helpful though. I hope you don’t have to go through that again!

  • Cait, That’s nuts! But my week wasn’t all Candy Land and Care Bears either…. I wrote about it on my blog and my progress. Snapshot – almost got attacked by road raging teenagers and stiffed by a crazy (not racist here) but arab guy. Lets be thankful the crazy week is over. Heal up soon.

  • That sounds horrible you poor thing, good work on realising what needed to change and putting it into action :) x

  • I’ve had them before and mine usually involved hyperventilating. The feeling that you can’t breathe is awful. Makes you dizzy. Please take care of yourself, slow down and focus on YOU! Sounds like you’ve made a nice change in routine.

    • Oh my gosh, hyperventilating would be awful… you poor thing. I can’t say I was taking very deep breaths, but I do remember trying to. I’m still not doing a great job at sticking to my routine, but if I can do it 3 out of 5 days/week, that’s so much better than what I was doing before lol.

  • I remember having a panic attack when I was in college. Thankfully, I was in my bed at my dorm, but it was so hard to breathe! I tried to call to my roommate, but it was nearly impossible to even open my mouth, let alone try and say something. It’s definitely not a good experience, but it was my reality check, telling me that I needed to do something about my life.

    Glad your routine is less stressful!

  • I hear you about the showers! I was much better when I lived in a house where the bedroom and shower was on level 3 and breakfast, office, etc was down two levels! Made the decision to shower before doing much else pretty easy. Now that it’s all on one level I go though the thinking of showering routine a bit too!!

    Good luck with the new routine and be kind to yourself; it sounds as though you are dealing with a lot.


Comments are closed.