When my journey to “get rid of” anxiety started I had no idea where to begin. I didn’t know why it started and I didn’t know how to make it go away. After several years it seemed like there was no hope for change. What I didn’t know was that with vulnerability, research, and trial/error, I would begin to find freedom from the constant fear.
As the years went by I tried many different ways to support myself. It began with:
1. Socializing: This was a great way to not feel as isolated, but when you are afraid of having a meltdown in public it can become claustrophobic. Another word used could be agoraphobic (extreme fear of crowded spaces or public places).
2. “Winding Down”: I thought if I just relaxed more I wouldn’t feel so anxious. After work or school I would look at social media or watch TV to escape from my thoughts and get some reprieve. Although it worked for an hour of watching, whatever physical sensation I was experiencing before would usually return.
3. Medication: I took medication for years, but found it didn’t work well with my body, although it does help many people. Talk to your doctor about what will work best for you before going on, changing, or getting off medication.
During college, after trying all the above solutions, I felt like I was at my limit. I was so afraid of my own body that I was scared I was going to hurt myself. Not because I wanted to, but because if my body was capable of such extreme reactions to things I thought other people could handle, what else would my brain do? Would I go “crazy”?
This also transformed into a fear that I would hurt others as well. Terrifying images of hurting myself or hurting others would come to my mind. I was someone who could barely watch violent movies because they scared me. Why would these terrifying images appear in my head? Eventually, I felt like I was at the end of myself. Nothing had worked and I was increasingly more afraid of myself.
With time, I discovered three things that changed my life and began the restoration of hope. Although there were many other habits and mindset shifts that still needed to take place, this set the foundation to build on.
1. Counseling: It was terrifying before I walked in the door. Questions plagued me from the moment I signed up like: How do you tell a stranger your greatest fears? What if I cry? What if they say they don’t know how to help me? What if they think I’m dangerous? What if I freak out in their office and they put me in a psychiatric ward?
Although it was hard to walk in that first day and open up, I will be forever grateful I did. I found I could open up to an unbiased person who was educated in discussing what I was experiencing. I soon realized that my fears were based on the untruthful stigma that counseling was for people who were “crazy” (there is that hurtful word again). When my series of sessions ended, I grieved the loss of that time. Now, I recommend it to everyone. To quote my husband, “I think counseling should be a life requirement.”
2. Exercise: I began doing free workout videos on YouTube and running (which is an accomplishment if you know me!). I found that it gave my body purpose in the mornings or evenings and released the energy that my raised cortisol created. In the mornings it helped with nausea from stress and in the evenings it helped with pent up energy. Sitting for hours watching TV or looking at my phone had the opposite affect.
3. Reading about Anxiety: It was extremely hard at first. The word “anxiety” was an emotional trigger, so it was difficult to get through some of the writings, but with time it became easier.
Side note: If you don’t consider yourself a “reader” these authors also have audio versions and videos to meet your learning style.
Here are some resources that were game changers:
“Who Switched Off My Brain” by Dr, Caroline Leaf”
A detailed, easy to understand, writing about the way our brain works. Knowledge really is power. When I learned how my brain works, and what happens physiologically, fear felt less dangerous/frightening/isolating.
“I Thought It Was Just Me (But It Isn’t)” by Brené Brown
I often had the thought “I’m so weird for ______.” This was the first book that made me realize my negative quirks really weren’t quirks, but common. It was just that the people around me (including myself) didn’t want to talk about them. The fear of embarrassment and isolation was/is a deep root for me specifically. It revealed to me the truth that vulnerability can set us free and I learned that it really isn’t just me.
“From Panic to Power” by Lucinda Basset
A phenomenal resource about her own journey with panic attacks, agoraphobia, and generalized anxiety. She went on to found the Midwest Center for Stress and Anxiety. I loved listening to the audio CDs on my way to work (where I would often experience ruminating thoughts/anxiety).
Although I will always be growing, these were these starting place in my journey. If you have questions about any of the above resources please reach out on Facebook, Messenger, Instagram, phone, or email.
What resources or habits have helped you? Please share in the comments!