Recurrence of panic and depression I had when I was in college
I started a new job, which is requiring relocation to the NYC area (where I am originally from). It is a two-year assignment, after which I will retire.
Once I started doing the new job (have not moved yet), I began having the same symptoms I had forty years ago when I was in my first year of college — constant, horrible anxiety and panic attacks and waves of depression. Unable to function or sleep.
When this happened when I was young, it took me five years to recover. I had ECT and many medications and several hospitalizations. Slowly, it faded away, I went back to college and finished and also did a few years of graduate school before starting my current career.
I am thinking of quitting and retiring early, but that would have drastic financial consequences. Before making any decisions, I wanted to see if I could get some expert advice.
To cope with the anxiety, I am taking Klonopin. I ran out of it when I was in NYC recently and tried taking a lot of Benadryl, but while that seemed to help at first, it ultimately made things worse.
I am back home in Denver now pondering my next move. I have a partner and we talked about my just retiring. But I am not sure that is the right decision.
A: Hello and thank you for your question:
Although I am not a psychiatrist and therefore do not prescribe medications in my state, it actually sounds like what you are experiencing is a withdrawal from the Klonopin. Benzodiazepines are very hard to quit and the withdrawal symptoms can be awful. Benadryl only makes one sleepy and dry; it has very little effect on anxiety. If you are still off the Klonopin, call your doctor and see if he can help with a refill.
The other thing that comes to mind is a possible medical issue, such as problems with your thyroid, or other imbalance. An overactive thyroid can trigger a racing heart, and feel like panic. Ask your doctor to check out medical issues that can trigger panic, or anxiety-like symptoms.
In the meantime, there are a few things you can do. One is to learn how to breathe properly. Most of us don’t know how to breathe in a way that actually can reduce anxiety and panic. When I tell a patient to take a deep breath, I usually see them fill their upper lungs, their shoulders rise and, in point of fact, it does nothing to lower your pulse or reduce your blood pressure.
Try this exercise for 4 minutes, 4 times a day when you are relaxed. Lie down in a quiet area with the TV off. Radio is fine as long as it is soothing music. Make sure that pets or people cannot bother you, and leave your cell phone on mute. Then, picture a safe and restful place (that is not your home). It can be the mountains, the woods or the beach. It doesn’t matter, but picture it in the fullest detail possible.
Place a book on your stomach. It should be a fairly hefty book, but a “normal” size. Now, take a deep breath. If you see your stomach (that is, the book) move and your chest does not, you are breathing correctly. If your chest moves, keep practicing until that doesn’t happen.
When we fill our lungs to full capacity, it pushes our stomachs out. Doing that actually can slow everything down, and sends the message to the brain that we’re safe. Practice this every day for a week laying down, then learn how to do it sitting up for a week. Finally, in the third week, practice it standing up. Every time you practice this breathing, picture your safe place.
You will ultimately be able to do this at a stoplight, or sitting at your desk. I use it for my patients who have panic attacks, who have experienced trauma or for pain management. I use it myself in the dentist’s office. It will work.
But practice is the key. While you are waiting for your doctor to help you with either medications or bloodwork, you can be learning something that will be useful for life.
I hope this helps,
Dr. Diana Walcutt
Walcutt, D. (2009). Recurrence of panic and depression I had when I was in college. Psych Central. Retrieved on May 6, 2016, from http://psychcentral.com/ask-the-therapist/2009/08/18/recurrence-of-panic-and-depression-i-had-when-i-was-in-college/