The tide had been rising for weeks, months, so infinitesimally that I didn’t notice it. It slowly built until it peaked and rushed down on me like a tsunami. It hit me like a wall and I was lost in the swirling darkness, unable to see the light except for brief glimpses of the sun. The anxiety sucked me under and stole my breath. I lost all sense of direction and couldn’t find firm ground. It stole my pleasure as soon as it rose within me.
I tried to distract myself and numb the pain by hibernating in my apartment and eating comfort food but the fear and hopelessness suffocated me. My mind raced and my worst fears appeared to be materializing. The logical part of me knew that technically there was nothing wrong but the anxiety overrode my common sense and I was lost in the blackness.
For years I’ve counseled other people on how to handle anxiety. I always talked to them about it with confidence, telling them to try this and that. But when, like them, I got lost in the blackness I wondered, “Did what I tell them to do help them at all? Does any of this psychobabble actually work? Was it all a load of crap?!”
And I found out that yes, some of the strategies actually do work. At least they did for me this time. The anxiety hasn’t completely passed but now it is at a low enough level that I can live my life. So, since I found out that the strategies actually do work in real life and not just in theory, I thought I’d share them with you. Just in case one of you finds yourself at the mercy of a tsunami.
First, there are a few things you should know:
1. The strategies don’t work if you don’t use them. One of the reasons why I questioned what I had been taught was because I was lost in the anxiety and thinking about the strategies, not actually using them. Once I started to actually put them into practice, the anxiety slowly eased.
2. Not every strategy will work for everyone. These are just a few strategies that worked for me. Maybe they’ll work for you or maybe you’ll have to find ones that are unique to you. My goal is just to help you explore your options and find strategies that will work for you.
3. Not every strategy will work every time. A strategy may work in one situation but not another. If one doesn’t work, don’t give up. Reach back into your bag of tricks and try another one.
4. In fact, one lone strategy most likely won’t relieve all of your anxiety. It’s the synergy of using multiple strategies that will have the most powerful impact.
Now, on to the strategies that helped keep me from drowning in the anxiety:
1. Get Moving-It can be horribly difficult to get up and get started but if you can pick one very small thing, defy the anxiety by getting started, and accomplish it, you will build momentum and gain a sense of accomplishment. I bought a small note book and started recording my accomplishments to help remind me of what they are when I feel like I haven’t made any progress. Your accomplishments can be as small as 10 minutes of yoga, taking a shower, doing the dishes, making soup, putting on makeup, putting away your laundry or making one small posting to Facebook.
2. Get Support-When I was in the middle of the storm and couldn’t find my footing, I needed all the help I could get so I called three friends and my mom. Talking to just one wasn’t enough. As soon as I got done talking with one, I would call another and get a new pep talk. I trust them, so when I couldn’t trust my emotions and my view of reality, I knew I could trust them to speak to me with honesty and wisdom. They grounded me. Find support wherever you can and give them an opportunity to help you. It could be friends, family, adopted family, a church group, support group, or softball team, a yoga teacher, or mentor. It can be difficult to ask for help because you don’t want to be a burden but giving someone the chance to support you is actually a gift.
3. Eat to Nourish Your Body and Mind-My diet is so limited, due to an exhaustive list of sensitivities (hear more about my story here), that I eat the same small list of foods over and over. Some of the foods I like and some foods I eat only because I know I need the nourishment. There are some days that the thought of eating the same foods over and over steals my appetite so I would rather go hungry than not eat. I truly believe that this thought process is part of what led me into this storm. Your body needs nutritious foods to balance your hormones and stabilize your moods. If you don’t eat enough nutritious foods it can lead to anxiety, depression, and even anger. Take the time and make the effort to feed yourself nutritious, whole, unprocessed foods.
4. Sunshine, Fresh Air, and Movement-There’s something deeply therapeutic about taking a walk through the trees while sunshine falls on my face. It may be cold here but breathing in the cold, crisp air does something magical that helps to clear my mind. If you’re in the middle of a storm, get up, take ten minutes, and do some gentle movements. It could be walking, running, body weight exercises, yoga, or qi gong. If it’s outside, it’s even better. The movement and breathing will help your body to release some of the negative tension and relax.
5. Breathe!-I’m a chronic shallow breather and unfortunately, when I’m feeling anxious, breathing shallowly only intensifies the anxiety. When you breathe shallowly it can send a message to your brain telling it that you are in danger and that it needs to go into fight, flight, or freeze. By breathing deeply, all the way down into your belly, it oxygenates your body and signals to the body that it’s safe to relax. A very simple breathing exercise is breathing in for a count of 7, holding for a count of two, and breathing out for a count of 8. There are a myriad of other breathing exercises and there are many free ones to be found on the internet.
6. Brainwash Yourself-When I’m stuck in anxiety, I’m overcome by negative and fearful thoughts. I desperately need to switch my focus to something positive and my thoughts to something constructive but sometimes it’s too overwhelming to do it by myself. So, when I can’t do it myself, I use other tools to help me. Inspiring movies and books, motivational podcasts, energizing speeches on YouTube, and moving quotations all help to encourage me, change my thought patterns, and remind me of what’s possible.
7. Get Help-Yes, after doing all of the above, I called my therapist and scheduled an appointment. I also called my holistic medical provider and confirmed my follow up appointment that was scheduled for two weeks later. If you are having recurrent negative thoughts or find yourself addressing the same emotional issue over and over without success, contact a holistic medical provider and therapist so they can help you get to the physical and emotional roots of your struggles.
If you need help finding resources please feel free to comment or e-mail me. I’m happy to share my knowledge.
Holistic Health Coach
Thrive Wholistic Health