Anxiety. We all experience it from time to time. It is that nagging reminder that something isn’t quite right. It heightens awareness of our surroundings and alerts us to danger in situations we encounter. Anxiety is our body’s protection mechanism that prepares us to engage in a “fight or flight” reaction.Though not generally viewed this way, anxiety is actually a necessary and essential physiological process for our survival. While low levels of anxiety can be beneficial, it can also get out of hand and become debilitating.
If you have struggled for any length of time with overwhelming anxiety, you may have had well-meaning friends and family tell you that “you just need to stop worrying” or “you need to stop overreacting”. It’s easy for someone who has not experienced the effects of anxiety or depression to think that it is all in your head and that there is some sort of choice that plays into it.
While I don’t believe that to be true, I do know that there are solutions out there for those of us suffering with anxiety and panic attacks. I have been on a long journey to healing from panic attacks and anxiety. There are several things I have found along the way that aided in my recovery.
All photo credit in this post goes out to the amazingly talented Anna Moos. Check out her photography work here!
Perspective and Gratitude
“There is a difference between empty fatigue and gratifying exhaustion. Life is short. Invest in meaningful activities that move you.” – Mark and Angel Chernoff
Finding purpose and meaning in my life is the single most helpful thing that I have found to give me hope when I am anxious. One way I did that was to start setting goals. Don’t let having kids, life circumstances, or any other excuse stop you from dreaming and making goals for your life. Only YOU can change your life. Start by setting one short-term goal and one long-term goal for yourself. Once you achieve it, set another one! For example, if you want to get in shape, set a short-term goal of exercising 3 times per week for one month. Your long-term goal could be to be able to run 3 miles or even a marathon. You will be surprised at what you are capable of!
Gratitude may seem insignificant in coming against anxiety. But actually this shift in perspective has the power to transform your mind. Instead of thinking why is this happening TO me, retrain your mind to start thinking that the negative things in your life are actually happening FOR you. What can you learn from this negative life circumstance? A grateful attitude can be the difference between learning nothing from a situation and being changed by it forever.
Wake up each morning and write down three things you are thankful for. You will start to see a change in the way you view your life and in turn will be a more successful and happy person. Reflecting on the blessings God has given us changes our hearts and helps us to enjoy things in life we often take for granted. Hannah talks more here about being grateful no matter what circumstances you are facing.
Diet, Exercise, and Sleep
I strongly believe in the power of balance. Balance in every area of our lives can bring a sense of peace, calm and security. Body, mind and spirit all require a degree of balance to help your body function properly. Finding and maintaining a balance in these areas of our lives requires that we are in tune with our bodies- feeling the emotions we may be avoiding, changing to a healthier diet, and moving our bodies every day. Instead of thinking of our minds as one entity and our bodies as another, the mind-body connection shows us that our feelings and beliefs affect our physical body and vice versa.
Listed below are some practical tips I put into practice to improve my overall health and wellness through diet and exercise and a lot of sleep!
- Limit your caffeine intake. I did this by cutting my coffee consumption down to one cup per day. Energy drinks and excessive amounts of coffee will cause you to become jittery and have unstable blood sugar levels, which mimic the symptoms of anxiety.
- Focus on switching to real foods by eliminating processed foods. Real foods are nourishing, sustaining, and can be found in nature. Real food has not been altered by harmful chemicals or additives and has been processed as little as possible.This includes whole grains, fruits and vegetables, dairy products, meats, seeds and nuts.
- Limit your sugar intake. Sugar is not only known for causing unstable blood sugar levels, but it also contains a high amount of calories and very little nutrients. A stable blood sugar is essential to overcoming panic attacks.
- Find a form of exercise you enjoy. For me, I found that I really enjoy Pilates and yoga. I also add in a long walk several days a week. Frequent exercise is an essential aspect of transforming your health. Working out on regular basis has so many benefits including helping you maintain a healthy weight, building muscle, increasing your endurance, and boosting energy levels.
- Drink more water! Aim to drink at least half of your body weight in ounces of water every day. Try to eliminate all pop, even diet, out of your life. Staying hydrated will help you look and feel so much better.
- Get a full night’s sleep. Anxiety can be so draining to our bodies. Never underestimate the power of a good night’s sleep to help you recover. Getting enough rest will provide you with the energy you need to take on the day and achieve your goals. 8 hours is recommended but the more the better in my opinion!
Herbs and Supplements
Let me preface this by saying there is nothing wrong with taking psychiatric medication for a time. I turned to modern medicine when I was so wrought with anxiety that I could no longer swallow solid food. It helped me to begin to deal with some of the issues that were causing the anxiety I was feeling. While psychiatric medication is helpful, and certainly necessary at times, they also come with severe side effects.
During the three years that I suffered from PTSD and debilitating panic attacks, my body was under a huge amount of stress. I developed food and environmental allergies, chronic fatigue and chronic sinus infections. I had never been so sick in my life. The emotional state I was in was connected to each of these physical conditions. I worked closely with my doctor and was able to get to the bottom of what was going on and start to heal my body. Listed below are some of the supplements that aided in my recovery.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
If you experience panic attacks or anxiety that is negatively affecting aspects of your life, I highly recommend Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). CBT is a form of therapy that challenges you to change negative thought patterns or destructive behaviors and teaches you how to effectively respond to events in your life. Here is a video explaining more about CBT.
Dare: The New Way to End Anxiety and Stop Panic Attacks is a life-changing book by Barry McDonagh that helped me put the skills I learned from CBT to practice. This was such a helpful supplemental tool to use in addition to CBT! I tell everyone I know about this book because it changed my life. The DARE Workbook can be used in conjunction with the book for the best results. You can download the DARE app or visit the website to learn more about this program that has helped so many people (including myself!) overcome anxiety and panic attacks.
Educating myself on the way anxiety works within the body was a huge help in overcoming the fear surrounding it. In some people, including myself, this “fight or flight” reaction was being triggered when there was no danger present.
One of the biggest game changers for me was learning that anxiety can actually play a positive role in our lives. While it may be an uncomfortable feeling, knowing that it is temporary and has a purpose can change the way you respond to anxious feelings.
Here are some of the ways anxiety can be helpful.
- creates awareness that something in your life may be off balance
- inspires preparedness and motivation to complete tasks
- allows faster reaction to emergencies
- ability to analyze a situation from multiple viewpoints
Learning to manage anxiety can be a slow process. Take each day as a new opportunity to improve your life and your health and congratulate yourself on even the smallest victories! Remember that there is no shame in reaching out for help. You may be surprised at the amount of people who are going through the exact same struggles as you! Leave a comment below, I would love to hear what strategies you use to help manage anxiety in your life.
Disclaimer: This post is not meant to replace the advice of a medical professional. The information contained here is simply my personal experience and what I have found to work for me.