I received a question today from a visitor to QWAS.com asking for help with anxiety. I am used to questions about withdrawal symptoms (anxiety is common) but his mention of heart palpitations inspired me to share my experience and offer some real advice and experience from the battlefield. First, here is the comment from Kaveh:
“This is a great site , I quit a few months ago and it’s been hell obsessing over my heart palpitations and thinking I’m going to explode. I wish I had quit a lot sooner. Please, if anyone has experienced this email me at… (etc)”
Followed shortly by:
Hey bro. I have been smoking for almost 14 years… just wanted to ask if you’ve had any anxiety problems.
This comment struck a chord with me because yes, I have had anxiety problems and still do. And yes, I’ve done plenty of obsessing over heart palpitations. What follows is my response to the comments above, but applies to anyone who suffers from anxiety attacks.
First of all, Don’t panic. You probably aren’t having a heart attack (I must add that I am not a doctor and this is not medical advice). Anxiety is a very common withdrawal symptom that can persist long after quitting weed. I’ve been through what you’re describing, and even now – 10+ years after quitting, I still have to manage my anxiety and panic attacks.
How I Named and Tamed My Monster
A couple of years ago my panic attacks became devastating. I was convinced I was going to die from a heart attack in the middle of the night. While my wife slept, I would creep into the kitchen and chew hand fulls of Aspirin in an attempt to prevent “my heart from exploding” as you described it. One night, I had a particularly bad panic attack and my whole body went numb. I thought it was game over. We almost called an ambulance, but eventually I recovered and was able to sleep. The next day my wife did some research for me and found a particularly good website that described exactly what I was going through. From the heart palpitations and fear of heart attack to the profuse sweating, numbness, and feelings of impending doom, it described my condition. In fact, it was the first time I had a label from what I felt – “panic attack” or “anxiety attack”.
Before that day a couple years ago, my anxiety was something that I had endured without any knowledge or support. My wife also found an exercise that became my savior. I’ll share it with you at the end of this post. The other thing I did was to make a doctors appointment for a general checkup, but with the express purpose of having my heart examined. In the checkup I described what I was going through and asked the doctor to listen to my heart, and then asked him to listen again to be sure, and then again one more time. His diagnosis? Nothing was wrong with my heart. I needed to hear it even if I still doubted my doctors assessment, expertise, and credentials. Based on advice from a friend who also endured panic attacks, I asked for .25mg Xanax. Xanax is a very common anti-anxiety medication you can take at the time of an ‘event’, when you feel the snowball of anxiety building. I barely used the Xanax, but I carried it with me everywhere and over time, having it in my pocket became a sort of safety blanket. I knew that if I needed help it was there. That feeling of security was priceless, it allowed me to go out into the world and function. So, the Xanex, the exercise I will share with you in a moment, and learning about my anxiety enabled me to escape a nightmarish condition I had lived with for years. Here is the exercise:
Start with your left arm. Inhale deeply. As you inhale, flex all of the muscles in your arm as hard as you can. Hold your breath for 5 seconds. Then release your breath very slowly. Purse your lips to let the air out of your lungs in a controlled manner. As your lungs empty, allow your arm to relax at the same rate. The whole process should take about 15-20 seconds. Now, move to your left leg. Repeat the steps described for your left arm. Then, move to your right leg, and finally your right arm. You’ve completed one cycle of the exercise. How do you feel? Somewhat calmer? Repeat the exercise again as many times as you need to.
Anxiety Cannot Kill You
Lastly, remember this – no one has ever died from anxiety. So, your “heart palpitations” cannot kill you. Debilitating sure, but you won’t explode. You have anxiety. You are probably experiencing panic attacks, just as I did and still do. Again, I urge you to go to your doctor for a checkup. Have your heart checked and put your mind at ease. Ask about Xanax if it is something you feel comfortable with. Research panic attacks online and get familiar with your condition.
Once you learn to manage your anxiety, you’ll be back in control. You may find that you’ll be able to greatly reduce the frequency of your anxiety over time but that it will return 6 months or a year later. When it does, you’ll be prepared.
I hope this helps, and again, I am relaying my experience to you, this is not medical advice!