Patient Blogs | Atrial Fibrillation
AFib, You Are Not the Boss of Me!
photo of woman texting on the bed in pajamas

I’ve had a run of AFib episodes recently, more frequent and longer and more debilitating than usual. It’s gotten me into the doomscroll mindset I try so hard to avoid. Thinking about all the “what ifs.” What if this is what the rest of my life looks like (so dizzy I can barely get out of the bed to pee)? What if I can never go hiking again (too dizzy)? What if I can never enjoy a vacation again (too dizzy)? What if all my future grandchildren will know is an Oma who sits and can barely focus? Enough!

I’ve written before about effective strategies to avoid catastrophizing. Easy to write about when I’m in rhythm, but not so easy to put into practice on day 6 of a really bad AFib episode. Until I remember that I do, in fact, have some control over my heart’s behavior. Anxiety can increase my heart rate, and deep breathing can often help it correct itself. There have been times at the doctor’s office where the doctor has commented on how effectively I can reduce/normalize my heart rate through deep breathing.

My morning listen on day 6 of the AFib episode happened to be a podcast about mindfulness, which reminded me that I’ve let the doomscroll thoughts set up permanent housekeeping in my brain. Which raises my anxiety, which raises my heart rate, which makes it so much harder for my pill-in-a-pocket to do its work converting me back into sinus rhythm. Time to exercise some control over that monkey brain. Breathe, tell my brain “Not now” for the doomscroll thoughts, breathe some more, repeat.

And my morning newsfeed that day included an article about worrying smarter (not less). I think the universe is looking out for me! I know that if I’ve done everything I can to change the situation I’m worrying about (in this case, taking my pill-in-the-pocket), I need to let the worry go. And if I have a plan of what to do if things don’t change (in this case, would have been to go in for a cardioversion), I can let the worry go.

As mentioned before, this last AFib episode was a doozy. The pill-in-a-pocket did finally work, possibly because I was able to calm my anxiety about the episode. I’ve been in rhythm for several weeks now (touch wood). It was a good reminder that I have to be mindful, continually mindful, to not let my AFib worries take over. 

I make sure to sleep in a position where I cannot feel my heartbeat (i.e., reduce the obsessing about rate and rhythm). I don’t take an Apple Watch EKG reading unless I’m dizzy or have other symptoms (i.e., ignorance is bliss in “normal” circumstances). I implement mindfulness strategies when I feel my thoughts straying back to AFib catastrophizing – a practice called SOBER: Stop, Observe, Breathe, Expand awareness, Respond (not react). And I focus on my gratitude for being in normal rhythm right now.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to say that I can turn an AFib episode on or off. But I can do everything in my power to control my anxiety and thoughts to create a physical environment that supports and welcomes normal sinus rhythm. Just writing this blog post was a therapeutic reminder! But managing my thoughts about AFib is still a work in progress.



Photo Credit: FreshSplash / E+ via Getty Images

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Michele Straube

Michele Straube

Diagnosed since 1979

Michele Straube has lived with atrial fibrillation (AFib) for 42 years. Recently retired from a long career as an environmental mediator, her plans include travel and trailer camping with husband Bob and puppy Tux. She currently teaches ESL to adult immigrants and refugees, and she delivers Meals on Wheels to homebound seniors. She enjoys chatting with AFib patients to explore their path to living with the condition.

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