Written by: Dr. Petra Frese, Executive Contributor
Executive Contributors at Brainz Magazine are handpicked and invited to contribute because of their knowledge and valuable insight within their area of expertise.
Post-traumatic stress disorder is an ever-present issue in our society. Roughly 6% of Americans have PTSD. You can suffer from it, whether you are a veteran or not. PTSD can affect everyone, and an alarmingly high number of C-suite executives are challenged by it. If you experience panic attacks or anxiety, PTSD could be at the root of it. Many techniques exist to help you handle your anxiety. Here are five practical, body-centered tools to calm your mind in these situations.
John felt the unbearable urge to flee the conference room. He was utterly stressed out. He was sweating profusely. His hair was already wet at the temples, and his fresh haircut started looking weird. It seemed as if he could not control his breath; the harder he tried, the faster his breathing became.
He was presenting his favorite topic and was about to share his groundbreaking new ideas when he first felt this heatwave running through his body. The large conference room was perfectly cool and air-conditioned, yet John felt like walking through the desert. He did not know what this all was about. He had no idea why this was happening to him.
John had prepared his presentation in the usual manner. He was familiar with the content and confident about the new insights he wanted to present to the company's owners as the head of finances.
But there he was, experiencing something unexpected and widely scary. He was experiencing something that felt entirely out of his control. As if his body just decided to disobey his internal orders. No matter what he tried. And he tried a lot. John tried to recall positive feelings and situations while continuing with the presentation. He did not want anyone on the executive board to recognize his current devastating situation. Unfortunately, the opposite happened!
His mouth and throat were getting drier and drier. John took a huge sip of water, but it didn't help. His voice sounded weak and crackling. His mouth was completely dry. So, finally, John had to pause the presentation.
Politely, he asked for a short break and felt another heat wave flushing through his body up into his head. Now even his cheeks were blushing because he felt so embarrassed and weak in front of the executive committee. His heart was pounding heavily in his chest. He felt every heartbeat like a huge drum beating inside of his body.
Panic Attacks are unfortunately very common among C-suite executives
Why should this story be relevant to you as a successful and experienced business person?
The situation that John was experiencing that particular morning is not unique. Unfortunately, situations like these happen all too often. John experienced a panic attack. An alarmingly high number of C-suite executives suffer from anxiety and panic attacks. Later he went to see a doctor, and after a long road of tests and trials and more tests, including a spect scan of his brain, he was diagnosed with PTSD. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder does not only happen to people who served in the military or as a firefighter or police officers, or others. PTSD can manifest in everyone's brain after experiencing traumatic events. About 6% of Americans suffer from PTSD at one point in their lives.
PTSD can happen to you, whether you are one of the roughly 18 million American veterans or not. Oftentimes, we do not think that we suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder. Oftentimes, we believe we have processed traumatic events that have happened to us properly, and we do not connect the dots.
PTSD can cause not only major health issues, but it can also cause enormous problems in your relationships and your career. It may lead to underperformance at work; it can also be why your promotion or salary raise does not happen even though you give your very best.
The list of PTSD symptoms is long
Some signs of PTSD are:
abnormal temperature regulation
changes in appetite
These are just some symptoms that might indicate PTSD. It is not a complete list, nor does it diagnose PTSD when you experience some of these symptoms. Please see your doctor if you suffer from one or more of these signs.
Causes for PTSD symptoms can be any type of trauma like losing a loved one, e.g., losing a child, going through a divorce, verbal and/or physical abuse, accidents, natural catastrophes, constant high pressure at the workplace, or addiction, just to name a few.
Practical tools to ease a panic attack
How can you cope with feelings like anxiety or overwhelm? Here are 5 practical tools to ease some of the symptoms:
Remind yourself to pause for a moment. Hit that imaginary pause button and slow down the rat race in your head so you can shift from feeling overwhelmed to analytical thinking. Take back control of your thoughts.
Inhale and exhale consciously. Count while you are inhaling and exhale twice as long. That ratio is important. When you breathe out twice as long as you breathe in, you are calming your limbic system. You support your nervous system to activate the para-sympathetic circuit.
3. Stimulate both sides of your brain!
Take something in your hand that you can toss between your hands, for example, a pack of tissues, a small water bottle, a pen, or even an apple. Toss the thing back and forth from one hand to the other at least 30 times at the center of your body while keeping your elbows pressed to your sides. This balances your brain's hemispheres, and you can better access your analytical thinking. Ideally, stand up straight for this exercise and put your feet flat on the ground, shoulder-width apart.
4. Move your body!
Whatever is possible in that particular situation, move your body. Get the energy flowing. Dance. Shake the energy off. Walk. Simply, just move.
5. Suck on an ice cube!
The coolness of the ice calms your sympathetic nervous system and shifts to para-sympathetic activity.
Healing from PTSD
Long-term effects after trauma can show up in many different forms and may occur when you least expect them. The symptoms can heavily overrun you and surprise you so suddenly that you cannot even see the possible connection to trauma from your past. Your brain forces you to face the ugly reality and to deal with, treat and finally heal from long-suppressed emotions that are not serving you anymore.
Be gentle with yourself. Give yourself grace and take some time to rest. Restoring your energy is essential. With restored energy and proper trauma work, you can tackle so much more, and climbing up the career ladder will be much easier and faster. Get the help you need and apply the tools that you have at hand to take back and remain in control. Please reach out to me. I see people struggling with this all the time in my practice, and I am happy to help you overcome this struggle. It is so beautiful to see this happen. You can make a bigger impact and lead the meaningful, successful, and fulfilled life that you desire. You deserve it, and the people around you do too.
Dr. Petra Frese, Executive Contributor Brainz Magazine
Dr. Petra Frese, a scientist turned success coach and spiritual healer, is an expert in brain health science and peak mental performance. After her multiple Near-Death Experiences, which dramatically widened her horizon and views on life, she integrated her spiritual insights into her science-based coaching practice.
She became a healer and dedicates her life to assisting others to heal from trauma, accessing their full brainpower, and living in alignment with their soul’s purpose.
Petra is a double-board certified hypnotherapist and neuroencoding specialist. She is the founder of Peak Mind Academy and Lehigh Valley Hypnosis LLC, serving clients around the globe. She is also the award-winning author of two bestselling books and among her most recent accolades are the Crea Global Award 2022, the Quality Business Award 2022, the 2022 Best of Allentown Award, the Brainz500 Award 2021 and the Excellence in Hypnosis Award 2020.
Petra was born in Germany, then lived in Switzerland where she founded her first company and served as a firefighter before she moved to the USA.
Her motto: “Science plus Wisdom is LOVE.”