My relationship with anxiety began a long time ago. I had an undiagnosed anxiety disorder for years. This was the result of PTSD from a childhood trauma, but for the longest time I didn’t realize that I was different from anyone else by living in a constant state of worry, fear, and self-doubt. Or maybe I did realize I was different but I figured it was a punishment for something I had done wrong. I felt like I constantly had to be worrying and predicting everything that could go wrong and prevent it from happening. If bad things did happen, it was my fault because I hadn’t done enough work to prevent it. This is how a damaged brain processes the world around it. Of course, the actual truth is that bad things happen and we can’t control that. We can only control how we respond to them.
I was first diagnosed with anxiety (and depression which is an entirely different blog post) in 2011. I went on medication and also started counseling. At the time, depression was the bigger animal to conquer which I eventually did, but then about three years ago anxiety came out of nowhere and decided it wanted some attention too. I had had panic attacks before, but they were rare. I started having panic attacks daily, sometimes more than five a day. Eventually, I got it down to one a day and then maybe one a week.
I don’t usually talk about my struggle with anxiety, but I wanted to now because I’ve found some strategies that have helped and wanted to share them in case someone might find these tips useful. Even if you don’t personally struggle with an anxiety disorder, you probably know someone who does in which case, more education can be useful in being supportive and understanding.
First of all, what causes my panic attacks? I do have some very key triggers that include driving, feeling nauseous, and speaking up in meetings at work. Unfortunately, life would be pretty limited without driving, feeling nauseous is only so preventable, and not speaking up in meetings limits professional success. While these are my most reactive triggers I have also have panic attacks as a result of the following: walking, sitting, standing, talking, sleeping, thinking, laughing, eating, doing something, doing nothing, and doing anything.
Here’s the thing. They can come out of nowhere and your brain is struggling to both tell you that you are dying and simultaneously trying to rationalize with you that you are actually ok.
I decided about a year ago that I wanted to find some more natural strategies for dealing with this disorder other than taking medication. Here are the things I have found useful:
Meditation, meditation, meditation.
Meditation has helped me with anxiety more than any pill ever has. I started off with a subscription to Headspace which was useful because it felt a bit like “Meditation for Dummies” because of how guided everything is. I still do a 10-20 meditation with Headspace every morning. I also subscribe to the HayHouse Meditation podcast and I will occasionally do a second meditation before bed using this podcast.
I also faithfully listen to Dan Harris’ 10% Happier podcast which is all about meditation. The variety of guests with different levels of experience and different kinds of meditation has been very educational and useful.
I would say in the year or so that I have been learning and using meditation, I have probably only had three real panic attacks and those all lasted less than half an hour. Usually now I can feel a bit of anxiety creeping up and I can manage it through breathing techniques.
There are three other key ingredients with this natural remedy: sleep, diet, and exercise.
I might do individual blog posts on these in the future, but I wanted to mainly highlight meditation in this one because it is the one I feel has had the most impact on my anxiety disorder. I have been off of my anti-anxiety medication for a year now (disclaimer** I’m not a medical professional at all, consult a doctor before discontinuing any medications, I’m simply sharing what worked for me).
I decided to post about this now because I did have a panic attack yesterday. It lasted intensely for about three minutes and then less intensely for about thirty minutes after that. I’m not surprised about this either, I’m in a high stress situation. I started a new job, moved 3,000 miles away, and have no immediate support system available to me. I think just about anybody would be having some anxiety. The truth is, my anxiety disorder will probably never go away. It is a part of me just like brown eyes and an awkwardly short torso (the struggle to find well-fitted jeans is real), so I will not run from this. I will embrace it and manage through healthy strategies. Most importantly, I will never make a decision based off of trying to mitigate the amount of anxiety I anticipate I will feel. Life is all about choices. You can choose to let anxiety control your life or you can choose to breathe through it. You know what also helps? Writing about it. Thanks for reading.