Be Still, My Anxious Soul
Some of you are aware that I have Panic Disorder. I was diagnosed about 8 years ago along with Agrophobia at the time. It took a while to get a diagnoses as many professionals did not believe that I was someone who would have a mental illness. I was bubbly, outgoing, and was a social person. The reality behind my smile, was however very different. My whole world turned upside down and my anxiety and panic is something which I still live with today. It has been an ongoing journey with learning how to live and manage my mental wellbeing.
In 2012, after my second child was born and my hormones were fluctuating, I spent a month in a psychiatric therapy hospital in Germany. My panic attacks were debilitating, and I was unable to cope. I have learnt a lot from my experiences and continue to constantly learn as I go. Here are some of my tips that I have found beneficial in my healing process.
1) Ground yourself with nature.
Nature has the ability to bring you back to reality and see true beauty. It provides a sense of connectedness and immerses you in a beautiful and peaceful environment. Go for a walk on the beach, take off your shoes and feel the sand between your toes. Go for a walk through the bush or a park. Look at the trees. Feel the rough bark and the smooth leaves. Sit down for a moment and just focus on listening to all the sounds that nature brings. If you can’t get to the water or park, just take off your shoes and stand in the grass. Instantly, you will feel more grounded and relaxed. Often when we feel depressed or anxious, we hide away in- doors as the outside world can appear intimidating. We need to catch some sunlight and much needed vitamin D to maintain our health and wellness.
2) Check your hormones.
Hormone imbalances are not given enough attention in my opinion. Many of us simply blame our hormones for our moods and period cramps, yet we fail to understand to what extent hormones can affect our overall wellbeing. From what I have experienced, hormone imbalance causes an array of symptoms including sleep disturbances, anxiety, depression and severe PMS.
Environmental toxins and an unbalanced lifestyle can account for a range of symptoms as a result of the hormones being off balance. Exercising, reducing stress and eating a healthy balanced diet allows the body to keep balanced. I strongly urge you to investigate hormonal health, you will be surprised just how much it can affect your overall wellbeing. A good place to start is to see your doctor. They will be able to order a blood test to investigate your hormone levels. I would suggest looking into Progesterone, testosterone, estrogen, cortisol levels and thyroid function.
I once read an article that stated, ‘Magnesium is the original chill pill’. There is a reason why my doctor suggested I start taking magnesium for my anxiety. Magnesium is an essential mineral which is needed for the body in many ways. Magnesium has many amazing benefits and one, is its ability to help reduce the stress hormones reaching the brain.
Pretty cool huh?
However, it is hard to sustain the body’s own Magnesium source as there are so many factors contributing to the rapid use of our Magnesium stores. When someone is unwell, or experiencing prolonged stress and anxiety, Magnesium is used up rapidly. Our ancestors used to regularly get their Magnesium intake through their foods and water supply. These days however, almost everything seems contaminated. Fluoridated water and chemically sprayed soil and plants, means that there is a huge decline in the availability of Magnesium through natural sources. The food’s that naturally hold the most magnesium are legumes, whole grains, green vegetables, seeds and nuts.
Here are some symptoms of magnesium deficiency, just to name a few:
Anxiety, depression, dizziness, poor memory, confusion, nausea, high blood pressure, respiratory issues, calcium and potassium deficiency, muscle cramps and twitching, difficulty swallowing.
So many health problems can be linked with Magnesium deficiency. Magnesium is also known as a wonderful pain reliever for sore muscles and is a very effective sleep aid. Many people opt to take magnesium supplements to boost their magnesium levels. Magnesium supplements can be taken in oral form, spray, cream or through adding Epsom salts in the bath.
The best way to take in magnesium is through the skin. The skin is the largest organ in the body and allows minerals to absorb straight through into the blood stream. Often, if our gut health isn’t the best, many essential nutrients are lost in the digestive tract. Magnesium is considered safe and effective; however, it always pays to speak to your doctor or naturopath first before starting any new medication/supplement.
Zinc is also a good supplement to take alongside Magnesium.
4) Look at your stress levels.
We all seem to be so very busy. We focus so much on being good parents, being there for our friends and being good at our jobs. We often forget to look after ourselves.
Making time to care for ourselves is crucial in maintaining our overall wellness. Find things that make you feel happy and remember to laugh as much as you can!!! Life can be crazy and sometimes we need to press pause for a moment and reduce some of our stress.
Not all stress is bad, however. There are times when stress is welcomed. Sometimes we need that extra kick of adrenaline to perform at our best. For example, when we are about to sit an exam, do a presentation or when we are in fact threatened and need to have all energy on board to make a speedy escape from danger. The problem these days, however, is that we have so many stressors in our lives which we can indeed have no more control over. The stressors which I find to be the most prevalent include Work stress, personal relationships and financial stress. So how do we keep our stress down? We need to firstly figure out what our main stressors are. What are the things that make you sick with worry and cause you sleepless nights? By firstly evaluating what your stressors are, is the first step in being able to start working on reducing your stress.
5) Accept your panic attacks/anxiety.
I know this is easier said than done but we need to learn to accept our anxiety and accept our panic attacks. I know that we want it to disappear as quickly as possible because quite frankly, it sucks to be anxious. I have times where I get angry about having panic attacks. I get angry because I hate the fact that I can’t control them.
They don’t care for time, day or situation. They just visit unannounced. I used to tense up and fear, the fear when I felt them coming. I would be away with the fairies and probably behaved as if I had more than a few screws loose. Over the past years, I have learnt to just accept when the attacks come. I find that if I am sitting with someone, I just quietly say to them “Oh I’m having a panic attack”. I find that this helps take the power away from the attack. If I just let it come and stay as calm as I can, it loses power. I like to think that every time I do this, it loses a bit more of its strength.
When we have panic attacks, our body switches on the flight or fight response. We instinctually tense up and get ready to run. What we need to learn, is to do the complete opposite. We need to relax, calm ourselves, breathe and stay where we are. We need to show our body and mind that we are indeed safe and that we do not acquire the extra adrenaline. If you have positive thoughts, and say positive phrases in your head, you can get through the attacks.
Here's an idea of how to handle a panic attack:
- Acknowledge. Embrace that you can feel it coming. - Breathe. Focus on taking deep breathes in which make your belly rise.
- Relax. Try to relax all your muscles.
- Positive reassurance. Think to yourself, “I know I am safe” "This will not harm me” “The moment will pass”
“I am strong”.
- Be proud. Give yourself some credit for accepting these feelings. You have got this!!
Although this is the best way to reduce the panic in the long run, sometimes you may feel as though you are unable to let it be in that moment. Another strategy is to focus on your reality and describe the environment around you. You could focus on looking at a tree for example. In your mind start describing every small detail. Imagine you are describing the tree to a person who has never seen a tree before, look at every colour, shape and texture. This can be a good distraction and can help focus your mind away from the panic attack.
6) Healthy nutrition-healthy mind.
This category has made the top of my list lately. The more I learn about the negative effects that processed food has on our overall health and wellbeing, the more I begin to move more on to ‘real food’. It is quite terrifying once you discover what is in our food these days. The thing is, over the years we have moved away from eating actual food. We are eating products that resemble food. Everything is catered to appear convenient and affordable. What is even more astounding, is that low fat products are now being compared as being healthier than avocados. How did that happen? The thing to remember is that when you see the words ‘low fat’ you may as well be reading ‘chemical shit storm’ or ‘low fat, double the sugar’. When companies remove the fat, the food loses its flavour. So, in order to make the food tasty for the palate, large amount of sugar is added along with a concoction of other nasties. This makes it taste better. It is so wrong. I find it really disturbing when I see adverts for these ‘food like products’ being targeted at children. We get brain washed in to thinking that these so-called healthy products are healthy.
People often wonder why they are unable to lose weight. They believe that they are doing good by eating only low-fat foods or products labelled no added sugar. Cool. No sugar. Let’s just add some aspartame in for flavour and convince people that it is healthy. Nope. Artificial sugar also has huge negative effects on the body. We need to just focus on eating as much real food as possible. Fruit, vegetables, legumes, nuts, seeds and fermented foods.
Now just to point out, I am a self-proclaimed chocoholic. Although I enjoy chocolate and may weigh more than I should, I am more content than I ever was. Our meals at home are mainly made from scratch and are healthy. I know that my family and I are eating well for the majority of the time. The chocolate is a treat. It’s all about balance.
Exercise is also a very important aspect of maintaining balance and wellbeing. You don’t have to go to the gym or lift heavy weights, you can begin with walking. Exercise is crucial in reducing your stress levels, improving concentration, and managing your mood.
Nordic walking was a regular part of our therapy regime in the clinic. Exercise reduces the stress hormones and increases endorphins which are our ‘feel good’ hormones.
There is a strong correlation between gut health and the mind. These days we are faced with poor nutrition, with large amounts of sugar and processed foods being consumed. We have also increased our use of antibiotics. Both these factors, along with toxic environments and stress, alter the micro bacteria in our gut and can inhibit our happiness and brain function. The small intestine holds many nerves just like the brain. When our gut health is compromised, we end up with less of the good hormones which affect our mood and behaviour. There are ways to promote gut healing naturally.
- Take probiotics
- Eat fermented foods such as kombucha and sauerkraut
- Cut out processed foods including sugar
- Reduce your stress
- Drink more water
- Check for food allergies/sensitivities
7) Relax your muscles with your mind.
This is my go-to relaxation technique. It uses no bodily strength. It uses the mind to relax each muscle which allows the entire body to rest. I have based this on the well- known progressive muscle relaxation technique which involves tensing every part of your body and then releasing to relax. Personally, I have mastered the art of just releasing muscles through the mind, but it is up to you however you feel it works best. I prefer to do this when I am lying down with my eyes closed.
Begin with your head. Imagine your brain as a tight rosebud. Now picture that bud opening into a beautiful open rose.
Next, think of your eyes. Imagine relaxing every nerve in and around your eye. Feel how your eyes widen although they are closed.
Focus on your mouth. Notice how clenched your teeth are and how pursed your lips feel. Now imagine slowly releasing them. Relax your tongue and let it rest in the roof of your mouth.
Move to your shoulders. We often don’t realise how much weight we are mentally carrying on our shoulders. Feel how tense they are. Now slowly drop your shoulders. Allow them to move away from your head. Feel the length increase between your shoulders and chin.
Feel your chest rise. Focus on your breaths. Allow yourself to take deep breaths in through your nose. Feel your tummy rise as the air goes in. Breathe out and imagine your chest cavity opening and the muscles relaxing.
Think about your arms, your hands, your fingers. Our hands are often held in a fist. Imagine releasing that fist and allowing your fingers to open.
Focus on your stomach. Your solar plexus. We store a whirlwind of emotions here. Imagine relaxing your stomach and slowing down the tornado of emotions.
Allow yourself to release any tension.
Think of your hips. Think of your pelvis. Imagine that they are sinking into the bed. Feel the area relax.
Picture your legs, your knees, your feet. Let them feel heavy. Feel all the muscles in your legs relax. Focus on your feet. They allow us to walk every day. Allow them to lay still and rest.
8) Share your fears.
Mental illness used to be somewhat of a taboo subject, hence why many people carry the fear of not sharing their experiences with others. These days it has become not only more accepted to speak out about it, but also more common. I found that once I openly started to talk about my panic and anxiety, others were very receptive and disclosed their own struggles. I was amazed by the number of friends and relatives who also had struggled with some form of mental illness. The people in your life can be a huge wave of support if you allow them to be. The more you openly talk about it, the more you accept it and begin working through the issues. Your experience may also ultimately allow someone else to accept their own anxiety. If you are unable to talk to people you know, look at counselling or therapy. Many therapists are trained to specifically work with mental illness and can provide you with tips and strategies to not only figure out the root cause but to help you along the road of recovery. From what I have experienced, you may not find a suitable therapist first time around. Don’t give up.
I find that when I notice my mind beginning to wonder to the realm of negativity, I like to write. I often just scribble some positive affirmations or write down words to describe myself. Have a journal ready and make it a priority to write how you are feeling, or to write positive saying and words. The more positivity you focus on, the more your mind will draw. I began writing things down years ago and before I knew it, I had written an entire book. I am not suggesting that you need to write that much, however from my experience, writing was by far, my best form of therapy.
10) Realise your worth.
People don't often realise just how amazing they are. It takes so much courage, strength and determination to manage anxiety. It is real. It is raw. And it can affect our lives in more ways than one. We are kick ass warriors and we need to keep remembering that. I have good day's and I have bad days. It hasn't stopped me living my life and following my dreams. The journey can sometimes just be a little more complicated.
Show anxiety who's boss. We don't need to allow anxiety to define who we are. I don't. I have learnt that this is a part of me. I may always have anxiety, who knows, but I am always determined to not allow it to change who I am. I am me. I am Jane. I am a mother, a friend, a nurse, a partner, a business owner, a daughter, and an all-round good person. I have learnt to accept that this is where I am now, and this is where I am meant to be.
Sending you love, strength and positivity.