At the peak of my anxiety, I was waking up in the middle of the night dripping in sweat, experiencing shortness of breath, rapid heartbeat, fatigue, insomnia, lack of interest in anything, really, uncontrollable sobbing, emotional eating and depression. To say I was a mess is an understatement. I am finally in a place in my life where I feel comfortable admitting that anxiety is a part of my life and sharing with others the ways that have helped me combat this real mental illness.
Acknowledge the problem and name it.
Before someone experiences anxiety for themselves, it is hard to define and certainly hard to recognize. I knew something was wrong, but I wasn’t sure what it was. Once I admitted to myself and my family that something was off, and that I was indeed experiencing anxiety, I felt a glimmer of hope in managing it. I recently also read a really good article about naming anxiety and how it can help. Check out the Naming Anxiety article here.
Seek help without guilt or shame.
I remember sitting in my therapist’s office for the first time and feeling SO uncomfortable. I did not know what to expect, and I was coming to get help as a last resort. Now that I have benefited from therapy, I am certain I would have suffered less if I had sought help sooner. There is NO SHAME in getting help from professionals who have spent a large portion of their life trying to understand mental illness and how to help those that struggle with it.
I also remember my therapist asking me if I believed in God or a higher power. She suggested that sometimes trials can be lighter to carry when we turn them over to God. This concept had been taught to me my whole life, and I believe that my prayers gave me the courage to follow through with impressions to seek help. So, seek help from God, and those that are best trained to help you succeed.
I literally had a hard time taking a deep breath and my body was being starved of oxygen. I had become so entangled in my thoughts and worries that by body was not functioning properly. I had to relearn how to breath, like the really deep breaths that take a few seconds to complete, and it taught me to slow down and think through a situation before I immediately jumped to my normal panic and emotion. Taking control of just that one thing, breath, can lead you to control the rest.
Exercise and nutrition.
Like I said at the beginning of the article, I struggle with emotional eating and because I felt so poorly physically, I didn’t think exercise would be smart.
I started to see exercise in two ways: an activity that got me out of the house away from family and a way to release energy from my body, good or bad. Exercise has now become a powerful tool to control and release my emotions, as well as allowing me to kick in all the biological benefits of increased endorphins. Yoga and dancing are favorite because one involves meditation and the other involves music! Find exercise that you love.
Eating well is still a battle. I am trying to see food as merely a way to fuel my body. I know that when I fuel my body with veggies, fruits, proteins, carbs and good fats, my mind is more clear and my body more strong. When I eat a lot of treats and junk to “help” me feel better about an emotional issue, it never really helps; it makes matters worse. I already feel low about my life at times, but when I can see my lack of self-control with food, my depression deepens and body’s immunity takes a nose-dive. Exercise and nutrition are so important in fighting anxiety and depression.
Find the root.
My biggest trigger for anxiety is my family. I know that sounds terrible, but it is true. I am married with three small children that I love deeply. Like many people say, they (my family) are my world. The problem is that I don’t handle family life well when they literally are the only things in my world.
I am a curious, life-long, motivated learner and teacher. I share my love of learning and teaching with my family, but I knew that I needed to find something else that filled my bucket and gave me a chance to contribute in different ways.
Once I realized what I loved and needed, I made some changes. First, I hired a babysitter to come to the house on Monday mornings because I knew that this was a day and time that I was SO eager to be doing something else other than waking up to my normal routine. Although having someone take over my motherly duties for four hours a week was not a fix-all, I was feeling hopeful that I could make changes to relieve my anxiety and increase my love to serve my family. I spent those precious hours writing and chasing a few personal goals. Hiring childcare was a financial sacrifice for us, but one that was accommodated, considering my mental state. For those of you that simply cannot afford to hire a babysitter, consider swapping babysitting with a friend or offering your talents to someone else in exchange for child care.
The second thing I did was start working part-time. I now teach two days a week and you can ask anyone in my family and they can tell you that my mental state has improved, along with my enjoyment of my children on the days that I am home–which is still most of the time. Don’t be afraid to see what is making you feel and act worse because once you do, you can do something about it.
Change thought patterns.
My husband travels for work often. I HATE when he goes out of town, and likely always will. My dream is to start a business that allows us to work together so we don’t have to be apart as much.
Not only do I miss him when he is gone, but I heavily depend on him to help me care for our three small children. When he is gone, all the responsibility is left with me and there are times that I truly considered running away by myself, never to return.
I talked with my therapist about these moments of crisis and she asked me seemingly profound questions. What are you afraid of happening? What if Cody goes out of town next week? She said that the answers are my job. First, Cody going out of town is not a real life-or-death situation. I think our ancestors faced real fight or flight situations, but our everyday, comfortable life should not paralyze us so easily. Then the next question of “what if” can be answered the same for every hard thing I face, “I will deal with it.” It reminds me of the talk “Come What May, and Love It.” Of course, there are details involved with tackling our trials. For my specific trial of dealing with Cody’s traveling, I decided not to beat myself up about taking the girls out to dinner when my spouse was out of town. I also realized I needed to plan activities for me and the girls to go to each day and to schedule myself some time with adults. I have made a pre-emptive plan that allows me to manage and even be happy during something that I normally hate. It is liberating to approach hardship with the mindset that everything can be overcome.
Be patient for results.
My brother is the best mentor; he cares about my success because he cares about me. He has always been encouraging, but he is has to remind me over and over that the results that I am looking for are not going to come within the unrealistic timelines that I create. I am the type that makes a change for a month or two and gets super discouraged when all the hopes and dreams are not fulfilled. Truly, the best things take time to create. Be diligent about getting quality care, but don’t expect to see overnight results. I am coming up on a year of working hard to feel better, and I am finally seeing the improvements I ached for a year ago. Now there are many techniques that can help with dealing with anxiety in the moment. Check out this great article 10 Ways to Stop Anxiety Quickly.
Another memorable session with my therapist involved me realizing that my worth was independent of all the things I stressed about. I have worth just because I am me. What? It doesn’t matter what I look like? What kind of mom I am? What job title I have? What I own? How put together or responsible I seem to others? I had created all these dependents on my worth. Since I am not perfect and rarely do or say all the right things, I had little love for myself. Don’t let anyone or anything determine your worth or your happiness. Check out these two talks that ring with truth about the principles of loving yourself, having worth and choosing happiness. Joy D. Jones and Dieter F. Uchtdorf
One of the coolest things to happen to me through this journey was finding out how many other people deal with anxiety and depression. I have been able to listen to others and reach out to help. Our vulnerability can open doors for service and compassion. I believe that we encounter certain things in our life so that we can understand others better and feel compelled to help them through similar trials. I love those that struggle with anxiety because I know what is feels like. I want everyone to find ways to be more happy and more capable. I understand how paralyzing and confusing anxiety can be at times, and if I can bring comfort to one person, I will feel like it was all worth it.
If you know someone that deals with anxiety, share this with them and let them know that you love them.