It was Friday afternoon, in the middle of an extremely busy month.  I was the manager, but was working as a tech due to some scheduled vacation time.  The tech I was working with was very competent, but as a part-time tech, she was limited in what she was trained to do.  I was working my tech duties and still responsible for my normal management tasks.  After a particularly intense exchange of emails, I felt a sharp pain over my left eye, followed by a bright flash of light.  I started to sweat.  I couldn’t catch my breath. I felt tightness in my chest.

I work in a Physician’s Office Laboratory, so medical help was only a few feet away.  With a BP of 200/100, the Nurse Practitioner gave me two options; I could either let her drive me to the ER, or she was calling an ambulance.  I chose option one.

After two days in the hospital, multiple blood draws and hours of testing, I was diagnosed – Acute Panic Attack due to stress.

And that was only the first of what would become a roller-coaster for the next year.

I know my case is extreme, but it’s a real possibility for anyone who faces stress on a regular basis.  If I didn’t learn how to manage the stress, or head it off before it took hold, I would be at high risk of stroke.  And the same may be true for you.

Managing stress and anxiety is not easy.  Once the stress begins, managing it becomes an additional stressor, and it becomes like a spinning wheel.  But if you have the tools you need already in place, then it is possible.

Here are some of my simple yet effective tools.

Breathe – Contrary to popular belief, breathing does not come naturally., especially for someone under extreme stress.  Start with a deep cleansing breath that completely fills your lungs.  Exhale slowly until your lungs are empty.  Slowly breathe in through your nose to a count of 5.  Pause for a second, then exhale through your mouth as slowly as your inhale.  Repeat this 5 times.  In just over a minute, you should feel a significant difference.

Slow Down – For many of us, having too much to do in the allotted amount of time is a stressor.  So this suggestion may sound contradictory.  But trust me – if you want to go faster, you need to slow down.  .  Rushing leads to errors.  Errors lead to more stress.  So taking your time and doing it right the first time is the faster way to work.

Take a 2-minute vacation – When you have more work than you think you can perform in the time you have left, taking 2 minutes away from it may seem wrong.  But trust me… it’s right.  It’s really right!  Close your eyes, take a deep cleansing breath, and picture yourself somewhere wonderful.  Imagine the sun on your face, or the breeze in your hair.  Listen for the waves on the shore, or the birds singing in the trees.  What do you smell?  Is it the sweet scent of warm vanilla or a refreshing citrus?  Whatever senses you can engage, do it!  After two minutes, slowly return to work in your mind, then in your actions.  You will have a clearer sense of presence in your work because you have cleared your mind.

The best way to handle stress and anxiety is to develop habits of relaxation and calm BEFORE you are stressed.

Meditate regularly – Prior to my panic attacks, I did not understand meditation.  It seemed like a waste of time.  An excuse to do nothing,and expect people to understand.  After having my physician warn me about my health risks, I started reading up on meditation.  I discovered I was mistaken.  Some very successful, public people of our time practice meditation.  I prefer guided meditations or mindful meditation, but there are many to try.

Guided meditations can be with or without music.  I recommend you try both and see what fits you better.  When you begin meditating, set aside a few minutes each day for the practice.  There are great web sites and apps available for free, and even more available if you want to spend a few dollars.  My favorite guided meditations include music.  They begin with a soothing voice taking you through a mental exercise.  You may go on a trip, take a body scan, or just practice visualization. Then the meditation transfers into soothing music for a predetermined amount of time.  I find 20 minutes a day gets me ready to face most challenges.

Affirmations – As a child, I read “The Little Engine that Could”.  In my teens, I heard “If you think you can, or you think you can’t, you will be right.”  Then Yoda taught me, “Do or do not. There is no try.” There is a reason I heard these repeated messages.  They were to set the stage for success.  When faced with a stressful situation, you can change your attitude by repeating your affirmations.

“I am strong.” “I am confident.” “I will survive.” “I am…” “I can…” Fill in the blank.

For affirmations to help, you have to begin before the stress. I begin each day with an affirmation.  I take a moment or two to think about my day, and commit to a positive approach.  Then when I am derailed and I feel the stress build, I revert back to my affirmation, re-align my inner compass, and follow a positive path to accomplishment.

It has been more than 18 months since my last panic attack. In that time, both my father-in-law and father passed away. My brother lost his mother-in-law, a wonderful woman I had known since I was 12 years old. I packed and relocated my laboratory to a new facility without losing a single day of testing. And I facilitated a 25% growth of testing volume. The tools I use, daily and in times of need, have made a significant change in my life.

And it can for you too.    You have nothing to lose…. Except maybe some stress.

Some of my favorite websites.

About The Author

Margaret Blaetz began her career as a Medical Laboratory Technician specializing in Microbiology and obtained her Bachelor of Science Degree at Glassboro State College (Rowan University). While employed as an EMR trainer at Regional Women’s Health Management, LLC Margaret’s expertise in medical technology and project management were called into play with the planning, credentialing and opening of the Regional Women’s Laboratory. In 2012, Margaret expanded her credentials to include Certified CLIA Compliance Professional (AAPOL). Margaret serves as a CLIA regulatory resource for more than 30 Physicians Office Laboratories. Margaret’s passions include Community Theater and hound dog rescue groups; SOS Beagles NJ and Tri-State Basset Rescue. In her spare time, Margaret and her husband enjoy camping and working as Highway Hero Rescue Transporters.