Anxiety: My Tools for Coping

Trying to make sense of anxiety is like trying to teach an elephant Spanish. It feels damn near impossible. On top of the feelings of dread and doom, I find I spend a good portion of my episode trying to explain my unexplainable feelings. Because my husband doesn’t fully understand and I am in no place to have logical conversations, my anxiety worsens because my voice gets lost and my anxiety gets befuddled. Suddenly, I’m arguing with him that “I don’t know what I was just thinking about because it doesn’t work like that. And no, I don’t think if I go for a walk right this second it will help! No I don’t want to just sit here and let it consume me. Yes I need to do something. But what? I’m paralyzed with fear over something non-existent. I’m scared and I have no reason to be. I’m scared and nothing triggered it. I don’t know what to do!!!”

Does any of this sound familiar to you?

It’s so hard to explain anxiety. And being asked to explain feels elusive. It’s as if by focusing on the feelings anxiety gives me the more my voice fades. I can’t articulate it and my frustration over it enhances the other possible intruding emotions. I get irritable for my husband not understanding. I get short with my daughter for unintentionally dropping her fork. I cry at commercials and Disney movies. I’m feel morose over past events and angry for those injustices “done” to me.

Anxiety sucker punches me right in the chest leaving me breathless and panicked. There’s a heavy pressure in my core that will not release and I can feel my life force draining. My positive emotions disappear and I become somber and sad; I’m an empty shell of the person I truly am.

I’ve come to believe that anxiety is our body’s way of saying, “hey man, I’ve been trying to give you hints about this (insert issue) but you’re not listening so I had to do this to get you to wake up!” Anxiety is a wake up call for change. It’s sending us a message that something is amiss and our mind, body and spirit’s connection is off kilter. For instance, I had a BAD relationship with food and one particular day, I was dashing up the stairs in my house and when I got to the top, out of breath and a little dizzy, I went into full blown panic. The loss of breath from two small flights of stairs kicked my body into fight or flight. I burst into hysterical tears and the realization hit: this was my body telling me I needed to listen and make changes. It had been trying to tell me my eating habits weren’t right through stomach aches, troubles losing weight, weight gain, bloating etc but I had been completely ignoring it. That anxiety attack was my body saying, “wake the hell up girl!”

I also believe anxiety is a sign we aren’t on our life’s true path. Maybe that’s a little too woo-woo for you or too hippy-esque but that restlessness, that feeling of “I should be doing something but I don’t know what” and those feelings of dread and doom is our body’s way of trying to alert us to realign ourselves to the path we were meant to live. When we ignore those feelings, anxiety will eventually win over the mind and our body and spirit will suffer. Anxiety then becomes the catalyst to what we will eventually see as a lesson. When we wonder “why me?” it’s because there’s a plan in motion to wake you up to your Truth. For example, one of my dearest friends was three months postpartum when anxiety hit her. Her next year was a brutal battle of trying to overcome the postpartum anxiety and the accompanying struggles. She did the required work and while she’s still occasionally plagued by it, her life has bloomed in ways she’d never believe possible. She’s become an advocate for postpartum anxiety and depression and has started leading workshops and making gemstone jewelry to help other women overcome their PPA/PPD. She’s making a hugely positive difference and creating a legacy that wouldn’t have been possible if she hadn’t experienced her PPA. Her anxiety led her back to her Purpose, her Path to being of service to others.

These pictures were taken an hour apart. On the left, I was feeling good with my daughter and enjoying our day. On the right, a sucker punch of anxiety hit me that left me empty and hollow. Anxiety has no outward symptoms or signs so we MUST ask for help when we need it. It’s a silent illness that needs advocacy and awareness.

But behold! The brain is a powerful tool and like a muscle, can be worked and trained. Overcoming anxiety isn’t easy (is there anything easy about anxiety??) but re-balancing the mind, body, spirit connection is possible. Here’s a few of the tools I’ve implemented to coping with my anxiety:

  1. Commit to The Work

If you want to overcome anxiety or learn to thrive/cope with it you MUST DO THE WORK. That means getting the hell over yourself, realizing that not everyone is out to offend/hurt/judge/gossip about you and stop being so sensitive. For some reason, anxiety’s predominate triggering emotions are anger, irritability and sensitivity. FIGHT THEM. Be prepared to face some tough demons. Be prepared to learn some serious lessons and be open to receiving the loving advice/help (even if it doesn’t feel like it in the moment) from your friends and family. Those outside the box tend to see the bigger picture when we’re caught in the bubble of anxiety. There’s no room for laziness in anxiety recovery. Do the work!

  1. Exercise

I know, probably the last thing you want to read. But it’s true. Moving your body gets your endorphins and dopamine and other happy chemicals flowing through your body. Even if you feel anxiety coming on, walk around your living room. Just move your body. Or even better, get sweaty!

  1. Learn Your Triggers

Learn what triggers your anxiety. For me, caffeine is a big trigger so I avoid it. I drink decaf (a.k.a sad, brown water) and never drink pop. Also, start journaling your day. Start with a simple sentence: my day was good or my day was bad. And then state why. Then as you start to do this, you’ll see patterns emerging. Maybe your bad day was connected to a fight you had with a friend/family member. Maybe you start to see that when you have these conflicts, anxiety hits. By learning your triggers, you can either avoid them or focus on the tools needed to eliminate them.

  1. Focus on Gratitude

Everyday write down three things you are grateful for. You can either start your day this way, putting your mind in a good, positive place or at the end of the day so you can reflect back and focus on repeating those things that make/made you happy/grateful for the next day. By focusing on gratitude you channel your brain to think in a positive way. It’s incredible what a daily gratitude practice will do for your anxiety.

  1. Talk to your Doctor about Medication

Let’s face it. Sometimes some pharmaceutical intervention is necessary. Sometimes our brains need a reboot. Sometimes our brains need forever medical support. That’s okay too. Do your homework to know what will work best for you and your lifestyle. Explore your options and discuss them with your doctor.

  1. Non-Traditional Modalities

Sometimes we gotta think outside the box and explore other options for healing. Acupuncture, reiki, meditation, yoga, mantras, homeopathy, BodyTalk and Emotional Freedom Tapping (EFT) are all potentials for helping with anxiety. I personally love EFT and meditation. Try all or some and see what works for you.

  1. Adopt a Healthy, Balanced Lifestyle

Eating a balanced diet of lean meats, fruits, vegetables and nuts/seeds fuels your body in a way processed, refined foods can’t. Remember what you put in your body affects your body: your mood, your energy levels, even your anxiety! Cut out alcohol if that makes your anxiety worse. Adopt a meditation practice or invest in new shoes for daily walks. Break self-destructive habits by being stronger than your excuses and stronger than your anxiety. Honour your journey and where you are at. There’s no shame in anxiety and KNOW in the deepest part of your being that you CAN do this!

     8. Seeking Support

There are many counselors, psychologists, psychiatrists, support groups and one-on-one social workers available to help you work through your anxiety. There’s online support and many resources available. Utilize them and don’t be embarrassed. That’s why they are here and why they chose their professions: to help others and to help you!

9. Find a Hobby to Release that Pent Up Anxious Energy

When I feel the quickening of anxiety coming on, I’ll distract myself with an activity. Sometimes that’s crocheting and sometimes it’s deep breathing exercises. My girlfriend with the PPA will imagine a baseball that’s split open and she will put all her worries and fears into the baseball, stitching it back up as she goes. Then she visualizes the ball being pitched at her in a baseball diamond and she hits the ball into the stratosphere. That visualization helps her release her anxiety and accompanying feelings. I’ve tried this too and it’s powerful and cathartic.

10.  Live in The Moment (or at least try too!)

Yeah, this is a hard one too. Isn’t this the goal of everyone these days? Being present and staying present requires a constant conversation with your body, mind and soul.  Anxiety can stem from fear of the unknown, of the future, of the uncontrollable. By stopping yourself every so often and asking, “Am I present right now? Can I be more present in this moment?” you don’t have time to allow anxiety to creep in. I recommend the apps Stop, Breathe and Think and Insight Timer for learning to become more mindful and more aware in your everyday life.

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