A few weeks ago I experienced the onset of a panic attack as I was exiting the underground subway shuffling my way onto the L train platform on my way to work. This is something I do every day since I don’t own a car or enjoy driving in the city. I live right smack dab in the middle of the daily grind and am pretty used to city dwellers that move around like huddled schools of fish on any given day. I’ve even come up with a system that allows me to flow through the crowd unnoticed like some sort of urban ghost. I wear sunglasses (whether the sun is shining or not) to avoid eye contact with strangers and I put my earphones on to listen to relaxing music instead of answering emails or working on my smart phone during my 45 minute commute. I don’t look like your typical friendly midwesterner. All of the wellness experts might argue that this “method” may be keeping me from being socially engaged or connected with the world around me. My single friends (who clearly watch too many rom-coms) claim I could unknowingly be sitting beside the next love of my life completely clueless immersed in my own world of Maxence Cyrin and Volcano Choir. My “do not dare speak to me” suit of armor is fierce and a bit unapproachable. My doorman calls me “Victoria Capone” and asks, “who are you gonna kill today?” The truth is I covet this commute time to myself every day and I kind of want to escape the daily grind so I don’t necessarily want to be the person one asks directions to the Sears/Willis Tower. (For the record, this attitude is definitely anti-Chicagoan of me. City of polite and nice folks.)
The morning of the panic attack started off wrong. An early morning call from a sick employee, coffee spill on a new blouse, a neighbor who wanted to chat me up as I was rushing out of my building. I finally got on my first train to catch my second train and that’s where all hell broke loose. Every day when I get off my underground train to catch the above ground train (The El as we call it here in Chicago) I literally run towards the exit before the opposite underground train stops at my station. The opposite train is always overstuffed with humans trying to get to work causing a massive platform jam and it makes me tense being stuck in a shoulder to shoulder crowd as we all attempt our exodus out of the subway station. So I run. I run like a mad hatter in heels because I would rather work up a sweat running out of the subway than get stuck in the human sardine shuffle. On this day I was too late and got swept up in the grind. I felt my heart begin to race almost out of my chest. My head was pounding and my entire body went haywire. In my head I was screaming, “Fuck, fuck, fuck, hell no, fucking FUCK!!!” The feeling was horrific (they don’t call it a panic attack for nothing) and I suddenly couldn’t breathe. If you’ve never experienced a panic attack it truly does feel like you’re about to have or are in the midst of having a heart attack. There was only one thing I could do before someone would call an ambulance. I parked myself on a bench with my computer bag in my lap and talked myself out of a full blown panic attack. I’ve had this happened before and a little cognitive therapy helped to recognize signs and work my way through a panic attack. Needless to say, it was embarrassing as people walked past wondering what my problem was that morning. I felt alone and ridiculous. It took nearly twenty minutes to pull myself together and calmly walk towards the exit a bit shaken up, but determined to get to work. If you think that was a dramatic morning then I’m inclined to agree with you. It’s usually not that bad and as a born and bred city girl who would always rather be exploring a forest I’m aware this is the life I’ve chosen for myself. Once in a while the things that are beyond our control have the tendency to be so devastatingly overwhelming it can literally shake the breath out of you. Unfortunately, I can’t control the schools of fish on the subway.
So this is what I did as soon as I arrived to work; I went into our inventory room and opened a bottle of our Travel Therapy and applied that all over myself. Lola of The Hermes Hippie blog told me she was using Travel therapy to help soothe her migraines in lieu of medicine during her pregnancy and it was helping her so I thought I’d give it a go also. Guess what? It worked! Something about the floral and spicy notes in our botanic mood booster hit that spot in my brain and released tension and anxiety. The psychology behind olfactive remedies has always been an interesting one. I have always associated scents with people and places. To this day the smell of cinnamon reminds me of the joy of my life, my grandmother. It’s a warm, comforting and happy scent that is lovingly stored in my olfactive library probably until the day I die.
The power of scent is truly extraordinary. It has a way of soothing the brain triggering emotions and deeply seeded memories. Sometimes instantly before your brain can recognize the connection. There is an entire system of complicated sensory neurons that lie in a strip of tissue at the back of the nose. Humans have over 450 olfactory receptors (dogs twice that) and each receptor can be activated by an odor molecule. That molecule signals a part of the forebrain for further processing. Scientists once thought that the average person could detect about 10,000 different odors. Recent scientific studies believe it to be closer to one trillion smells! So consider that the next time you’re in a bad mood, sad or feeling anxious. Instead of reaching for a glass of wine, food or a chocolate bar try a little olfactive therapy instead. That could come in the form of aromatherapy like our two Botanic Mood Boosters, Travel Therapy or Happiness Therapy or from cooking or baking. Lately, I’ve been all about creating a specific mood with scented candles. Believe it or not there is an art to that and I’ll explain more about the emotional and interactive experience of candles and home fragrance in Part II of this post coming soon.
I hope to inspire you to slow down, breathe and allow yourself to daydream a little. As for me, I decided taking the late train in to work is a wiser option. This helps avoid the crowd and the dreadful subway dash that frankly, ruins many good hair days. I’ve even allowed myself to remove the sunglasses on occasion and have said hello to a few strangers. I can’t promise anything, but so far it’s been a good start.