Panic attacks suck: How can we as professionals manage stress?

It wasn’t supposed to be a big deal…..a dental procedure that would take about twenty minutes max.  I could go in and out of there lickity split, and get back to my work day.

I could feel my hands getting sweaty as I pulled into the parking lot of the dental clinic.  I was nervous.  Very nervous.  But I knew it would be over with as soon as it started.  So let’s do this!

After all, I had things to do that day.  I had deadlines to meet at work.  As “team mom” for both of my kids’ teams, I had to help organize end-of-the-season shenanigans.  My youngest one had her tournament coming up, and I had to make sure her uniform was clean and ready.  At church, we were celebrating our beloved saints, and my girls were to dress up as their favorites.  So, I had to pull together Mary Magdalene and Mother Teresa outfits for the weekend.  I also had to pull together some goods for a church donation project due at the same time.

On top of that, I had family coming into town that weekend.  I wanted to make sure I hit the grocery store so I could actually feed them.  My house was also a wreck. Every year, I host a neighborhood Halloween get together at my house. Although the holiday was over, my house was still covered in spider webs and skeletons. I’d be embarrassed to have that up any longer.

I had SO much to do.  I didn’t have time for tooth pain, I told myself. So let’s get this over with!

The dental assistant calmly took me back to the room where the procedure would take place.  She placed the nice, gray blanket over my chest.  She numbed half of my mouth using a cotton swab and a gel. Then, she proceeded to take my blood pressure.

“Ma’am, do you normally have an issue with high blood pressure?” she asked.

“No, not at all,” I responded.

“Well, you may have what we call ‘white coat syndrome.’ Don’t worry,” she assured me. “It’s perfectly normal.”

About five minutes later, the dentist came in. He was very friendly and professional.  He proceeded to tell me the things that could go wrong during the procedure. He said It may take longer than I’d originally thought. There was also a chance, he said, that it wouldn’t work, and I would need an oral surgeon.

I felt my chest getting a little tight.

Then he told me my blood pressure HAD to come down.  It was way too high to be doing anything medical.

I started to feel my chest getting a little tighter.

“It’s just adrenaline,” I told myself. “I’m starting to freak out, and that feeling in my chest is adrenaline. Calm down, Denise.”

The sweet dental assistant took my blood pressure again.  It was still too high. I can’t remember exactly what it measured. But I know the top number was 172.  The dental assistant told me it should be in the 120s.

“Do you have some sort of underlying medical condition?” asked the dentist.

“No, I don’t. I don’t know why my blood pressure is reading so high,” I said.

At this point, I felt my neck getting hot.  My body started to stiffen.  Half of my mouth was numb from the gel.  This HAD to get done.  I had too much to do, and I didn’t want to reschedule.

The dentist offered me laughing gas (nitrous oxide).  He said the gas was often used to help calm patients. I was willing to try anything. “Gas me up,” I said.

The dental assistant put the rubbery mask on my nose and turned on the gas.  She told me to take deep breaths.  I could feel my heart pounding through my chest.  I hadn’t had the gas in more than 30 years.  How would this affect me? Would it make me sick?  Woozy?

I started to squirm as the dental assistant encouraged me to take deep breaths.  She took my blood pressure again. She quietly showed the number to the dentist, who shook his head.  “Ma’am, it went up to 185.”

I felt my eyes start to water.  What was happening to me?  I started breathing rapidly and I could hear my heartbeat thumping so quickly. That’s when it hit me.

I was having a panic attack….a full blown panic attack.

Admitting defeat, my dentist explained that I would need the sedation of an oral surgeon.  As he explained my options, I just stared into an oblivion. How could I let this happen?  How could mental state put me into a position where I needed sedation?

I tried to hold it together as I met with the administrator at the desk.  “Don’t worry, we’ll give you a refund,” she explained.

I got into my truck, drove into a random parking lot, and proceeded to cry, uncontrollably.  I couldn’t stop, not even long enough to call my husband. I texted him, but I couldn’t talk to him.  As soon as I wiped my face, another barrage of tears would flow down.

“Come on, Denise. Get it together,” I told myself.  After all, I had to go back to work.  I couldn’t go in as a blubbering mess.

I would sit in that parking lot for thirty more minutes before finally coming back to work.

As I reflect on that terrible day, I had to think about what put me in such a state.  I later had coffee with my sister, who always has useful insight.  “This wasn’t about your tooth, Denise. This was just the straw that broke the camel’s back,” she explained.

She was right.  I was overwhelmed.

I am not the first working mom to feel this way, nor will I be the last.  I’ve decided to make some lifestyle changes, and I hope my experience can help others who may also be inundated with stress.

  • I need to know my limits. I have a 40-minute commute to work every day, which is stressful enough.  It also limits my after-work activities.  Was it necessary to volunteer to be “team mom” for BOTH of my kids’ soccer teams? I really didn’t have time to plan the end-of-season party. Why would I put that on myself? And maybe it’s okay to skip hosting the big Halloween party for one year.  It could have saved me the stress from buying food and drinks for my guests, on top of having a perfectly decorated home. Also, is it really necessary that I serve on the Board of Directors for the fourth year in a row? These little things add up.  I just committed to too much.  I think we do it to ourselves.  We want to be active. We want to be social. We also want to make a difference in our community.  But what good are you if you are a walking stressbag??


  • I need to learn to say no. If I’m not in the mood to entertain all of the neighborhood kids at my house, it’s okay to tell them, “not today, kids. Come back next week when my family doesn’t have so much going on.” If I’m asked to plan a going away party for a departing co-worker, it’s okay to say “I’m sorry, but my plate is too full. Can someone else take this on?”  I have a REAL problem with not saying the word “no” enough.


  • Get off social media. I wrestle with this one. Facebook is like the ring of power.  I love and hate the ring.  But here’s the deal.  There is so much ANGST all over my Facebook feed.  For my own mental health, I need to just take a break…..a nice.long.break.



  • Make my kids self-sufficient. How many of you hear the word “mom” screamed 17 times per day? Mom, can you get me water?  Mom can you bring me my tablet?  Mom, can you wash my hair? Mom, can you heat me up some soup?  Enough!  Not only do my kids need to be independent. They should also be regularly helping me with chores.


  • I need to get healthy. Several glasses of red wine per night can’t be good. If I’m worried about blood pressure, I have to insert healthy eating and physical activity into my schedule.


  • Take time off. Why didn’t I take a full sick day for my dental procedure? Did I really want to go back to work with a mouth full of gauze?  That was just stupid.


  • Me time. I know what you’re thinking.  Who has “me time” when you are a working mother?  Folks, we have to schedule some time for ourselves.  Get with your spouse. Come up with a plan. For starters, my husband and I have decided that I need a spa day.  We deserve to treat ourselves!


  • Turn off my brain. I am the type of person who can hold grudges.  If I get my feelings hurt, I replay the scenario in mind regularly.  Someone once told me that holding a grudge is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.  This is so true!  I need to turn off my brain, and let go of that crap!


  • Counseling. If I can’t turn off my brain, this may be a healthy next step.


  • Get good sleep. You know that old saying “I’ll sleep when I’m dead”?  It sucks!!!  I know myself well enough to know I have to get my eight hours.  This is CRITICAL for my mental health.


  • Love what matters. Family, close friends and health.  The rest is just gravy.

3 thoughts on “Panic attacks suck: How can we as professionals manage stress?

Add yours

  1. Well my dear didn’t know you had been dealing with so much .you are a woman that can’t say no and so am I. I guess I need to take some of your advice on here and maybe I’ll feel better too. I know these suggestions will help many other moms that work as well.


  2. I totally agree. Why is it so easy for us to think of everyone else first before ourselves. I think his mom’s we’re all guilty of this some more than others.

    Thanks for sharing your story. As scary as it was it helps you realize some things about yourself and hopefully help the rest of us realize some things we need to change as well.


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