Thursday, November 2, 2017
Many moons ago, I was a University student studying Psychology. I sat in class one day and read an article detailing something I had never heard of before - social anxiety. And it hit me like a ton of bricks.
It outlined the debilitating fear I experienced when I found myself in a group of people.
It explained the dread I felt when I had to leave the house at times.
It echoed what my body and mind went through when I had to enter a department store.
All the feelings, emotions and reactions I had in social situations that made no sense to me and left me feeling like a crazy woman were all in print, before me.
It made so much sense and I was relieved to know that I wasn't crazy. Or alone.
Armed with a label, I went home that day and googled everything I could about Social Anxiety. I participated in online discussions and read every article I could get my hands on detailing how I could get rid of this paralyzing condition.
It got to a point I barely left my home.
At University, I skipped every seminar and automatically lost 10% of my grade so I wouldn't have to speak in front of a room full of people.
I canceled plans with friends because the thought of going out brought on panic
The worst was an incident at Walmart where I couldn't get out of my car.
I realized at some point that a large degree of my freedom was gone. The fear was winning and keeping me from living a full life.
It wasn't acceptable, and I decided I needed to find my freedom once again.
In all the research I did, a few herbal remedies were suggested, but otherwise the message boards were flooded with names of various medications.
This wasn't a route I was willing to partake in until I knew I had exhausted all other options.
The problem was, I couldn't find any other options.
Fast forward 10 years, I feel I have (finally) accumulated a decent amount of "alternative" options for treating anxiety. And I use the word "treatment" loosely. As someone who has a history of anxiety, I am well aware that it is always there, ready to creep into my life when I stop actively working on myself. I feel it come back when I am feeling overwhelmed. I feel it lingering if someone says something to hurt my feelings. The old Rachel would hide in a corner and not speak her mind because...what if someone thought I was stupid? Self doubt and lack of confidence perpetuated my anxiety (though I'm not certain which one perpetuates which at times).
Anxiety is something I am always aware of, and constantly have to ensure I don't let too much of it into my life. If I slip and allow it to start making decisions in my life, I know that all too soon, it will run my life and I will lose control. So these tools I share with you are things I do on a daily, or at least regular, basis. This ensures I maintain control, empowerment and freedom in my life.
This was one of the first tools I started using when I sought help for my anxiety. My therapist at the time had me practice deep belly breaths every time I felt anxiety starting to take over. The bonus of this is that I could use it anytime, anywhere and nobody would have any idea. When we're stressed we tend to breathe shallowly, from the chest, which holds the body in a fight or flight response by keeping active the sympathetic nervous system. Instead, taking deep and slow breaths, to and from the belly, will help activate the parasympathetic nervous system (known for it's "rest and relax" response).
This is a newer tool for me, one I've been using for close to 2 years now, and I do it daily, for a good 30 minutes, as soon as I wake up. For the same reasons as breathing, meditating helps calm the scattered mind, get connected back to your truth and makes space for everything else to fall away. Even taking 5 minutes a day to sit in silence, breathing deeply and quieting the mind will provide you noticeable shifts in your anxiety levels.
3. Eat Healthy
It was only when I was journaling for my Yoga Teacher Training program that I linked crap foods (sugary especially but also processed foods) with the level of anxiety I would awake with. Now when I work with clients struggling with anxiety of any kind, we overhaul the diet. We include more wholesome, nutrient dense ingredients and reduce, or remove high sugar items, processed foods, and any foods we suspect an intolerance to (which will cause many reactions within the body, including triggering anxiety)
4. Move Your Body
Motion moves emotion. I heard this recently and realized how true it rang for me. I have 3 physical outlets I use for stress and anxiety: yoga, weight training and running. Depending on my mood, when I feel emotions coming on, I choose to do one of the three. I move my body regularly anyway, but even more so when anxiety is near the surface. Exercising helps stimulate and release many natural hormones in the body, including serotonin, the "feel good" hormone.
5. Release the Stress
For me, my anxiety levels are directly related to my stress levels. The more stress and overwhelm I am experiencing, the higher my anxiety is. I HAVE to manage my stress if I want to keep my anxiety at bay. I do this through the above ways, but also through journaling, talking about it, or writing, which is a huge passion of mine. Find an outlet and release that feels good to you.
Finally, I make sure to continually put myself outside my comfort zone. Anxiety wants to seclude and isolate you. And the more you give in to those fears, the more they will show up. Until one day, like me, you'll find yourself in the middle of a Walmart parking lot, unable to leave your car because the fear is that strong. So, I continue putting myself outside my comfort zone (as much as I hate it sometimes) so my comfort zone continues to expand, rather than close in on me. I continually work with my clients on this, and am always reminding them to get uncomfortable. It's kinda where the magic happens.
Working with anxiety takes time. It takes time, patience, effort, consistency and faith.
But I promise you this - you can live a life of freedom, joy and peace. I hope these tools are the starting steps you need to get you there.