*My mom doesn’t like it when I swear. Sorry, Mom.
The first time anxiety started to attack me, ten years ago, I had absolutely no idea what was going on. I didn’t put a name to it for months, and by the time I figured out what it actually was, I was completely paralyzed by it, and it took me several months to crawl out of the hole it had forced me into.
Since then, I’ve learned a lot about what triggers anxiety for me, and how I can protect myself from it. I can often feel it sneaking up on me before it fully surfaces from the murky depths, and attempts to drag me down with it. When that happens, there are a few things I’ve learned to do to kick its wretched ass back where it belongs.
I thought I’d share some of those things with you, in case it’s new for you and you feel ill-equipped. (And I’ll start by saying this: you are not ill-equipped.)
1) I get moving.
Exercise is my secret weapon, and I had no idea until about a year and a half ago. I started running again, for the first time since before I had babies, in the Fall of 2015. I ran 2-3 times a week up until November, when I ran a 10k to raise money for the homeless charity Simon leads.
I’ve just joined the gym, and now I’m mixing up running about once a week with HIIT classes and yoga and pilates and swimming. I cannot stress to you enough how much this helps knock the cobwebs out of my head.
When we feel depressed or anxious, the tendency is to stay inside on the couch, with some comfort food and a cup of tea, and generally just feel really sad about how sad we feel.
But I promise you that if you can drag yourself outside or to the gym and just spend 20 minutes getting really sweaty, you will thank yourself. And me.
Bonus: your legs will also start looking more toned and you’ll feel strong, like maybe anxiety isn’t the only ass you could kick.
2) I open the curtains.
Literally. Open them up. This is a tough one in England, especially in the winter, because the winters are loooooong and so, so grey. From October till March, it is pretty much just an endless stretch of short, grey days. In the depths of Winter, the sun is only out for about six hours, and it is torture.
(The flip-side of that is that our Summer days are my favourite thing in the world – the sun doesn’t set until about 10pm and it is THE BEST.)
Thankfully, my work is flexible and I’m not in an office all day in the winter, completely missing out on daylight. So I do the school run with the boys in the mornings, and try to take a walk around lunchtime just to see some daylight. I’ve also been thinking about investing in a SAD lamp (like this one) for the winters.
I also go around every morning and open up all the blinds in our house, even when it’s grey, just so I’m not sitting in a cave like a troll all day.
And one of the goals I set this year is to make enough money to pay for my family to go away somewhere warm and sunny for a week or two every winter, just to get a shot of Vitamin D!
3) I eat the good stuff.
The first time I dealt with anxiety 10 years ago, I had no idea how much my diet played a part. I was working in a stressful job, and eating crap. (Sorry again, Mom.)
I’d eat sausage biscuits from McDonalds for breakfast, drink 5 cups of coffee before lunch, snack on donuts in the office, eat Subway sandwiches and chug a can of Diet Coke at my desk for lunch, and then go home and cook something from a jar for dinner because I was too tired to cook from scratch (and didn’t know that it made a difference).
Even now, I sometimes feel like I’m still not eating well enough, but when I think back to that time – my diet is so different!
These are the most important changes I’ve made in my diet: less caffeine, NO refined sugar or artificial sweeteners (I only use maple syrup and honey to sweeten things now), and lots of probiotics (mine mostly come in the form of drinking milk kefir and eating sauerkraut with almost every meal).
4) I talk to a therapist.
I’m so sad about how long it took me to go to counselling.
As I mentioned before, it took me a long time to know what was happening to me the first time I faced anxiety. But once I got to the point of “I can’t live like this,” and found a counselor, things started to change really quickly.
There is something so incredibly powerful about saying out loud to someone your craziest internal thoughts and them not looking at you like you’re insane.
My counselor also gave me some great practical tools to battle anxiety attacks – things as simple as leaving my house through the front door instead of the back door. I know. Doesn’t that sound like the craziest thing ever? But, as he said, and as I’m sure you’ve heard, Insanity is defined as “doing the same things over and over and expecting different results.”
To be completely honest, I’m not in counseling right now, and I probably should be. I’ve been a couple of times for strings of about 6 months, but I think the ideal would be to go monthly in my calm, no-anxiety seasons just to keep a sort of health-check.
5) I come out of hiding.
This is so, so important. If you don’t do anything else, please do this.
I started having bad headaches and neck pain before Christmas, and I saw a doctor and an osteopath and had my eyes tested and had a massage…and everything seemed fine, and everyone said it is probably just musculoskeletal from grinding my teeth and carrying my camera around my neck and sitting at my computer.
But, here is how my thoughts went when I was at home alone during the day, in pain.
“My neck hurts. But the doctor said it’s probably muscular. But he could be wrong. He’s probably wrong. Doctors get things wrong. But I’ve also had my eyes tested and they would have seen something. But maybe they don’t know what they’re doing. But Steve (my doctor friend) said it sounded like classic teeth-grinding symptoms. But he’s in America. He can’t even look at me. And there was that story I heard one time about my friend’s aunt who had cancer for years and by the time they found it it was too late. That’s it. I have cancer. I’m dying. I’m not going to see my children grow up. What are they going to do without me? I’m dead.”
This isn’t a made-up story. These are my actual thoughts.
I told my friend Wendy about all this after church one day and she was appalled. To be honest, she was borderline mad at me.
“Don’t do this,” she said. “Don’t do this alone. Next time, text me.”
So that’s what I do now. I have a small group of friends in an iMessage group, and when my thoughts start to get away from me, I text them and tell them it’s happening. And they are awesome. They quickly jump in with TRUTH (like “We have not been given a spirit of fear, but of power, and of love, and a sound mind”) to combat the lies and fear. They pray for me.
Fear flourishes in the dark. But when we bring it out into the light – out into the open – we take away its power. The minute I say the scary stuff out loud, I can feel it lose some of its power.
Most of all, I want you to know that you’re not powerless. If you’re in the trenches, you have what it takes to climb out. You won’t be left here to die. I know it can feel like you’re beaten, but you’re not. This isn’t the end.
And if you want to leave me a comment here to tell me where you are in your fight right now, I’d love that.