If you’re anything like me, you may one day come to struggle with anxiety.
Anxiety is not merely worry. It’s not even elevated or uncontrolled worry. It is another animal altogether.
In my experience, anxiety is what comes from an inability to process and handle stressors; it is what happens when you repress feelings and emotions; it’s a modern malady stemming from your body’s evolutionary fight or flight response that still fancies itself being chased by lions and acts accordingly, undiscerning of first world versus real world problems; it is your body’s way of telling you that shit ain’t right, lady, and you have to step back, take it down a notch and get back to basics.
At first, I felt I needed to combat anxiety, but the truth is, one needs more than anything, to accept it—both as a human condition and in the moment.
Before I was able to see a psychiatrist to get the help I dearly needed (in the form of pscyh meds, of course), I was so desperate. I was in the midst of despair and inner turmoil and willing to try anything to make my pain go away.
The saying goes: desperate times call for desperate measures.
I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again: mindfulness and meditation (via Jon Kabat-Zinn’s Full Catastrophe Living) truly saved my life. It guided and supported me through depression and anxiety, through some very intense feelings, including suicidal thoughts.
In retrospect, it was stupid not to go directly to the emergency room and receive some form of drug that would have quieted my mind and staid me until my appointment with a psychiatrist. (Though, if I recall correctly, I was unwilling and practically unable to unfurl myself from a fetal position, shut into my room. My family would have had to drag me into a hospital at that point. And I would have been confident that the car ride, alone, would kill me.)(I was, using mindfulness techniques, eventually able to quiet my own mind enough to make the walk to my parents house, the fifteen minute drive to the psychiatrist—though I was still a big, hot, trembling, sobbing mess.)
But, on the other hand, without that pervasive sense of desperation, I might not have been willing to try some of the different, sometimes strange, out-there, unconventional ways to address anxiety.
If life isn’t so bad for you (or you don’t think so), the things I recommend, below, may make you chuckle, feel uncomfortable or make you shout out: “that crazy, crystal-toting hippie!” But, trust me, if you are in so deep, like I was, or are just a naturally open person, you’ll know it doesn’t hurt to try something new and different to help oneself.
1. Mindfulness/Yoga/Meditation – there’s the book I recommended, above, by the guru of mindfulness. He has written others. All based in scientific methods and research. See this video for a primer and short practice of mindfulness.
2. Affirmations – the first time I listened to an affirmation it was one about weight-loss that my therapist accidentally sent me. The funny thing is that it didn’t matter. Maybe I didn’t need to repeat after the weight-specific parts, but it’s clear that we all, at base, have the same issues—around loving and caring for oneself, confidence, fear of rejection, perfectionism, etc.—and it was truly an affirming experience that validated many of the thoughts and feelings I never knew I had.
Moreover, listening to affirmations, once you get over your own uncomfortable self-consciousness, can be very relaxing. Not only the soothing voice, but over time, just hearing the music and voice triggers relaxation. Our minds and bodies are undoubtedly connected and there are guided imagery (which I don’t like, but maybe you will) and affirmation programs for almost any condition. Here’s programs for a variety of health concerns from Kaiser-Permanente I like.
3. Rescue Remedy Spray – recommended to my future-sister-in-law by a good friend of hers and then the very next day, my therapist recommended it to me, this herbal mouth spray (and there are a few other kinds and brands at Whole Foods) engages the sense of taste and smell to trigger relaxation. While mindfulness is find and dandy for someone so cerebral like me, often sight, sound and taste work faster, in terms of communicating to your brain to calm the heck down.
My therapist points out, something like this isn’t going to make you feel better three hours from now, but it stops you in the moment, does it’s brain-communication thing, refocuses you. (I’m trying to use this to replace or in conjunction with my urge to take Xanax—you cruel mistress, you—in stressful situations.)
4. Aromatherapy – similar to how the spray, above, works, except it’s all nostril and no tongue. I use the scent of lavender during the day to trigger a sense of calm (like above: redirection, refocusing) and chamomile to trigger sleepy-time relaxation at night. I like The Body Shop’s line, but you can find aromatherapy supplies other places and at Whole Foods or online.
5. Gum – this was a real nervous energy buster when I first started driving again. It was just something to do to keep my mind in the present and off of negative, spiraling thoughts. Sort of a mindfulness technique I guess.
6. Running – I’ve written about that before as another way to release anxious energy before it takes over my brain.
7. Keeping it Real – related to all of the above: mindfulness and affirmations and taking action for oneself, I find that the emotional coaching that I and Bel have been doing together has really helped me to “get over” or ride my waves of anxiety until I, recently, find them to be non-existent.
At my first pang of anxiety or wave of adrenaline, I don’t run in fear. We, both, are learning to observe the feeling, name it, determine its root cause and, perhaps, think of a solution. I find, sometimes, that what I thought I was anxious about really wasn’t what I was anxious about. Sometimes, I’m just dehydrated or have a headache. Sometimes, it was something beadle said or something I did.
In addition, learning to let go helps a lot too. Letting go of control, perfection, performance, appearance and sometimes civility. And just saying to myself, “this is me and this is all I am and nothing more” eliminates the pressure and stress that feeds anxiety. Research shows, self-compassion can go a long way.
What, why and how some of these approaches work is beyond me and isn’t really my concern, so long as they keep working!
With all of the above suggestions, what remains super-important, is that you’re taking action to DO something for yourself. Even some studies show that doing something (even in the absence of positive thinking, even if you know or believe it’s a placebo treatment) is better than doing nothing at all.
So, go do something for yourself!