It’s no secret that I’ve had anxiety for quite a few years now, and when I think about it, I realise it’s not a ‘new’ thing that came about, I was always sensitive. It was always medically-related things which would worry me and send me into some kind of tizzy.
Being sick meant that I had to go to the doctors and going to the doctors meant I was going to be told bad news that I probably had some kind of cancer, then I’d have to go to the Hospital, which is even more scary, and have an operation, and then I’ll die. Yes. That was my exact train of thought. Not even kidding. But back then it wouldn’t send me into a panic attack, I’d just cry to Mum and then it’d be better.
My fear of doctors went well into my late teens and early 20’s, and I only went to them if I had to renew my pill script which is not a scary thing to do (though come on, can we just hurry up and allow Pharmacists to do this? I really don’t want to sit in a room full of sick people just for a piece of paper allowing me to take something I’ve taken for over 10 years). I grew out of this eventually, obviously.
There have been so many random things that have sent me into panic; feeling hot, any long term financial commitment, death (FOMO – literally not wanting to die because then I’ll miss out on what everybody is doing), feeling ‘stuck’, and a bunch of things that I will never be able to pinpoint exactly because they came up out of nowhere and I don’t know how or why – that’s the really cool thing about Generalised Anxiety Disorder (GAD). It’s like ‘surpriiiiiiiiiise you’re anxious today! You’ll never guess why!’… cool cool cool.
So, because GAD is such an ass hat, I was given no choice but to devise a clever plan, and a contingency for that plan, and a contingency for that one too, in the case that I should be invaded by the very unwanted brain aliens of anxiety. These methods are tried and tested over the last almost decade, and if they didn’t work for me then I wouldn’t bother sharing them – that’s not to say I promise they’ll work for you, but they’re certainly worth a crack!
The next four tips are lifestyle related – with all of them in good regular practice I can go very long periods without any anxiety at all.
- Get good sleep – if I don’t have a decent nights’ sleep I am foggy the following day which just doesn’t work for me. Sleeping resets your brain and allows your body to recalibrate for a new day, so put your phone on silent, listen to a meditation (I use Insight Timer – it’s free) and let yourself get the rest you deserve. I remember back when I was 20 and 21 I was staying up late every single night with my bestie and this (un)coincidentally was a period where my anxiety was at its absolute worst.
- Eat well – when I eat well, I feel better, I think better, my brain is clear, and I sleep well. As soon as I have a day or two of eating less than par food, it is blatantly obvious I’m not functioning at full capacity mentally. When I was 20 and 21, having all those late nights, we were also eating McDonalds every day plus drinking alcohol fairly frequently AND in excess – such a bad combo.
- Exercise – exercising improves your appetite, releases endorphins and helps you get a better nights’ sleep (can you see the pattern here?). If you do nothing right now, just add in a walk and see where that takes you. When I first started working out all I did was 20 minutes of Pilates (following along to a DVD, cost $9.99 from Big W), eventually I added in some walks, sometimes a bit of skipping (‘jump rope’), and sometimes some sit ups, high knees and star jumps. It was nothing fancy, but the changes I made equated to HUGE results mentally. It was at this time my anxiety all but disappeared – not kidding.
- Create ‘downtime’ – if I’m all, go go go, every-single-day-all-day-long then goodluck to ya because I’m about to have a meltdown. Unlike some who feel the need to always be doing something, I am somewhat the opposite. I love being busy and productive, but I love having down time at the end of my day even more. Not only do I love it, I need it because it lets my brain simmer down and gives me permission to ‘turn off’. Somedays I need more downtime than others, and that’s cool. I know that if I don’t listen to my body I’ll end up feeling edgy and my mood takes a turn for the worst. Whatever is demanding my attention is truly not worth it and can most certainly wait.
If for any reason these steps don’t keep you at arms length from panic, which is perfectly normal – you’re not a weirdo if this happens, you’re human – then you’ll just need to employ a couple of ‘in the moment’ techniques’ to get you through. The most important thing to remember is that an anxiety attack is only happening in your head and nowhere else, which conveniently is one of the only spaces in the entire Universe that you have COMPLETE and utter control over. So that’s good news.
- Breathe – people with anxiety tend to have significantly lower blood oxygen levels than their counterpart because they breathe inconsistently and not very deep. Getting some oxygen into your body will help you to focus on the CURRENT moment, it will fill your lungs and calm your pulse; your body will realise it doesn’t need to be worrying about fighting or flying right now, it’s just busy breathing and circulating those delicious oxygen molecules.
- Tap – tap your foot, your fingers, your hand, your face. Wherever, whatever. Tap to a steady beat. When I use this technique it’s usually my feet, or I tap one arm with the opposite hand. This is great for a couple of reasons; the physical touch (even though it’s your own) is a tactile distraction which removes you from your own head, but also the slow steady beat is reminiscent of your heartbeat, slow and steady because when you are calm it is slow and steady. I’ve recently learned this is a form of EFT – Emotional Freedom Technique.
- Write – sometimes this isn’t possible, depending on what situation you’re in. But if you’re able, write down how you’re currently feeling and why. You’ll find when you do this, you’ll instinctively come up with solutions to your worries OR you’ll maybe even realise that what you’re worrying about makes no sense at all (this happens so often to me!). It’s also awesome to write down what you’re grateful for, if you don’t feel like writing down why you’re anxious. It’s not possible to be grateful and anxious at the same time – and I know which one I pick! Ps. I’m a writer, but you may prefer to type it into your phone, draw, paint or collage!
- Lavender – whether it is inhaled or consumed (make sure it’s safe to consume the product you’ve got), lavender has been proven over thousands of years to have a calming effect. There are so many studies proving its ability to help calm patients before surgery, assist in post-natal mood changes, provide a better quality sleep, and of course calm those with anxiety. I use doTERRA Lavender Essential Oil (please note: Lavender Oil is NOT the same as Essential Oil – please make sure you research the brand you choose), I pop it on my wrists and on my temples then just breathe and settle. There hasn’t been a time yet where this hasn’t worked!
- Talk to somebody – anybody! If I’m on a plane, I talk to my neighbour or the flight attendant. If I’m home alone or out and about, I just call somebody who I know will just chat with me to help me ground myself again, usually my fiance or sister. If they ask you why you’re feeling anxious, actually take a second to think about it and respond. This is usually where I find a flaw in my thoughts, and it passes.
Worst case scenario, sometimes you just need to distract yourself if the panic feels a little too much and you can’t focus on any of the above ideas. A light-hearted TV show or playing with your pets – these work a treat! Cook something or clean something. It’s really up to you. My methods may not work for you, but hopefully they’ll help you to find what does work. Once you’ve managed to get through the panic, try to take a moment and think about the thoughts that were going through your head. Were they practical? Is there something specifically that is triggering them that you need to explore?
I’m not a guru, I’m just a fellow #GADwarrior. Want to work with me to change that mindset of yours for the better? Click here.