Life's wake up call

Life’s wake up call

Dr. Kimberley O'BrienLifestyle, Mind Body, Psychology Leave a Comment

Last night I awoke at 3am to my heart pounding out of my chest at 200 beats per minute. My immediate reaction was stress and fear, wondering if I would be able to get it to stop or if this would be one of those times that I would end up in the hospital again.

I have had episodes of paroxysmal supraventricular tachycardia (SVT) since around 12 years old. SVT (which is much easier to say!) is regarded as a non-life threatening arrhythmia (abnormality in heart rate) but it is very uncomfortable and anxiety provoking when it does occur. The episodes begin suddenly and without warning, usually ending just as quickly either minutes or many hours later. I break into a cold sweat, become lightheaded and weak, and feel as though my chest has become home to a caged bird that is flapping it’s wings to escape from inside. My heart rate soars as though I were doing high intensity interval training, although it usually strikes me while sleeping or when doing simple daily activities like grocery shopping.

While unpleasant, SVT is something that I’ve learned to live with. Over the years I’ve noticed that the cleaner and healthier I am living, the more infrequently these episodes tend to occur and the easier they are to control.

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In my early twenties I returned from spending months abroad backpacking in Asia. While traveling I was living an excessive lifestyle, consuming too much alcohol and caffeine, neglecting nutrition and not exercising. Upon my return to Canada I was planning my wedding (exciting but stressful!) and a big move to a new city. During that first month back home I experienced 3 episodes of SVT that were incredibly intense and lasted for hours without stopping. Each of those 3 times I ended up in the emergency room, needing IV medication to “reset” my heart rhythm and return it to normal. I was told I may need heart surgery and was put on medication to help decrease the severity of my SVT episodes until that time.

I became extremely anxious and fearful every time my heart skipped a beat. I kept thinking that the next time I experienced an episode of SVT I would likely end up right back in the hospital. I was scared. This was a huge wake up call for me to change my lifestyle and start taking better care of myself.


Thankfully this was all occurring within the year prior to beginning my schooling to become a naturopathic doctor and my eyes were already opening to the importance of taking care of my body. I knew I needed to make a change. I realized that the increase in severity of the SVT episodes were my body’s way of screaming out to me that it was imbalanced and that something needed to shift. I realized that the time to make the change was now. There could not be any more putting it off for a later date.

As I changed my diet and lifestyle, my SVT started occurring less frequently and the episodes were of shorter duration. After several months I was able to stop the medication I had been given to help control the occurrence of my symptoms. I removed my name from the wait-list for surgery. I felt empowered! I could clearly see the results of the changes that I had made. The decrease in severity of my SVT episodes wasn’t the only thing that changed. I was also experiencing more energy and less overall anxiety.   Additionally many other chronic health conditions that I had experienced eventually disappeared.

While SVT is a condition that stays with me and acts up to this day, it is something that I have learned to view as a guidepost as to how I am living my life. When it occurs now I breathe deeply and try to enter a meditative state to calm myself down. I then question myself…have I been exercising regularly, avoiding my food sensitivities, drinking too much caffeine or alcohol or letting stress get the best of me? What is my body trying to tell me? I lie down and breathe through my anxiety, asking myself these questions as my heart races. I make a mental commitment to make the changes that my intuition tells me are required. And then I thank my body for giving me a sign that I needed this change. I actually express gratitude for the symptoms and stop trying to fight them, instead focusing on my breath and the emotion of gratitude. Amazingly, it is usually once I reach this point that my heart rate suddenly drops back to normal.

Last night when my heart acted up, as usual I was initially gripped by fear. I tried to focus on my breathing, and repeated my usual mantra to myself “Slow it down, slow it down”. I asked myself my usual questions. It just wasn’t shifting! My fear started to resurge but I knew I had to remain calm. So I ended up changing my question and opening up to the Universe with a broader “What do I need to learn from this?”

New Year fitness goals

Almost immediately (but completely unexpectedly), I felt that what I needed to do was to open up and share. I needed to share my experience with you, which might help you shift your perspective about the pesky symptoms or scarier warning signs that you may be experiencing in your health. I needed to let you know that it’s ok to feel scared. It’s ok to feel vulnerable. It’s what makes us human. What we want to avoid is for you to get stuck in fear, for fear creates paralysis and does not inspire sustained action for you to transform your health.

Next time you feel paralyzed in fear over your health or irritated by symptoms that just won’t go away, ask yourself these questions:

  • If these symptoms were your body talking to you, what might it be trying to say?
  • What is imbalanced right now in your life?
  • Where do you feel your pain? By this I mean not only your physical pain, but emotional and spiritual pain as well.
  • Are you happy in your life, job, marriage and home?
  • Are you making time for yourself, your friends and your family?
  • Are you having enough fun?
  • Are you having too much fun and lacking discipline when it comes to your health? Are you using food or alcohol as an escape? And if so, what are you escaping from?

Tune in to your intuition. Breathe into your pain and open up to Universe in search of guidance. The answers that come to you may or may not be what you expect.

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About the Author

Dr. Kimberley O'Brien


Dr. Kimberley O'Brien is a Naturopathic Doctor in  Nelson, BC with expertise in the treatment of digestive disorders, fatigue and hormone imbalances.  She is the founder of Healthy Life Redesign and creator of the Elimination Diet Meal Plan and the Real Food Recharge online programs.  Her mission is to help you own your health and live a life you love!

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