September is National Suicide Awareness month. Which is why I write this blog. Suicide usually comes down to real mental health states in dealing with depression and anxiety. People usually remain silent in their battles as they do still have a stigma with them. Exercise, nutrition and reiki have been the cornerstones to helping me deal with my anxiety. Helped me so much I became certified in holistic nutritionist so that I can help others conquer their battle.
I’m going to get very real and very personal with this blog. It’s about my battle with Anxiety over the years. If you have never dealt with Anxiety or had an Anxiety (Panic) attack, consider yourself incredibly blessed. There are still people out there who think that anxiety is something that isn’t real and can be controlled. I’m here to tell you, anxiety is very real, incredibly scary and very difficult to live with when one doesn’t learn techniques to handle it. It is almost paralyzing.
The American Psychological Association describes anxiety as this:
“Anxiety is an emotion characterized by feelings of tension, worried thoughts and physical changes like increased blood pressure.
People with anxiety disorders usually have recurring intrusive thoughts or concerns. They may avoid certain situations out of worry. They may also have physical symptoms such as sweating, trembling, dizziness or a rapid heartbeat.”
Anxiety has haunted me since I was very young. Normally it is triggered by something traumatic. Some people remember, sometimes it’s something from childhood that we have forgotten. From the time I was young I had an irrational fear of men whom I didn’t know. I had a lot of trouble even talking to male classmates. And even if I had amazing conversations with them one day, the next day I would freeze up around them and had trouble with a second conversation. It was incredibly frustrating as I watched my friends begin the dating process and interact with other males. I couldn’t even talk to a guy, but I wanted to date so bad! Hormones were beginning to rage in me just like any other teenager! But I was paralyzed in my fear. I dated one guy in high school and prayed that he was the one because I didn’t want to go back to being alone and having to go through this process all over again. Turns out he wasn’t!
College is where things turned around for me. I had been in therapy by that point for a year dealing with some other hardships. My fear was brought up and we began working through my demons and finding exercises. But by this point my anxiety had filtered to other areas of my life. Social anxiety was a very real thing for me. I worried that friends wouldn’t like me and wouldn’t invite me places. I worried that people in general just wouldn’t like me. I worried what EVERYONE thought of me. Worried, worried, worried. It’s like an ache in your stomach and heart that you just can’t shake. And even when everything was going well and felt good I still couldn’t shake the feeling that something was wrong.
My first anxiety attack happened while I was working as the youth director of our church in AZ. I was a full-time college student also working full time hours at the church. When you’re asked at the age of 19 to do something of this position, it’s an honor and one that I couldn’t turn down, even though I knew it would be a lot of work. What could be more fun than helping youth find God and getting to play fun games?! Turns out I was in way over my head and had no idea! I have no regrets of this job and loved it for the most part. But there were a lot of politics I had to face and that became stressful.
My anxiety attack was one of the most surreal and scary things I have ever been through. I loved working after hours when everyone was at home and the phones were quiet. I had an incredibly productive night. I had had a wonderful conversation with a mom praising me for my work, researched our next bible study and planned our upcoming youth group. I had our missions trip all in line, fundraisers set to go smoothly, and should have felt accomplished. Accept I didn’t.
As I finished up my evening a feeling of terror filled every cell in my body. A feeling of failure. Like I hadn’t done enough. A feeling like, “I have so much homework. I hope parents think I’m doing a good job. What if the youth don’t come to my group? What if they don’t like me at all? What if I left my curling iron on? What if I never travel the world? What if I can’t get my degree? What if I never get married? What if I never have any kids? What if my parents aren’t proud of me?” Yup a flood of questions that were all unrelated to each other, but all things I had worried about at some point in my life! I was completely overwhelmed in my own thoughts. Irrational ones and all. I began crying uncontrollably. Large sobs that turned to gasping for breath. Gasping for breath which turned into a rapid heartbeat. And then I was on the floor behind the church desk rocking back and forth trying to catch my breath. I thought for sure I was going to die. I obviously did not. When I came out of the attack I composed myself. I was not ready to drive as I was still shaking a lot. I called a friend to come pick me up from the church and she took me out to dinner where we talked and I could settle down. Never in my life had I experienced anything like this.
That same year I was pushed into singing a solo by a fellow choir member. I had never, ever wanted that. Singing alone with all eyes on me made me want to puke. I did it despite my fears and soon I was beginning to perform a lot more. I was asked to sing for Arizona State sporting events. My first event was a baseball game. As the time passed for me to get up and sing the anthem I remember thinking that I was going to die out there. No way would I make it to even sing the anthem. I would die walking onto the field. Five minutes before I went out I looked at my dad. “I have to use the bathroom”. I couldn’t because I was being taken down to the field. This happened every time before I sang and now it’s a joke every time I’m getting ready to sing. But I always had to use the bathroom right before. Right when I was done singing I was just fine, and my pants were dry. Oh, and I didn’t die. But I really thought I would. As I performed more and more the stage fright never left. However, I knew I’d survive and be thrilled and filled with adrenaline after so I kept doing it.
After I began singing in AZ I made a commitment that I was going to start doing things that really scared me. Scared me to the point I was on the edge of an anxiety attack. I picked up two cats and moved to Los Angeles. By myself. Granted, I stayed in my apartment for two days surviving just off sunflower seeds and water, but step one was a success! I made pledges to meet people that others said were unrealistic to meet. I set out every day to do something that scared the crap out of me. Day three was just going to the grocery store. Sometimes it’s the little things!
Seven years later I’d done what I needed and decided to move back to CO. I now own my own Pilates health and fitness center. It’s been one of the scariest decisions I’ve ever made and there are days I am filled with anxiety. I almost went into a panic attack last Monday but was able to pull myself out of it through the many skills I have learned from the past 6 years.
Want to know what those are?
Just breathe. Sounds simple enough, right? It’s not. When we get into that fight or flight mode our breathing automatically becomes shallower. Which makes our heart begin to race and puts us into the run (panic) mode. Just stop and breathe. Take deep, deep full breaths. You’ll feel better almost immediately. Maybe consider even taking up a yoga class.
Realize you won’t die. Most likely unless there’s just some crazy fluke where you are honestly meant to die, you will survive this moment. And you will be better for it.
Seek professional help. I don’t know why this is still such a polarizing idea. If you need help, get it! If you need medication, take it!
Seek therapy. I have a therapist who is also a Reiki professional. This has helped me immensely. I have seen her for two years and my anxiety is the most under control it’s ever been. I believe in the power of touch and therapy combined more than you know.
Exercise every day. And vary it up. I box now which helps get out pent up anger. I also do my barre, yoga and Pilates which help to ground and relax me. Find what gives you your own Zen.
Realize not everyone is going to love and accept you for who you are. Who cares? Be you. Your true peeps will love and admire you for who you are. The others? Someday they’ll see just what you had to offer.
Stop comparing your life to others. Almost impossible for those that are competitive. But you just have to somehow do this.
Do something productive to take your mind off whatever is worrying you. I love to organize when I’m in an antsy mood. Just that makes me feel that life is a little less chaotic.
Let yourself relax. This is really hard for me because often times I think others will feel I’m lazy. I’m not. But it’s amazing how bad we can make ourselves feel when we aren’t constantly doing something.
Talk to your friends.
Consider the use of essential oils and herbs. They really do help. But if you’re ingesting anything, talk to a certified nutrionist that understands this.
There are many other things that can help relieve anxiety. But don’t ignore it. And if you know someone with anxiety, don’t undermine how big of a deal it is. It takes a lot for anyone to come out and admit they have a problem with anxiety or depression. If someone comes to you with this, consider yourself honored that they trusted you enough in their pain.
I have figured out how to deal with my anxiety and have not had true anxiety for years. It’s felt incredibly freeing. I felt trapped for so long but now when I feel it trying to control my life, I know what I need to do. What works for you to relieve your anxiety may not work for others. So, begin listening to what works as healthy stress relievers for you. And never forget…you are enough as you are and you are loved!