5 Ways to Manage Anxiety, or the Courage to Change the Things I Can

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*Note: I actually wrote this post a few months ago, but everything in it still applies. Anxiety is a real thing, and I will continue to educate and share my stories to help others understand and to encourage those who struggle.

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I had an anxiety attack at the beginning of church tonight. (If you struggle with anxiety, you may not want to read the next few descriptive paragraphs, as they may trigger you or make your heart race; feel free to skip to the tips.)

Here’s what happened:

The seeds of the attack began when I didn’t give myself enough time to get ready, wanting to finish a deadline, and then rushed out of the house with wet hair and a thrown-together outfit, rushing to get to my boyfriend’s place on time, knowing that being late stresses him out. As I’m driving like a madwoman to get to him, my wet, sloppy hair kept getting stuck in my dangly earrings, and the numerous cups of coffee I’d had earlier in the day finally broke the caffeine/barely-any-food ratio, and my heart started pounding. Once we got to church and walked inside the now-darkened sanctuary, blaring with music, the kind usherwoman led us to a row toward the front, with two seats available in a maxed-out row where we’d be wedged like sardines. (I once had an anxiety attack at this same church when we were squeezed in a row like this one.) I had a quick debate with my boyfriend about where to sit (next to the girl or the guy—me fearing he thought I was being insecure because I wanted to sit next to the girl, but really I just knew he takes up a lot of room and I didn’t want to make her uncomfortable; he’s thinking like a 6 foot-plus guy with size-gazillion feet and that he’ll be squooshed next to the other big dude [he told me later]). Anyways, we sat down, and immediately the rush of rock worship music hit my brain, louder since we’re sitting up front. I started to panic and couldn’t breathe; I sat down to try to calm myself. Knowing this thing is being videotaped for folks to watch on Facebook, and we were in the frontish rows, I was sure I was likely the only one sitting. But I had to. I had to calm myself. Thankfully, I had my emergency medicine for such moments, which I don’t always carry, and I took a drop of it. Then I realized it was okay to leave the sanctuary for a minute to compose myself (self-care).

And that’s exactly what I did. I went to the bathroom, put my hands on the sink, closed my eyes, and took a few deep breaths. A few tears came out as the enemy tried to bring condemnation. As this happened, worship music played in the bathroom speaker, this time not as loud, and I opened my eyes and took a deep breath. I chucked the earrings that kept annoyingly getting stuck in my messy wet hair and threw my hair up into a tidy bun. Then I took a leisurely walk to the coffee stand and got a decaf coffee, breathed, and took a walk back into the sanctuary. My sweet boyfriend had switched seats, and I came back at peace, calmer and ready to listen to the sermon on identity, which was so incredibly something I needed to hear.

Okay, so what’s the point of this long story?

I want to share with you a couple things I learned tonight about anxiety because I’m know I’m not the only one who struggles with it, and it doesn’t mean I don’t trust God or don’t have enough faith. Anxiety is a legit physical struggle for so many of us.

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I wrote this description a couple nights before this experience and shared it on my Facebook wall. It was a night my anxiety had overpowered me and won:

Anxiety is a real struggle. It’s not a moment of fear from time to time. It’s runaway brain, heart racing, cold sweats, having to lay down and breathe; it’s emotional flooding and not knowing what to do with it so it sometimes comes out a jumbled, breathless mess; it’s hard. It’s real. And sometimes you have to re-look at your treatment and see if it’s really working because our body chemistries change, and circumstances trigger chemicals and all that jazz. Please forgive us folks who struggle with it because it’s hard. We know we are frustrating sometimes. We know we can be a lot to handle sometimes. Please know everything in our being does not want to be a burden. Or too much. Or “act crazy.” Because we are professional men and women. With calm, gentle spirits. Educated, funny people. We’re not just a mix of insecurities and weakness. But we have this thing. This almost visceral, physical response that occurs, especially when triggered in certain areas. We have so many condemning thoughts that go along with these physical and chemical reactions, and this is where I believe the enemy of our souls comes in: with this component. We need a mixture, oftentimes, of physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual help. Right now, I’ve had one of these such moments, and I’m choosing to express it here because I know I am not alone.

In recovery groups, there’s this thing we recite called the Serenity Prayer: “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” The thing that happened in church tonight is that I realized I could have avoided this anxiety attack if I had avoided its triggers; and I also realized I had used the tool of self-care and my rescue medicine once it had arrived, so I handled it with grace, much differently than the other night in which I posted the Facebook post.

Here are a couple of ways we anxiety sufferers can manage our anxiety, lessening the bouts and more calmly dealing when they occur.

Once again, I’m just sharing what I learn; I’m no professional, and I’m still working this out in my own life. 🙂

  1. Know your triggers, and change what you can.

For me, I’ve learned that not giving myself enough time to get ready and being in a rush, especially when other people are involved (people like Mr. On-Time), puts my body in fight-or-flight, hyperstimulated mode, making me much more susceptible to an anxiety or panic attack, especially if I’m given just one more trigger. And the wet hair makes me feel even more disheveled. Being on time IS something I can control, even if I have to set my alarm a little earlier or stop the project. The reward is worth it. The few times I’ve been on time or a few minutes early equaled a calmer spirit, and rushing has precipitated quite a number of anxiety attacks (see tip number 3).

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Another thing I’m noticing that’s stressing me out is all the clutter in my studio apartment, which is already a “tuna can,” as my neighbor friend calls it. It’s mid-January, the tree is still up, there is dusty clutter on most surfaces, and it’s hard to move around in my space. I’ve been trying to finish a project for a client and make ends meet this month; still, I can make a list and chunk away at the clutter a little at a time. This is something I can change. Making lists and checking things off can help us feel we are making progress, and this progress can extend to other parts of our lives, not just work deadlines.

  1. Limit caffeine, especially on an empty stomach, and don’t skip meals.

I’m a notorious breakfast-skipper, and mornings are also one of my most productive times. And during deadlines, I tend to guzzle coffee while working, not taking a break to eat. This also puts our bodies in hyperstimulated mode, making us more susceptible to panic and anxiety attacks, especially coupled with rushing to get somewhere. Despite my desire to one day be the girl who cooks full meals, my tiny, cluttered kitchen with its one counter and it being deadline city keep squelching this dream. And you know what? It’s okay to buy easy-to-prepare yet healthful meals. And since skipping breakfast during my main coffee-consumption time seems to be a big trigger for me, I went to the store tonight and bought some instant oatmeal and yogurt – good, easy breakfasts. Eating breakfast is something I can control.

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  1. Limit rushing.

This is a biggie for us anxiety sufferers. Learning the art of living an unrushed life will help us so greatly. Sometimes, it’s just life: we have a demanding job or a busy day. Still, we can find ways to start the day in peace: with a daily devotion or a morning walk. We can also find little pockets of calm throughout the day, like lunch outside or a cup of tea at our desk. Or calming music playing in our earbuds. There’s a free white-noise app I listen to when I get overstimulated during a workday or when trying to sleep—Relax Melodies—and you can pick sounds like waves, rain on a tin roof, or a campfire crackling. There are other apps like this one out there.

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  1. Take time for self-care, and create routines that bring order and peace.

Self-care is different for everyone, but it’s important to everyone. We are not machines and need to take time to nurture our minds, bodies, and spirits, or we will burn out or freak out. This can include things like the above (recognizing your triggers and avoiding them; limiting caffeine and consuming healthy foods; learning to unrush your life; etc.), and it can also include knowing what to do should an anxiety attack come on. Tonight at church I stepped away to a place away from the crowds (hey, didn’t Jesus do that to talk to His daddy?), and I took a few deep breaths. I took off the annoying earrings and tidied up the disheveled hair. Then I took myself to the cafe for some DECAF coffee, knowing that the warm, fragrant cup would be like a soft blanket for my soul. One thing I need to add to my self-care is exercise. This past year I have gained over 25 pounds due to stress and ZERO exercise. No pound shaming here, but every time I take a little walk around the neighborhood, my mind clears and my blood gets pumping. Our bodies need movement. I am no scientist at all, but I have this belief that being sedentary for too long is not good for the chemicals in our body, that our bodies need to move for our blood to flow well and for oxygen and nutrients to reach each cell. Basically, sitting inside all day, working alone behind a desk is not helping my spirits or my physical and mental health.

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It’s also okay to have routines that bring order and peace. For me, these have included a morning devotional outside with my coffee, listening to a sermon or podcast while doing chores, lighting a candle and tidying my desk before getting the workday started, and winding down the day with a calming cup of chamomile tea and some stretches or laying on the couch, lighting a candle, and soaking in worship music. I also have a particular song I listen to that automatically calms me, like a lullaby or something; I’m probably the reason the video has thousands of views on YouTube.

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  1. Talk to a counselor and to your doctor about your diet and medicinal options.

While there are ways we can lessen our anxiety, sometimes the panic moments are just happening too much (and we’re in an intensely stressful or painful season), and we need help. Cognitive behavioral therapy helps us to work through these moments, replacing our anxious thinking with healthier thinking. There are also foods we can eat that can help us stay more balanced if our blood sugar dips are a culprit (eating protein with carbohydrates, for example, and avoiding or lessening sugar). Vitamin D is a biggie, too. Most of us don’t get enough of this essential vitamin, and adding this supplement can have surprising results in improving depression and sadness. (I’ve also used a mini sun lamp during the winter for a few hours in the morning, placing it near my desk.) Sometimes our doctor may recommend we try a more-natural medicine or monitor us as we try out a prescription drug or change our dosage. There’s no shame in medicine; just be patient as it may take time to work, and always take medicine under the care of a doctor. (Note: Since the original writing of this post, I upped my antidepressant 5 mg, to what is actually the prime dosage for this particular medicine, and have started taking 2,000 IU of vitamin D each day. In a few weeks, my mood started to improve, and the anxiety attacks have lessened.)

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***

Yes, I am a girl trying to put Jesus as number one in her life and seeking to rest in the knowledge that she is loved unconditionally and is beautifully and lovingly created.

Still, anxiety attacks are not simply attacks by the enemy that can be prayed away; they are often physical, visceral responses to stress or triggers or not taking care of my body, mind, or spirit. And sometimes, they strike without warning.

HOWEVER, I do think the enemy is a crafty being who loves to hit me with his mental strikes when I’m vulnerable, which, depending upon my physical or mental state, can more easily lead to an anxiety attack. BUT there are things I can do for this not-fun struggle with anxiety—things I can change to take care of myself, thus lessening the chances for an anxiety attack and the enemy’s ability to gain access through his darts—and I believe the Holy Spirit is giving me the wisdom to know the difference. There is so much more I could write on this subject, but this is enough for now.

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I hope something in here has helped you or encouraged you.

If you struggle with anxiety, I’d love to hear from you. And share what’s helped you with your anxiety in the comments!

Sometimes I think half this dating blog is about mental health, but gosh, don’t a lot of us struggle? And how much more at rest and joyful would dating and our relationships be if we weren’t constantly battling this monster of anxiety? Right? The nervous nellies of dating are enough. But those are kinda fun; I’m not sure we can ever completely get rid of those feelings we get when we like someone, nor should we (unless they’re for someone not good for us; then yes, let’s rein those ones in!). 😛

Have a wonderful week!!! And Google the full Serenity Prayer; it’s an awesome prayer!

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