OUR OLD 'MATE' ANXIETY
For a lot of us anxiety is something we've known all our lives, before we even knew what it was. I remember thinking I just worried a lot. People didn't talk about anxiety or probably know what it was when we grew up in the '90s-2000s. My Mum got me these 'Worry Dolls' from a Trade Aid shop (made out of cotton and sticks lol). I told them my worries and put them under my pillow at night hoping I wouldn't feel 'worried' the next day. I remember feeling panicked and scared a lot and often had a tight and burning feeling in my chest, but I never could really work out why. Some days it was just worse than others.
I think it's great that in 2018 anxiety is a lot more normalised. We talk about it a lot more and being someone who experiences anxiety, it actually makes you feel less anxious (ironically) knowing what it is and that it's so common.
WHAT IS ANXIETY?
Definition: Anxiety is a general term for several disorders that cause nervousness, fear, apprehension and worrying. These disorders affect how we feel and behave and can cause physical symptoms, Severe anxiety can seriously affect day-to-day living.
I remember being so scared of my anxiety. When it would kick in I was so afraid of how bad it might get. My worst bouts of anxiety have seen me not be able to sleep for up to five nights straight, vomit, not be able to eat and have severe panic attacks where I've had to hold on to things around me as I felt like I was going to be swallowed into a dark vortex in the ground.
I had an eating disorder from my pre-teens (I don't really remember when it started) and it was the worst while I was studying. I was so sick I would starve myself and vomit everything I ate. It was suggested by health professionals that I delayed completing my final year of study so I could go into recovery care, but I was so determined to finish my degree, I didn't want it to take that away from me.
Once I understood my anxiety was the cause of it (I was trying to control my anxiety and it was a self-soother) I was able to get well and have had a healthy relationship with food and my body ever since.
I have the word 'love' tattooed on my wrist. Hardly anyone knows what it means, it represents learning to love myself (a journey that has taken me a lot longer, tell ya what) and basically the end of my eating disorder at 19/2o (I got there eventually). I felt like it was an important achievement to acknowledge within myself. If you've been through similar you'll understand how much of a mind-f battle it is.
Trying to explain your anxiety and panic attacks to anyone is hard, so most of the time I've kept it hidden and only my immediate family would know about it. You're already anxious enough and then you get anxious about people knowing and what they think, so it's a vicious cycle for us poor anxious folk.
I am very thankful I have parents and siblings and now in my adult life (I haven't lived in the same city as my family for eleven years) close friends who have always been understanding, caring and know how to help.
CHANGING YOUR PERCEPTION OF ANXIETY
Once I stopped being scared of my anxiety (and trust me it hasn't always been easy) and tried to stop it from happening or control it things have seriously changed. You see all of us experience anxiety to a certain degree. It's a normal human emotion, and you can never fully get rid of an emotion. So just like you will always experience happiness you will probably always experience anxiety. Some of us more than others.
What really changed things was when I started looking at my anxiety differently. I had a therapist explain (and this is what mindfulness apps tell you) not to fight it but to acknowledge it. "Hello anxiety I see you've come to say hi". This is happening right now, give it some space, see it for what it is, do all your good things that help and ride it out. Because you will ride it out and it will get less intense and you WILL feel better soon.
THERE IS NOTHING WRONG WITH GETTING HELP
It is perfectly ok to get professional help to manage and better understand your anxiety. It does not make you weak, it makes you really strong. You should be proud of yourself for recognising it and caring for yourself so well.
Some people say GPs are too quick to hand out anti-depressants or anti-anxiety medication, but there are a lot of very good doctors who will discuss your options and help you come up with a plan that is best for YOU. There is nothing wrong with taking medication. I know for myself and some of my close friends, having something you can take 'if you need' can make you feel secure.
I've had a doctor teach me some really good mindfulness techniques which I will go into detail about soon.
I have also mentioned in my previous blog 'How to get through a break-up like a total boss babe' your GP in New Zealand can refer you to a counsellor for four fully funded sessions. I have learnt SO many techniques in these sessions so I highly recommend doing them.
I know when your anxiety is really intense nothing in that moment feels like it helps, I also know what it's like when someone says "Eat this" or "Go for a walk and get some fresh air and you'll feel better" or "You just need to stop over thinking so much". Well first of all it's that easy OK!
I'm not trying to tell you to do these things and you won't feel anxious anymore, but there are lots of things you can do on a daily basis which will improve your well-being and help you manage your anxiety. You need to come up with an action plan. Work out what helps you and then as soon as your anxiety kicks in start working through your action plan STRAIGHT AWAY.
Here's what I've found has helped me:
I cannot stress enough that daily self-care is your #1 hon in life. I went through my top self-care tips in my previous blog 'This one is for the girls (boys you can read it too)'
By making yourself physically and mentally strong you will be in a better state to get through your anxious periods.
One self-care practise which is super important if you have anxiety is looking after your liver.
A ten year study by the University of Edinburgh has found a connection between high levels of anxiety and an increased risk of liver disease and failure. I've been told by my naturopath my liver is my weak point so I do lots of things with my diet and supplement intake to take care of it. I recommend drinking a liver detox tea everyday. Artemis is my favourite and I've noticed Healtheries have a new one available at the supermarket.
What is mindfulness? It's a mental state achieved by focusing on awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one's feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations, It is used as a therapeutic technique.
I recommend reading Ruby Wax's Number one Bestseller 'Sane New World- Taming the Mind'. Ruby explains mindfulness better than I think anyone ever has. She takes you through how to practise, the mental, emotional and also proven physical health benefits of regular mindfulness.
Anxiety for a lot of us is overthinking. One of the first things I do when I start feeling anxious is listen to a mindfulness meditation to calm the anxious thoughts and literally tame my mind.
My favourite mindfulness apps:
- Buddhify - this is the best because it has a wheel of 'what's happening' with quick mindfulness meditations for whatever you're experiencing
- Headspace - simple, quick and effective mindfulness. Best done every day.
- Smiling Mind - an app and program developed by psychologists
- Calm- Considered the #1 mindfulness app in the world. Bit more complicated to use and you have to pay for some features.
In the fast paced, demanding and constantly switched on world we live in it's no wonder we get overwhelmed and have trouble switching our racing minds off. When I first tried to meditate I thought nope this is not for me, my mind is too busy for this sozzies.
If you also have a busy mind which you battle to turn 'off' guided meditations are your new BFF. They tell you what to do, you just have to lie there.
I listen to a guided meditation every night before I go to sleep and it's been an absolute game changer.
Meditating not only makes you calmer, it also makes you mentally strong. I've made a playlist of my favourite meditations which you may find helpful here and you can use the apps I listed above in 'Mindfulness',
HOLISTIC HEALTH CARE
The more tricks you can learn the better, consider them tools in your 'nailing anxiety life' tool kit. I have learnt so much from a range of holistic health care professionals over the past decade.
Naturopathy, Acupuncture, Reiki, Kinesiology, the list goes on.
I respond best to Reiki, which is ancient Japanese energy healing (I got my Level 1's and practise on myself). I find it really helpful in clearing energy and getting into a better space. It can be hard to move forward if you have the same thoughts and feelings swirling around.
The first time I had Reiki I was 19 and as I mentioned earlier pretty sick with an eating disorder. While I did some really effective counselling and wanted to get better, it was Reiki combined with the use of crystals on my body during the sessions and my therapists self-care guidance which helped me overcome my eating disorder and learn how to manage my anxiety. What can I say I am a hippie, moon and crystal loving child, and when something works for you, you've gotta roll with it right?! Find what works for you and do whatever it takes.
Research by Harvard University has found practising yoga can reduce the impact of stress responses and is helpful in treating both anxiety and depression. Yoga appears to modulate stress response systems, including reducing the heart rate, lowering blood pressure and easing breathing. They also found that yoga helps the body respond to stress more flexibly.
I was a dancer growing up so yoga and pilates have been my go to, but if I'm honest I've often had to force myself to do yoga. You might be in a mindset that if it's not high impact it's not proper exercise, but as I am prone to getting adrenal fatigue I can't always go to my 5 x weekly HIIT classes without getting seriously burnt out. This year I've be become a 5-6 times a week yogi and I love it. It makes you feel so good and it's still a really good work out. I recommend going to classes, but there are some really good 'Yoga with Adriene' Youtube sessions you can do at home, which I've put in a playlist for you here
OTHER MISC. THINGS THAT I HAVE FOUND HELP
- Rescue remedy- you can get it made up for your specific needs at a herbal dispensary
- Essential oils- especially calming lavender
- Salt baths- salt has healing properties for your body and mind, put some salt in a bath, some lavender oil (or treat yourself to some Lush bath products) and soak in the calming goodness by candlelight
- Herbal teas - chamomile, sleepy tea, liver tea (I explained the important in 'Self-Care' )
- Lots of water - anxiety is thirsty work! I always feel like it's helping me to flush it out of my body
- Magnesium - has heaps of benefits but is proven to relieve anxiety and is good for the nervous system
- Executive Stress B vitamins
- Melatonin - my doctor explained that with anxiety you will wake up in the night alot. Melatonin is natural and it helps you to stay asleep. Getting good sleep is SO important
- Deep breathing exercises - slowing down your breathing lowers your heart rate, often heightened during anxiety bouts
- Positive affirmations - tell yourself you're a babe and that you're going to be ok. Write down your go-to affirmations
- Reading - takes your mind to another place and there are lots of great self-help reads (I'll list my favourites in a future post)
- Watching mindless trashy TV like my current favourite 'Love Island Australia' or a really interesting crime doco series, whatever you're feeling
- Being around nature - the beach, the bush. Somewhere nice and calm
- Exercise - move your body. Even if it's a light walk in the fresh air
- Being grateful - think about all of the good things in your life you are thankful for. Focusing on these things can often drag you out of the dark/ negative thought patterns
THINGS TO AVOID/ DITCH
- Caffeine - stick to decaf coffee (which technically still has traces of caffeine in it)
- Alcohol - we all know hang-xiety (hungover anxiety) is real! Those mornings lying in bed after a night out worrying about what we did/ said while feeling the effects of alcohol trying to leave our anxious prone bodies. Listen to your body. Have your 'safe' drinks. I stick to beer or vodka soda. I found out I'm allergic to wine but it makes my anxiety unbearable so I ditched it over a year ago
- Sugar - can be the devil for anxiety. Try to eat as clean as you can and work out which treat foods don't trigger your anxiety
- Lying in bed all day - GET UP! It's ok to nap but it's best to get up and get on with your day. Do some nice things for yourself
- Being hard on yourself. You're doing your best! Be kind to yourself
- Sticking around people who tell you your anxiety is all in your head (yeah well no shit Sherlock you try living in an anxious persons mind for a day... I'll wait). Don't allow people to belittle you or your anxiety. It does not make you less capable as a person and people like to see it as a weakness. If you're managing it and overcoming it that makes you REALLY super strong!