Category Archives: Anxiety

Practicing Mindfulness

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Something I’ve found very helpful to combat anxiety and negativity is a concept called mindfulness.   Mindfulness is acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations, and then doing something to help process the emotion, thought or feeling.

I use this in several ways.  If I’m feeling resentful towards someone, I take a minute and try to figure out why this is, and then I try to change my attitude.  I read somewhere that resentment is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.  I’ve found this to be true.  Resentment is not compatible with good mental health.

I also use this when I have an anxiety attack.   My anxiety attacks always have some sort of physical aspect, so I try to accept these physical symptoms (struggle to breathe, dizziness, coughing, whatever) and then remind myself  that 99.9% of the time they will go away if I stop panicking.   After I’m calm, I then try to determine what exactly caused the anxiety.  For example, traveling triggers anxiety in me because following my daily schedule makes me feel safe.   It is also a trigger for me because I feel as if I have to be on my best behavior because I’m seeing people I only see once or twice a year.   To combat this stressful thought pattern, I create a little mantra.  For example, something like, people’s opinions don’t define me, or changes of plan aren’t dangerous.

This concept has truly changed my life.   Mindfulness keeps my anxiety from becoming debilitating and it also helps me not dwell on negative feelings.    I have a choice about which thoughts to invite in and which ones to shut out.

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The Never-Ending Cycle

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Image result for house cleaning clip art free

Courtesy of: Clipart Kid

 

 

There are three traps that I often fall into.

  1. I want to find a ‘cure’ to ‘fix’ how I am.
  2. Once I find this cure, no ‘maintenance’ is needed.
  3. Fast = Good

 

But in reality, none of these are true.

There isn’t a cure for how I am, because it isn’t a disease.  It’s simply how I was made.

It’s tempting to look for the one thing that will ‘fix’ all my problems, but I won’t find it.  It won’t just be one thing, because many different factors contribute to them, so obviously the help needs to be multi-faceted as well.

Compare this to owning a home. If you stopped regular maintenance (mowing the lawn, cleaning, repairs) it would become overgrown, messy and costly.  The same is true with my mind.  I need to remember that this maintenance isn’t messing up or failing.  No one expects a house to maintain itself, so why would I expect that from my mind?

I may find mental tools to manage, or new thought patterns, but there is no cure-all magic potion.

There will be ongoing ‘maintenance’ for as long

as I want to be a functional person.

 

I’ve come to notice that my life goes something like this:

Feel bad, regulate, feel better, repeat.

Yes, it’s messy. It can be discouraging.  But it’s all part of a process.

I know that messy, slow processes make people very uncomfortable.  But this is a wrong viewpoint.  Everything comes from a process.  And sometimes this process is a messy, slow one.

Going back to our home comparison, now you are going to declutter. Well, in order to declutter, you need to take everything out of the room and put in somewhere else so you can sort through it.  Temporarily, your house will be messier than before, but in the end, it’ll be cleaner and more organized.

This is how it can be while you are maintaining yourself.  The process of wrestling with anxiety or with learning disabilities, etc., can be a messy process. Wrestling with this issue is uncomfortable for you and for others watching you, but for the moment this is how it needs to be.

Let it be slow.  Let it be messy. It’ll be okay in the end.

 

Maintaining myself emotionally  is a daily choice.

 

Repeat your coping methods as many times as needed, even if it’s always, every minute of every day at times.  But don’t be discouraged, because, you know that a better time will come.  It’s all part of a cycle.

Understanding Anxiety: The Fight or Flight Response

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When I was thirteen years old, anxiety overtook my life. It was debilitating and I had numerous panic attacks every day. As I learned more about anxiety, I began to realize that  it’s been with me my whole life, just under the surface waiting to erupt like a volcano.  When I was a child, I was nervous and sensitive and I suffered from chronic health issues with no known cause.  But, the more I learn about anxiety, the more I think that my ‘sicknesses’ were anxiety-related.

What is a Panic Attack?

A panic attack is an uncontrolled reaction to a perceived threat which triggers your body’s fight or flight response. [1]

Fight or Fight Response:

Your body’s physical response to danger, releasing adrenaline so your body is prepared to defend itself if necessary. [2]

This response is normal and good if the threat is actually dangerous, like being chased or attacked.  However, this response can be misguided, where something not deadly, like, lack of routine, becomes a ‘threat’ that triggers a fight or flight response.  This is anxiety.

When you have a panic attack, your body reacts with a life or death response to a threat that is not actually deadly. Your body can’t tell the difference and will react with a physical response. The source of the anxiety can be a wide variety of things.

For example, but not limited to:

  • socializing
  • lack of routine
  • change
  • a specific phobia (fear of heights, etc.)
  • traveling
  • going outside
  • eating

Are these stressful?  Yes, sometimes.   Deadly?  No.

Whatever the trigger is, this fight or flight response causes physical symptoms:

  • pounding heart
  • asthma-like symptoms
  • acid reflux
  • sweating
  • blurry vision
  • hyperventilation
  • chronic health issues with no clear cause

Disclaimer:  If you find that your symptoms aren’t related to an anxiety trigger, go to the doctor. You could have a real health problem that should be treated.

These symptoms of anxiety are scary and send you running after a cure for a symptom rather than looking for the source. You look for a ‘real,’ cause because  it’s hard to admit that it’s all anxiety.  Your brain and body are playing tricks on you and that creates more anxiety.  You feel mental.  You can’t trust your own perceptions.

One time when I was traveling (something that makes me very, very anxious), my family stopped at a motel and I started to have asthma-like symptoms that I now believe were panic-induced.  I know this because my asthma medicine had no effect on my symptoms. My anxiety escalated and so did my symptoms, resulting in a full blown panic attack.

Perceived threat + fight or flight response = panic attack and physical symptoms

My family turned on the T.V and started flipping through the channels.  We ended up watching The Breakfast Club, and I began to become interested…and guess what?

My death-like symptoms left too.

My vision cleared up, and my breathing became regular.

I was exhausted, but my anxiety left, at least for a time.

If your symptoms can be distracted, then it’s anxiety.

Realizing this fact was a major turning point for me. Anxiety doesn’t receive the kind of sympathy that ‘real’ sicknesses receive, so admitting this is a huge accomplishment. I bucked this fact for a long time, but when I finally did accept it, my anxiety gradually became much less severe. Somehow, knowing this drains the power of the anxiety.

Anxiety creates a vicious cycle. Your brain has incredible memory, so it begins to associate ‘bad’ or ‘dangerous’ situations with certain places or activities.[3]  This can happen anywhere, even your own home or your own bed.

For example, if you have bad dreams at night or can’t sleep, your bed becomes a ‘threat’.  You become afraid to go to bed at night, and procrastinate bedtime because subconsciously, your brain perceives your room as ‘dangerous’.   This is tricky because you might not even realize or see the connection at first. But slowly, stealthily, your anxiety undermines you. Because you start going to bed later, you can’t wake up on time and you’re tired at work. Though it doesn’t seem like it, this is the fight or flight response.  You are fleeing from something that your brain has decided is a ‘danger.’

Another example is this: when you eat, you get acid reflux.  Now, not only food, but mealtime (or even thinking about food) becomes a ‘threat’, and the cycle begins again.  This is no way to live.

Understanding how the fight or flight response works helps to calm myself in the event of another panic attack. I’ll start to struggle to breathe or my vision will blur and I’ll just say  to myself, ‘oh, I’m having anxiety again’ and ignore it.  This way, my symptoms wane and a panic attack is averted.

It’s like a fire.  Without oxygen and burning material, it will fizzle out.   Anxiety only has as much power as you let it have.

Anxiety is a liar. Don’t trust it.

 

[1] What are Panic Attacks? How do you stop Panic Attacks? [Video file]. (2009, November 5). Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2ByQonvu02A

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

Hello Again, Again

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I’ve decided to start blogging again.   Sorry it’s been so long.

These last two years have been a time of discovery and change for me.  I got diagnosed with a learning disability which has really changed things for me.  I now know why I struggle with certain things and that I am not retarded.  I have a real problem.  I also am eligible for accommodations in college and on the SAT test, which  I’ll take this summer.  Read more about my learning disability here.

I’ve also started going to Alanon which has surprisingly given me strategies not only for dealing with alcoholism, but for for managing my anxiety as well.    I’ve continued to educate myself on my learning problems and the way my mind works.

All this research and real-life practice led me write a blog series about some of the some of the things I’ve discovered about my mind.

Here’s a sneak peek of the topics I’ll cover:

  • Corpus Callosum: why it matters and how it works
  • Understanding Anxiety: the fight or flight response
  • Feelings Lie: don’t let them rule you
  • The Never-Ending Cycle: Feel bad, manage, feel better, repeat
  • Accept Yourself: the good, the bad, the ugly

 

I learned something…

Video

Until recently, panic attacks were a daily part of my life.

They would last for about 40 minutes and were very debilitating.  Often it would get so bad, that I would hyperventilate.  I was so discouraged, and thought that my anxiety would never get better.

Then, in the wee hours, one morning, I found this video.  It changed my life. 

This man’s videos have really helped me with my anxiety attacks.  He taught me that I have more control over my anxiety than I had thought and that it doesn’t have to dominate my life.  My last full-blown attack was nine days ago.  Sometimes, I start to become anxious, but I’ve learned how to prevent a complete attack from happening.

Anxiety is a complicated issue, and it’s different for every person, so I don’t want to make it seem like this video will cure all your anxiety forever, but for me this was a huge help.  It really helped me see some of the things I had been missing.

I hope this gives some encouragement to those struggling with anxiety:-)

 

Blessing in weakness…

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She felt the familiar tightening in her chest.

Her breaths came in uneven and difficult gasps.

Her blue eyes were fearful and frantic.  She looked around her as she tried to breathe slowly and evenly.  But the tightness did not subside.

She took a deep breath from her inhaler and attempted to quell the thoughts of death that were gathering rapidly- involuntarily, in her mind.  She grew more panicked. The inhaler seemed to have no effect on her breathing.

Realizing this, she quickly put the nebulizer pieces together and turned the machine on. The nebulizer droned sullenly, methodically.  Her mind raced.

She was filled with shame.  And guilt.

Her scattered thoughts were not at all comforting.  Why am I so weak?  Her thoughts violently rebelled against her struggles and her suffering.

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She was young, passionate, and full of aspirations, yet here she was, trapped in her own body.  All her desires and hopes had seemed to fade around her.

Almost instinctually, her thoughts drifted towards God. The thoughts were undeveloped, yet, she was turning to God.  She was praying, though no words were ever formed.

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She breathed slowly and deeply.  She felt a wave of peace through her.

She understood that her suffering would never completely dissipate, but she felt a sliver of hope.  She smiled, though somewhat sadly, realizing resignedly that this is who she is- weak and delicate, but not hopeless.

She knew God would provide, though sometimes she would not feel his presence intensely.

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Sometimes his voice would simply be a feeling of peace or hope, helping her in her time of need……..encouraging her to go on.

“Have no anxiety at all, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God.  Then the peace of God, that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus”    -Philippians 4:6-7