I am starting a series that takes you step-by-step through the process of alleviating anxiety. I have so much to share on this topic. I am not a trained therapist or doctor. However, this is my lived experience. I have lived with anxiety for my entire life. I survived panic attacks, social anxiety, agoraphobia, generalized anxiety disorder, and postpartum depression and postpartum anxiety. I want to share what I’ve learned, because what I am currently practicing is working pretty well for me. Everyone’s anxiety is different and affects them in different ways. There are so many articles, pieces of advice from friends and family, practices, programs, medications, etc. out there claiming to “cure” anxiety. Just trying to sift through it all can cause even more anxiety! You have to take what works for you and leave the rest. This is my experience, and remember that it may not work in the same way for you. This is not medical advice, and you should always check with your doctor if you have questions or concerns.
The first aspect I am going to talk about is mindfulness. You’ve probably heard this phrase before, especially if you are familiar with anxiety and mental health. According to The Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley, mindfulness means “maintaining a moment-by-moment awareness of our thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, and surrounding environment through a gentle, nurturing lens.” Throughout the years, I have had some success with mindfulness meditations. I felt relaxed during the times I was actively meditating, but mostly felt back to my normal anxious self once I wasn’t meditating.
As time went on, meditation wasn’t working as well as it had originally worked for me. Several months ago, I was at a low point with postpartum depression and I started to really tune into my anxiety. I continue to love meditation and use the Calm app on most days. But, I needed to switch things up and find a fresh perspective. I needed more resources to tackle my anxiety.
I’d gotten really good at identifying the times I was feeling high anxiety. I’d spend time calming myself down, clearing my mind, and then try and move on. However, I rarely paid attention to all those moments prior to my high anxiety times. It is actually in those quieter moments (calm before the storm) that anxiety creeps up. We aren’t always paying attention, because we don’t feel desperate and at the end of our ropes…yet. Then it hits us seemingly out of the blue and we feel as if we are in panic mode and on the brink of losing control!
What we sometimes fail to see is that the anxiety has been building for some time.
In order to interrupt this non-stop anxiety cycle, I decided that I would try to take note of where I was at at different times during the day regardless of whether I felt anxious or not. This wasn’t a pressured exercise. I wasn’t going to record the results in a journal or set an alarm for these mental check-ins. I was just going to try my best and see what I observed. I quickly noticed that at most check-ins, I was holding my breath, my shoulders were tense and raised, and my body was generally pretty stiff. I was basically in a constant fight or flight mode. No wonder I have suffered from chronic stomachaches, neck pain, sore muscles, and headaches for years.
When I found myself in this state, I stopped what I was doing. I took deep breaths. I read on Instagram (you can google it, too) that deep breathing activates the parasympathetic nervous system which sends a signal to your brain that you’re safe. I tried to breathe in (through my nose) for a count of four, and breathe out (through my mouth) for a count of five or six. I relaxed my tense shoulders down. I tried not to judge myself too harshly or create a narrative as to why I was feeling one way or another. I simply observed. I was mindful of my body in that moment. I took small actions to relax my body, and moved on with my day.
You may be thinking that this sounds like a lot of work. It is work in the beginning, but it starts to become more natural the more you do it. It’s another habit to add to your daily routine. I’m trying to interrupt my unconscious anxious tendencies before they build by checking in with myself and my body. Developing healthy habits and being consistent with them is so important to managing anxiety. But that is another post (or several posts) for another day!
It’s been a couple of months of daily mindfulness check-ins and I can feel a big difference in my overall anxiety. I still feel anxious. Anxiety is a completely normal emotion and I’m not trying to will it away. But I’m not getting to the point where I feel overcome with panic, paralyzed, and hopeless. I’m able to rebound and get on with my life much quicker.
I hope this helps you on your anxiety journey! I look forward to sharing more tips.