I am in a really good place right now, which is such a relief because it was looking pretty bleak there for a little while. The anxiety is not completely vanished, I don’t know if it will ever do that, but I feel much more like myself than I have in months. I feel released, liberated. A huge weight has been lifted off my shoulders. I can breathe. I can look up.
As I carry on and move forward, I am learning so much about myself and about how I mentally navigate life. It’s been very interesting and liberating to understand myself and my mind on a deeper level. I believe that the way I am hardwired, being genetics, constitution or chemical make up, makes me prone to anxiousness. I have clear memories of moments in my childhood that I now say, “Ah, that was anxiety.” I think I have always lived on the anxious side of life. But I am now learning how sometimes the way I think can exacerbate and make things so much worse.
I am still as imperfectly perfect as ever.
I want to share the things that have been helping me get to this place. There hasn’t been one magical cure-all, but a few different things combined that have made a difference. I think it’s important to take notice of what does help alleviate those feelings, even if only in small amounts or in short durations, and hold on to them with all your might. That may be what gets you through your day.
First things first, I am on medication. I was put on an SSRI, Celexa, about four years ago and while I was able to go off of it for a time, I decided it was right for me to go back on. I know that they say give it 4-6 weeks to notice a change, but I believe within the first week of going back on, I felt a change. Whether it was actually helping or just all in my mind, I felt better, and I’ll take that any day! Now, I am NOT a doctor and am not trying to specifically prescribe Celexa. What works for one may not work for another, and meds may not be for everyone. What I can say with all of my heart is that if you decide to try the medication route, it does not mean that you are broken, defective or less than. IT. DOES. NOT.
When I first went on the meds, I struggled with these thoughts on a daily basis. But I now believe, 100%, that those thoughts are not true. I am still as imperfectly perfect as ever, I just need a little help. There is no shame in needing a little help! Everybody needs some help sometimes. If medication helps you, and you have no adverse side effects from it, then KEEP TAKING IT! YOU ARE STILL YOU! And, you are still amazing.
I have been seeing a therapist now for about 6 weeks. She has been instrumental in helping me. We did a version of EMDR (click here to find out more about EMDR) to tackle some bigger issues that have been triggering me and that has been a huge help in calming my limbic system–the part of your brain that regulates emotions and memories. In my case, it was on high alert, and since it reacts to situations before your cognitive brain does, that explains why I could never reason with myself during panic attacks or high anxiety moments. There was no talking me out of how I was feeling, no matter how irrational it was.
We have also been doing some Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT) and this has been the source of my new outlook on how my thoughts can trigger or make the anxiety worse. The deeper self awareness has given me the ability to see when I’m doing a cognitive distortion and I can then change my thoughts to something true and that I actually believe. Change your thoughts, change your life!
Whether or not the EMDR is right for you, everyone’s needs are different, I would highly recommend therapy. I feel so much more freedom from the anxiety just from the CBT and I would not have that without seeing a therapist. There is a book about CBT called When Panic Attacks by David D. Burns that is really interesting and helpful. It’s great, but can be even more effective when combined with a therapist familiar with CBT and it’s techniques.
You probably already know my feelings about yoga. It’s been instrumental in my recovery from anxiety and panic attacks, and just my overall outlook on life. It’s physical exercise, mentally stimulating, calming, cultivating mindfulness, focusing on the present moment, and spiritual all rolled into one beautiful thing. It has brought me relief, even if only for a short time, from high levels of anxiety multiple times and I don’t go a day without it. Okay, okay…sometimes I do. Sometimes life is CRAZY and I have to skip it, but I really do notice when I don’t practice. Let’s just say it’s a high priority for me on my self care agenda.
If you want to read more about why yoga is FLIPPING AWESOME, check out this other post that I wrote.
I’ve also written a bit about meditation in this other post, but I have more to say on the matter , so, at the risk of being repetitive…
All it takes is a few minutes of meditation to reap heaps of benefits. Seriously. I know this sounds crazy. Don’t we have to escape to deep, secluded mountains of the Himalayas and sit in daily silence for months before we can reach peace and enlightenment? No, we do not. Who has time for that?!?! All we need is a few minutes a day on a regular basis and we can find it. It’s one of those things that you may not notice is benefiting you until you stop doing it and then you realize it was. That’s usually how it works in my life.
Some of you won’t believe me, that all it takes is a few minutes, until you try it. It seems too easy, right? Well, it is easy and it helps, so I DARE you to try it. I may have mentioned this book before, You Have 4 Minutes to Change Your Life by Rebekah Boruki, but it’s filled with 4-minute meditations that can help you get started and tons of insight that can help with your anxieties.
This one is a little more tricky. I really don’t have any tried and true advice for you and I’m not going to recommend you do any diets or eat certain ways. But what I am going to say is that what we put into our bodies can affect our brains, both directly and indirectly. For example, what I put into my body directly affects my digestive system. If I eat high amounts of carbohydrates and sugars, my bowels start to get sluggish and don’t do what they are supposed to do. I get extremely constipated and bloated. Then that directly affects the levels of serotonin, dopamine and all those other hormones that regulate stress, mood and energy levels. Because those hormones have to pass through your gut to then get to where they need to go, and if my gut is all jacked up, that doesn’t happen.
Then, indirectly, this affects my stress and anxieties about body image. This is one of the things I periodically get anxiety about. SO many fears about my body, being accepted and loved, and feeling beautiful and sexy, but that is another post entirely. So, back to my point, I am now bloated, uncomfortable and I think and feel (notice that I didn’t say am? Thoughts and feelings don’t always reflect truth and that’s a cognitive distortion!) that I am fat and gaining weight, which plays in to those anxieties that can then lead to unhappiness and depression. Even though I am NOT in the least bit fat (using this term loosely, to illustrate my personal negative self talk), AT ALL, my emotional side doesn’t care and goes into hyperdrive. So it’s in my best interest to be mindful about what I eat.
All I am saying is, can we be more conscious about what we eat and how it makes us feel and only eat what makes us feel good? No one should be a slave to their eating habits, that’s just more anxiety we don’t need, but maybe you can make some changes, like me, that will greatly affect your mental state. (For the record, I do eat sugar and bread and chocolate and all those other delicious things. Sometimes that’s the only thing that feels good, am I right?! I am just more mindful about it and don’t over do it.)
Really, all the things I mentioned above could go into the category of lifestyle. That list has impacted my lifestyle greatly, in the best of ways. There are just a couple more things I felt worth mentioning. We have been using essential oils in our home for years. I love them for everything! Making homemade cleaning and beauty products, sickness and immune boosters, and now for emotional health as well. I recently read in a book about aromatherapy that your sense of smell is the only sense that bypasses your cognitive brain and goes straight to your limbic system. What!?!? That’s so cool and exactly what someone with anxiety struggles (or any mental/emotional struggles) can benefit from. Some of my favorites for anxiety are bergamot, orange, ylang ylang, lavender, and vetiver. But any that you love can be beneficial, because things you love bring you peace!
Scheduling some time for myself each day has improved my moods and mental state. I do something that brings me joy, recharge my batteries and I don’t feel guilty about it! That’s the key point here. DON’T. FEEL. GUILTY. To really maximize your self care benefits, you have to drop the guilt. I used to feel guilty anytime I got out my paint brushes instead of doing the laundry, but now I know that taking time for me will make me better at the rest of my to do list. So do it! Make some tea, get out your highly addictive and totally indulgent historical romance novel and curl up on the couch. Or get outside with your kid and walk the dog, both in leashes if necessary, and bask in some sunshine and root chakra healing. Whatever it is that make you recharge and feel whole again.
Knowing your limits can help you manage your stress levels. There are some of us that can pack a bit more into our schedules and there are those of us that need a bit more free time. I am learning that I do much better with my stress levels if there is some down time for me each day. I do much better creatively and logically when I have times in the day that I don’t have to be on the ball in those areas. You have to be mindful of your own needs and know when to say no, cut back and/or check priorities. If you feel yourself starting to drain and get frazzled, it’s time to do a double check and step back. Schedule some self love time and recharge your energies!
Well, there you have it. My little list of anxiety helpers. What are some things that help you with anxiety? I’d love to hear!