My whole world changed once I became acquainted with anxiety. I will never be the same person I was before. But I wouldn’t want to be either. I’m better for my battles. I know it.
If you’re in the midst of your own battle with anxiety, I’m glad you found your way to my blog. I know the hell you’re experiencing. I know you fear that it’s never going to go away. Those fears tormented me day and night for a long time. I still struggle now and then, especially when I let life run me down physically and emotionally. But overall I’m lightyears better than I was when those first panic attacks hit me like a freight train in the spring of 2012. I pray with all my heart that you find healing as well. I have faith that you will. But if you find yourself having thoughts about ending your life, please seek help. You are worth saving. And there is no shame in accepting pharmaceutical help. Medication helped save my life.
On to the purpose of this post… I’ve learned some tricks over the past couple of years as I struggled to manage my anxiety. I can’t promise these things will help you, but I can say they’ve helped me. This is not medical advice. I’m just sharing what worked for me.
1) Disassociation Mind Trick
For so long I believed that the fearful thoughts coming rapid-fire into my mind were ME. I called myself “Anxiety Girl.”
Recently, however, a small shift in thinking has made all the difference in the world. I asked God to help me recognize when I’m getting a mental “text message” from Anxiety Girl. She is not me, or at least she is not my True Self. Disassociating from those fear-based thought patterns has been a huge help. Instead of claiming those thoughts as my own, I tell my husband, “Anxiety Girl thinks [fill in the blank with horrible, often ridiculous, fears]” and we sometimes chuckle at her very active imagination and talk about why her fears are unfounded, and then I cast them from my mind and replace them with truer statements. I wish I had discovered this trick when I first started to have panic attacks!
Whole-food vitamins. For a lot of years I was kind of opposed to taking vitamins. I wanted to get my nutrients from food sources. But during my fourth pregnancy I became so depleted that I began to experience prenatal depression. That’s when I started taking whole-food vitamins to replenish the stores thad had been depleted by the previous eight years of being pregnant and nursing. Personally I take New Chapter’s whole-food prenatal. It has helped me pull out of poor mental health multiple times now. The body needs vital minerals, B vitamins, folate (not folic acid), and other nutrients to manage stress. If you’re suffering from anxiety, chances are you’re depleted of one (or many) of those nutrients.
High-EPA omega-3. As I began weaning off my medication, a reader recommended Omega 3 Mood to help me stay stable. I’ve been taking it every since. What makes this particular supplement different from other omega-3s is that it is high in EPA. Several double-blind, randomized controlled trials have shown improvements in mood after participants took at least 1 gram a day of EPA. Most fish oils have some DHA and EPA, but you’ll want to find one with a higher EPA ratio.
Probiotics. Taking a probiotic supplement may also be helpful. The gut has been called the “second brain,” and an imbalance of good/bad bacteria in the gut may lead to anxiety, depression, and other mental illnesses. An interesting study with mice:
As for the psychiatric possibilities, there was a recent study of calm vs. anxious mice. Fecal microbiota transplanted from an anxious strain of mice made a calm mouse very anxious. Not only that, but transplant of the gut content from the calm strain helped to relax and increase the confidence of the anxious strain . In this case, their behavior wasn’t dependent on genetics or brain chemistry but rather the bacterial composition of their gut! (Source)
I’ve been taking a probiotic supplement for the last couple of months, and I really think it has helped calm me down considerably. Probiotic foods (yogurt, kefir, cultured vegetables, etc.) would probably also make a big difference. Worth a try, right?
Magnesium. Magnesium has been called “nature’s Valium” because of its anti-anxiety affects. Magnesium will also help release tension, ease muscle cramps, and reduce constipation, among other things. When my anxiety first hit, I remembered these facts and put magnesium to use. Magnesium is supposed to be absorbed better through the skin than the gut, so I recommend using magnesium oil sprayed onto your skin or in magnesium chloride crystal bath/foot soaks. Epsom salts are also magnesium.
3) Breathing Out and Singing
One of my anxiety symptoms was breathing problems. I often felt like I couldn’t get enough air, so I was constantly taking in deep breaths but never feeling “satisfied.” I learned that it was probably more likely the case that I was hyperventilating, or getting too much oxygen. When the body is under stress, it signals to the brain to take in more oxygen as part of the “fight or flight” response. Stress-induced depletion of alkalinizing minerals (magnesium and calcium) can also contribute to hyperventilation. This is part of why many people with anxiety and panic attacks also struggle with their breathing.
One of the most helpful tricks I learned came from a self-hypnosis track I downloaded called the “7-11 Breathing Exercise.” The idea is that breathing in excessively ramps up the body, preparing it to deal with danger, while breathing out calms the body. So one way to help yourself calm down in a panic attack is to breathe in less than you breathe out. In the 7-11 breathing exercise, they specify to breathe in for seven seconds and breathe out for eleven. When I find myself getting on-edge or frantic or feeling like I can’t breathe, I take it as a signal that I’m actually breathing too much and that I need to slow down and breathe out all the panic.
I’ve also found that singing (or mantra meditation) accomplishes much the same effect. When you’re singing, the out-breath is usually very much elongated and the lungs become totally emptied by the end of each phrase. This is just what we want when we’re seeking to calm down the nervous system. Studies also show that singing releases mood-enhancing chemicals in the brain. It’s hard to feel frightened when you’re singing.
4) Trauma Release
For many years, I believed I was “fine.” I thought I hadn’t been really affected by the traumatic events of my infancy and early childhood. And for a lot of years I continued in this delusion, functioning relatively well. But my grandmother’s death ripped open those wounds, sending me tumbling into anxiety and despair. Finally, I couldn’t run from those early traumas any longer. They demanded attention and healing. I’m still working on healing, but I’ve come a long way.
The ACE (adverse childhood experiences) study published in 2002 found that there is a “powerful relation between our emotional experiences as children and our adult emotional health, physical health, and major causes of mortality. . . . One doesn’t ‘just get over’ some things” (ACE study). If you are experiencing poor mental, emotional, physical, or spiritual health, it’s likely that a traumatic event from your past (or an ancestor’s past) could be a major contributing factor. If you suspect you’re suffering from past traumas, traditional “talk therapy” is unlikely to bring the full healing you seek. I invite you to explore more effective trauma release methods, like EMDR, Emotional Freedom Technique, energy healing, meditation, etc.
I realize that getting sleep is no easy feat for most people suffering from anxiety, but sleep is probably one of the best ways to help you heal. When I’m sleep-deprived, my anxiety ramps up excessively. When I’m well-rested, it’s so much easier for me to cope with day-to-day (and big) stressors. One study found that sleep-loss could even trigger anxiety symptoms in those not “clinically” anxious:
“What it emphasizes is that even below the level of being clinically diagnosed [with an anxiety disorder], they seem to be especially vulnerable to insufficient sleep,” said Matt Walker, the lab’s lead investigator. “What we’re suggesting is that you can take people who aren’t clinically anxious, and you can trigger these exaggerated emotional responses in the brain.” (Source)
Sometimes it can take a few weeks for the body to recover from sleep-deprivation, but it’s worth getting to the other side of that anxious haze. If you’re experiencing insomnia, you may want to try aromatherapy. I recently learned that smelling “lavender, chamomile, and ylang-ylang, activate[s] the alpha wave activity in the back of your brain, which leads to relaxation and helps you sleep more soundly” (from Prevention). But I’ve also had to resort to synthetic sleep-aids (Benadryl) in the face of horrific insomnia. Do whatever you have to do to get the sleep your body needs.
How do you manage your anxiety?
Please share your tips in the comments!