I’m not any expert on curing anxiety or even making it better for the long term (for myself), but it hasn’t stopped me from going on the hunt for a solution. What I do know is that I have found some relief from time-to-time, which wholeheartedly makes me believe that something or some things have got to help.
In October 2017, I had spent two weeks in in-patient treatment for Severe Generalized Anxiety Disorder and Mild Clinical Depressive Disorder. The severe anxiety was making my mild depression severe, and overall, I felt much lower than my average low. I was not coping, to put it mildly. My anxiety catapulted into a series of mini panic attacks daily, with the added perk of severe chest pain (not to mention the occasional migraine). My fibromyalgia kicked in every single day and I was in constant pain. I worried about everything and about nothing simultaneously. I felt foggy brained and could barely remember to use half the skills I learnt from a former therapist to calm myself down. I felt helpless. Obviously, new medication was introduced into my daily schedule, that was a higher dosage than what I had ever taken. The depression felt a bit better, but no matter how much medication I took, my anxiety was not completely alleviated.
I came to terms with the fact that I would have to manage my anxiety, pretty much daily, and probably for the long term. Medication can be great, but I don’t want to solely rely on it. It just doesn’t feel like enough, and I’m trying to find that enough. Especially now that I can feel that anxiety (not just creeping back) but bulldozing its way into my life again. I have searched, asked and explored different ways to make my anxiety better. I think I may have found some solutions to make life just that much easier. I’ve tried few and some others, I want to trial run and see how they work either on myself or on friends and family.
Guided Meditation MP3’s
My former therapist suggested these to me. She recommended a book called Mindfulness for Health: A Practical Guide to Relieving Pain, Reducing Stress and Restoring Wellbeing by Danny Penman and Vidyamala Burch. It’s usually used for those who have trauma from injuries, chronic pain etc, and she thought it would help with my anxiety and my fibromyalgia. The book came with a CD that has guided meditation tracks; a woman with an incredibly soothing voice guiding you through these meditation tracks. If you’re going through any pain, you breathe your way through it while lowering your stress levels. I have to say that although my fibromyalgia didn’t feel better, it didn’t get worse! Which was a big bonus. Using these mp3 tracks when I felt pain and/ or panic, really helped with not having the pain spread and keeping me calm.
There are also free guided meditation tracks you can get online from places like UCLA Mindful Awareness Research Centre (https://www.uclahealth.org/marc/mindful-meditations) for free. I have a few of these and they really helped quite a bit. However, guided meditation should not be done while driving or operating heavy machinery! Make sure you’re in a quiet spot where you can’t be disturbed easily.
I deliberately did not want to use the term exercise. I would be lying if I said I like exercising. I will move, when I know it’s an activity I like. Perhaps I was traumatised in school in Physical Education/ Training and the term exercise just puts me off. But the idea is that exercise makes the happy chemicals activate in your brain (not a scientific explanation at all!), you get more oxygen in your body and you invariably feel better the more you do it. However, the reason I mention that it should be movement I like is because I have a better chance of doing it and enjoying the entire experience. So that’s what I would suggest. Move in ways that you enjoy. Be active doing something that creates so much oy, that it doesn’t feel like work for you. Whether that is dancing, aerobics, CrossFit (oh my word), yoga, walking, the list is endless.
I guess the added upside is that your mind is distracted from your daily going’s and you are focused on achieving an activity that uses your whole body. I love dancing alone in my house; just feeling free and letting my body move any which way I want it to my favourite songs. Also, movement helps to expel added tension that has been building up inside you. The same tension that sometimes inhibits sleep. No matter what time you’re doing this, this should be something that can add a bit of calm and fun in your life.
Yes, you read that right. Talking. If you have a friend or family member that hasn’t yet gotten annoyed with your stories, talk! I would recommend finding a therapist though. Sure, it seems expensive, but you are paying for them to give you their undivided attention, without them butting in to tell you about “their experiences” and relating your life stories to their life stories. Getting out that anxiety can, in some cases really help alleviate how you feel. The added benefit is receiving advise on how to deal with the anxiety.
This though, is a process. Not just in the talking, but in the actual “therapist finding”. It is a hit or miss kind of situation. I got lucky, in that I found “the one” after extensive online (and email) research and not having to sit and pour my heart out numerous times. I emailed many people and asked if they had worked with clients that had issues quite like mine. My former therapist replied with a “yes” and further added that my work commute sounded horrendous with an added “hahaha”. A woman after my own heart. I felt like we would get along and I could speak to her confidently. I was right and learnt a lot.
Dialectical Behavioural Therapy (DBT) Techniques
A difficult one- something I was taught in in-patient treatment. This really requires you to spot behaviours, as and when they happen. A lot of times, we react to our anxiety, as anyone would. For me, it can manifest in irritation or worse, anger. By knowing how DBT works, you can stop yourself from acting out and calm yourself (and the situation) down, and essentially become a more rational person. You reflect in the situation you are in. You have a situation; you have feelings about said situation. Then you have thoughts about HOW to react to this situation. Now this is where is gets interesting: you have a choice to make. You can react as per usual- making the situation worse or you can change the situation by responding differently. It is all about the response. Everyone won’t understand your anxiety, so you need to adjust to make things easier for you (and in a sense for those who don’t understand).
This is an exercise that requires a lot of thought and often, the ability to pause and see the situation for what it is. You either pause before the thought that you would initially have when a situation presents itself and change your thinking pattern. Or you pause before the behaviour where you would normally react. You are forced to be mindful of your surroundings. Another activity I need quite a bit of work on. I react a lot (badly) or don’t react at all. However, this activity is so useful if your anxiety manifests in the way you interact with others- which is very common. Pause before you react. You might just spot some destructive behaviour before it happens.
Ah, how technology has helped us and how I have gone scouring for solutions on the Google Play Store. There are NUMEROUS apps to assist with anxiety, but some are better than most. This all depends on what you want to achieve, but I have two apps thus far that seem to really be working. Some are better used at night (when your anxiety can be likened to a caffeine boost) and others during the day, when you need that subtle reminder to get your shit together. I typically look for the apps that say “editor’s choice” or have a high star rating and reviews. Many of them have online therapy services (that you need to pay for), meditation activities, sleeping aids, mood recorders and games to relieve anxiety. Some of the top apps I have seen so far are: Headspace, Betterhelp, Pacifica, Tappily and Mind Ease. Those aren’t my favourite two though. Here are my favourite two right now:
InnerHour: With this app you can choose courses that are related to problems you have. You then do daily activities to monitor your mood in accordance to these courses and record how you are doing. You reach goals and targets everyday and receive badges too. It suggests different activities to assist with how you are feeling, whether it is walking, cycling, deep breathing or meditation. There is something for most people.
Calm: Alright, so this is my favourite and at some stage has been the editor’s choice. Calm has so many different, mindfulness exercises to choose from to alleviate anxiety. There is meditation, music and scenes to help you relax. Many of the functions can be downloaded to watch or listen to offline. If you struggle to sleep or sleep and feel tired the next day, I recommend this app. You can fall asleep to natural sounds like City Rain, White Noise, Oscillating Fan, Thunderstorms or Babbling Brooks (this makes me want to pee). Calm has enlisted Moby to record music guaranteed to help you fall asleep, peacefully. His amazing Long Ambients series of music was so relaxing, I feel asleep relatively well. I woke up a bit tired, but with time, I’m hoping I can get a full night’s rest and wake up feeling better each day.
Anxiety (whether mild or severe) can become debilitating. What is important is trying to find the methods and tools that can soothe how you are feeling. A Last thought I can add is scheduling your worry. You feel anxiety, right? Especially in a specific moment. Instead, pigeon hole it for a while. Later, sit down with a journal and write it all down. Extra task? Give yourself about 30 minutes and 30 minutes only to get out all the frustrations. Got it? You have scheduled your anxiety into a 30 minute time frame. You have given yourself the ultimate pity party and allowed yourself to vent in a constructive way.
I hope some or all these methods have helped you in some way. Or at least, you can try them soon. Comment and let me know if you kike them or if you have found something that has really helped you and you would like others to know. xxx