"Within the first 24 hours of the fast, my metabolism slowed down and the muscles in my neck began to soften."
One ordinary morning at work everything suddenly went dark and distant, and I fell hard to my knees. This couldn’t be! Panic attacks are for the emotionally fragile. A week later it happened again.
They say a marriage breakdown is worse than a death. Lack of closure, profound feelings of guilt and loss, financial damage, and fear of loneliness all add up to months of constant anxiety. I was in the midst of the slow death of a six-year marriage. On the surface, people were surprised at my jokey, carefree demeanor, and I even had myself fooled.
As a few weeks went by with no more panic attacks, I began to feel my confidence return, until one Saturday afternoon at the museum with my oldest daughter, it struck again, this time I was surrounded by a crowd of people.
My family encouraged me to see my doctor, which was the last thing I wanted to do. I was already trying not to obsess on these uncontrollable episodes. We’ve all seen this before with someone we know: Their lives begin to unravel, and at first they seem to hold their own, not talking much about it, keeping a stiff upper lip. Things worsen and they finally see a doctor for help. Often they are prescribed antidepressants, and that’s when it takes over their whole life, and it’s all they talk about. I was determined for that not to happen. But after some considerable pressure, I made an appointment with the doctor. He threatened to suspend my driver’s license unless I underwent a number of tests.
There is no pain in undergoing CAT Scans and EEG tests, but the fear they can arouse is just as palpable. While awaiting the test results, I started to obsess all day over my mental health, with visions of brain tumors floating in my head. The feelings of panic became self-perpetuating, and the less I felt in control, the more the feelings of panic intensified. It felt like my inner world was falling apart. In desperation, I even began entertaining the idea of taking antidepressants for the first time in my life. The thought of taking medication led me to the advice I had given so many people when facing health problems. The idea came like an epiphany: fasting. How could I have been so dense? I knew in that moment of clarity that I needed to fast.
The Stress Buildup
Like a retaining wall that has been mercilessly beaten by a Katrina-sized hurricane, the protective barrier no longer has the strength to stand up against even the smallest storms. Faith in your inner defenses diminish and you experience strong feelings of vulnerability, fearing attacks from within even more then the ones from without.
Gradually little things like a slow line at checkout can result in heightened irritation and anger. Everything sets you off, molehills become mountains. All this does not happen overnight; it’s a buildup of months, even years of mismanaged stress. Unfortunately, it is not until the retaining wall breaks, resulting in a flood of physical and mental illness, that we take action.
Feeling Out of Control
Being under the suffocating weight of stress can make you feel out of control. With heart and mind racing, many turn to overeating or, even worse, drinking to self-medicate. Overeating or eating the wrong foods only exasperates the feelings of being out of control. Weight gain, foggy mindedness and overall unwellness result, which is the last thing you need. Sure, a large bag of ripple chips washed down with five beers may feel like relief at the time, but the next morning you are in worse shape. I have always been confounded by the fact that a great night of indulgence, where you actually do experience some enjoyment and relief, has absolutely no lasting positive effect. No matter how great the night was, it contributes zero help in slowing the runaway horse of stress and fear.
When something as fundamental as faith in ourselves has been broken, we are far more susceptible to other breakdowns. Those inner walls need to be rebuilt.
Fasting to Decompress
Just the decision to fast triggered a physiological change within me. The many years of practicing fasting had created a renewal mindset, and I could already feel my body relaxing in preparation. Within the first 24 hours of the fast, my metabolism slowed down and the muscles in my neck began to soften. A day or two later, the veins on my forehead started to disappear for the first time in months and my blood pressure lowered. Entering deeper into the fasting state, I could literally feel the pressure in my body decompress. Unlike the slow buildup of months of stress, the release was quick and remarkable. The contrast allowed me to realize just how stressed out I had become and it became clear why I was experiencing so many health issues. The third night of the fast I enjoyed uninterrupted sleep, awaking clear-minded and refreshed. That morning, while washing fruit and vegetables for juicing, I knew that I had turned an important corner. Standing at the sink, I began weeping with a real sensation of joy, something I had not felt for a long time.
It’s been months now since my fast and I’ve had no more panic attacks. My forehead veins are invisible, neck pain is a distant memory, and my mind is focused and productive. No more uninvited tears and too-loud laughter. It was like a reset button was pressed. The best part of this lesson is knowing that when I start to feel the symptoms of stress coming on, I have something better than any medication to fall back on. Fasting as a backup stress management program is better than owning a tranquil cottage on a lake!
Related Article: How Does Fasting Reduce Stress?