One of the reasons I started this blog is to write about things I’ve gone through in hopes someone who’s reading can relate to my experiences, and for just a moment, know that they’re not alone. Anxiety is something I manage/struggle with on a daily basis. It’s also something I was ashamed of for a long time. But as I’ve gotten older, I’ve realized that my anxiety ‘disorder’ doesn’t define me- it’s just a small part of who I am. Lately, mental health has been a ‘hot topic’, which is great. However, I think there is a lot of misunderstanding around what it means to have a mental “disorder”. And please know that no matter how comfortable I am with my own anxiety issues, it’s still a scary thing to write about…
“Oh, you have anxiety? Me too!”
You know how when you say something SO much it starts to lose its value? Like, if you were to tell every single guy/girl you’ve dated that you “loved” them, it might no longer hold the same meaning or feeling that it did the very first time you said it. You kind of start to say it out of habit, right? This is what I think is happening to the word “anxiety”.
The word “anxiety” has become somewhat of a buzzword within our society… E V E R Y O N E has anxiety nowadays. On one hand, it’s awesome people are becoming more comfortable talking about mental health. On the other hand, I think it’s important for people to realize there is a difference between occasionally having anxiety or feeling anxious during tough times and actually having a more serious issue with anxiety or having a diagnosed anxiety disorder.
“Feeling Anxious” vs. “Having Anxiety”
In the world we live in, feeling anxious is inevitable. And it’s NORMAL! It is so totally normal to feel anxiety about things. Life is a rollercoaster full of surprises and it can be super scary not knowing what to expect next… But, this does NOT mean you have an anxiety disorder.
This post originally wasn’t even supposed to include any of that, but the more I kept writing, the more I felt like I wanted to address that. To me, anxiety, depression, and any other mental issues are the real deal. They’re incredibly difficult to manage on your own and a great number of people live with these issues on a daily basis.
Okay. Moving on.
What is Generalized Anxiety Disorder?
The first time I remember feeling an overwhelming amount of anxiety was during my senior year of high school. Relationships have always prompted my anxiety, and during my senior year, I was in a super toxic relationship. The typical “stresses” of being a senior in high school didn’t help the situation either. I carried these feelings with me to college and they only escalated. The relationship I was in only got worse and the stresses of college are about 10x that of those in high school. Basically, I got sent over the edge.
During my sophomore year of college, I finally got to a point where I knew I needed help. I went through my school to seek a therapist and a psychiatrist. After a few sessions, a few tests, and a lot of talking, I was ‘officially’ diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder.
I won’t get too deep into it, but a person with GAD suffers from “persistent and excessive worry for more than 6 months or more”. “Excessive” worry means my mind is rarely at ease. I wake up with thoughts already racing and that doesn’t stop for a majority of the day. Living this way, without any tools or help, was incredibly difficult. It’s hard to describe the feelings I had when my doctor explained to me the diagnosis, but I remember feeling relief. There was finally an “answer” for the ways I had been feeling for nearly 3 years.
Fast forward through the years, I had times when I was off medications and stopped going to therapy and then times I would get back into it. Medications were difficult and frustrating for me. The doctor would prescribe me a med at a certain dosage and I’d have to wait 1-2 months to see if it helped. If it didn’t, the dosage would increase. If that still didn’t help, they would either up the dosage again or go to a different medication. With each medication, came a different set of side-effects. Eventually, I stopped taking medication because the side effects were too great and the process too frustrating. I kept seeing a therapist and that is what inevitably helped me the most.
As I get older, anxiety can still be difficult to manage because #adultingishard. Thankfully, I was given valuable tools during the times I was seeing a therapist and have been able to manage the symptoms on my own for quite some time now. This is NOT to say I don’t believe in therapy or meds, but for me personally, I have made the choice to manage things on my own for the time being. If you’re struggling in the same ways, I just want you to know: you CAN manage your symptoms. But it does take a great deal of effort. There’s absolutely no shame in seeking external help if you need to.
So, because I am choosing not to take medication and am not currently seeing a therapist, I have to take extra care of my mental self. From therapy, I learned certain tools that I still carry with me today. I’ve also learned some things on my own.
Here are some tips and tools to help manage the symptoms of your anxiety:
Meditation has become a HUGE tool to ease my symptoms. I try to practice every morning and have also started meditating at night as well. I have racing thoughts ALL day long and it feels so good to clear my mind even if for just 5 minutes at a time. Sometimes, I’ll even take a few minutes in the middle of my day just to help clear my mind. Meditation is an incredible tool and I highly suggest everyone try it out regardless of whether you have anxiety issues or not.
My very first therapist introduced me to the concept of mindfulness and it’s stuck with me ever since. Mindfulness has many definitions but my favorite is this: it is the practice of being intentional about your attention. I remember I would sit there with my eyes closed, trying to make my mind as still as possible. My therapist would say, “Any time a thought pops into your mind, you can acknowledge that it’s there, but make the decision to come back to it later. Make the decision to focus your attention on your breath.” Mindfulness goes hand-in-hand with meditation and has helped me in so many ways.
Yoga has been perhaps the most shocking thing I have tried that has helped my anxiety. It’s like exercising both mentally and physically at the same time and I have fallen in love with this practice. I love yoga because I literally don’t think about a thing during the entire session- or most of it anyway! I’m so focused on my body that my mind almost naturally calms itself. Yoga has by far become my favorite workout. And the best part about it? It can be as physically intense as you want it to be. There are so many different forms of yoga, you can find the one that works best for you.
I’ve always loved reading but never knew it could ease my anxiety. Studies have shown that just six minutes of reading can help reduce stress levels by up to 60 percent. This is huge! Fiction or non-fiction, it doesn’t matter to me. Reading allows my brain to focus on something other than my thoughts for a little bit. I would highly recommend checking out 10% Happier (a book about meditation), The Secret (the go-to book about the law of attraction), and Turtles All the Way Down (a great book about mental illness).
Over this last year, I have been completely engulfed in personal development. From reading wellness blogs to motivational books to learning about the law of attraction and living intentionally… there are SO many things you can do on a daily basis to help you live your best life. I’ll go into some of these things a little deeper on a separate blog post so stay tuned for that!
This one took me awhile as I’ve never been very mindful about what I was putting into my body. Switching to a vegan diet helped me tremendously in my journey of learning how to be a healthy eater. Now, I am a true believer that what you put into your body can have a drastic effect on both your mental and (obviously) physical health. When I eat like shit, I generally feel like shit. The same goes for alcohol. When I drink, my anxiety is the absolute WORST.
One last secret…
Lastly, there’s one thing that has helped me through the toughest of times and I wanted to share it here: you have total and absolute control over your thoughts and the way you feel. There are many things in life you cannot control, but the way you feel is totally your choice. When you finally realize this, you gain so much more control over your life.
Every moment you are sad, you are choosing to be sad. Every moment you are anxious, you are choosing to sit in that mindset. So, any time I start to feel anxious, I take a few deep breaths and mindfully choose my next steps. I am choosing happiness over sadness. I am choosing calmness over chaos. This happens with practice, and I still often struggle, but it is possible.
If you struggle with anxiety and are hesitant about medications or therapy, definitely try some of these things out. With that being said, I am a HUGE advocate for therapy. I’m not against medications, but for me, meds have always been a last resort. Depression and anxiety do stem from a chemical imbalance so medications are definitely an option to help with that. Just be prepared, as it can be a long road.
Do you struggle with anxiety? What sort of things help you ease your symptoms?