I’ve struggled with anxiety for as long as I can remember. As a kid, my anxiety presented itself as stomach aches and a general feeling of being unwell. I distinctly remember telling my mother that I didn’t know what was wrong but sometimes I just wanted to cry. This was different from depression, although they usually do go hand in hand. It wasn’t a sad, hopeless, joyless feeling, but more of an uncomfortable, panicked, want-to-jump-out of my-skin feeling. I didn’t know how to label it at the time, but looking back, I’m 110% sure it was anxiety. And honestly, it’s no surprise. I grew up in a home where my nervous system was on high alert around the clock. My late father was an alcoholic and physically-abusive to my mother. My anxiety served me well then. It protected me. It allowed me to react quickly in emergency situations. My anxiety kept me safe.
In some ways, my anxiety still does serve me well. I’m extremely empathetic, which makes me a great friend and a great listener. My compassion and intuitiveness is also what makes me a great health coach and a personal trainer. Being highly aware of what or how other people are feeling has benefitted me in life and in relationships. I’m grateful for it.
On the other hand, my anxiety hinders me in more ways than one. It keeps me isolated. It turns a perfectly great day into a fear-ridden rollercoaster of emotion. It makes me irritable. It robs me of hours in the day I can never get back. It’s led me to self-destructive behaviors, like binge eating, lashing out, shutting down, and disengaging from others and/or life.
In my health coaching practice, I see so many people who struggle with this, as well. Many of them are well aware of it, while others are unconscious of it, until we work together and begin to dig a little deeper. They spend countless hours shopping, watching television, or playing video games. They neglect their physical bodies by not exercising, oversleeping, binge eating or eating unhealthy foods. This can be as small as reaching for a piece of chocolate when uncomfortable feelings begin to emerge. These self-destructive habits may provide short-term relief, but can be extremely detrimental in the long-term. I also see so many, mostly women and mothers, who sacrifice too much of themselves for their families and friends. Seemingly innocent, but this is just another way to mask having to deal with their own feelings and really, truly take care of themselves.
Here are a few practices that have helped me over the years, and I hope they can help you too.
It always starts with food, doesn’t it? Avoiding or limiting stimulating foods, like sugar, caffeine, alcohol, processed carbohydrates, and starchy foods, in general, has been game-changing for me. Keeping my energy and blood sugar as stable as possible, is essential in keeping anxiety at bay.
Most of the foods above, are also not great for gut-health. Did you know that 90% of the body’s serotonin is produced in the gut? How crazy! Makes sense as to why I’ve always struggled with digestive issues, and why I’m also so passionate about improving gut-health. Adding in gut-healing foods like bone broth, collagen, l-glutamine, and fermented foods can help alleviate some of those anxiety symptoms.
Dehydration can also induce anxiety, since it’s a subtle threat to survival, so it’s really important to drink a ton of water. I drink about 3-4 liters of water a day, and more if it’s a warmer time of the year or if I’ve been extra active. The more water I drink, the better I feel.
I am 100% sure that if exercise didn’t play such a massive role in my life, I’d be on medication. Now, you do what’s best for you, but I, personally, am going to skip all the harmful side-effects that come along with taking any medication and instead choose all the benefits of exercise. Exercise is my natural and free anti-anxiety medication. It helps to lower cortisol and increase endorphins, which are two things my brain and my body really need. Fitting in some HIIT training, running, sprints, or anything that gets my heart rate up immediately changes my entire mood. Even just getting out on a walk for a few minutes can be extremely beneficial.
Instead of running away or distracting myself from the feeling with destructive behaviors, I sit with it. I get curious about it. What does it feel like? Where do I feel it? I focus on my breath. My heart rate. I check in with every part of my body, starting from my head all the way down to my toes, to become as present as I possibly can. Sometimes I do this for 2 minutes and the feeling fades. Other times, it takes over an hour. Eventually the feeling does fade, and in the process, I’ve learned something about myself, about the feeling, about how to manage. It’s not easy. It can sometimes be so intense, it feels impossible to sit with. Daily meditation also helps me to become aware of the thoughts and feelings that trigger the anxiety. Just taking the time to slow down and breathe has been extremely helpful to me, as I tend to over schedule and stress out, which definitely does not help.
This is always the last thing I want to do when anxiety strikes, but it’s also been a great tool in pinpointing where the anxiety is stemming from. I will free write for a few minutes and then all of a sudden, BOOM, there it is. Becoming aware of what issues or situations in your life are causing you anxiety can help you move forward to alleviate them.
When I’m feeling anxious, it can feel like a arduous chore to get out of the house and interact with other humans, but I force myself to. Connecting with others can decrease anxiety and increase feelings of happiness and calmness. Even if you can’t be with someone, pick up the phone and call someone. I have a list of people that I love and who I can call to lift my mood, make me laugh, and calm me down.
If we never express or process the emotions from our childhood or even our adulthood, those emotions continue to bubble up inside us, like a boiling pot of water. If we put a lid on that pot, by not dealing with those feelings, eventually, that pot of water will explode. Anxiety, depression, physical pain, weight gain, high blood pressure, heart attacks, digestive disorders, reproductive issues, among many other health conditions can all be, and are usually, the result of this. I’ve been going to therapy on a regular basis for the last 10 years, when life is rough and also when life is great. It’s an absolute necessity for me, and it’s been instrumental in helping me work through and process my emotions. It’s also helped me become more self-aware and deal with the highs and lows of life and relationships.
Making sure I’m getting all of the above in, plus a very healthy, diverse, and nutrient-rich diet is fundamental to alleviating my anxiety. That being said, I do take a few supplements to give me a little extra boost in calming my nervous system down.
Do you struggle with anxiety? Do you know a friend that does? Feel free to forward them this blog post. What do you do to help? I can always use a few extra tips!
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