I am sitting on the couch at my house, minding my business and watching TV. Suddenly there is a creep of heaviness over the back of my shoulders. My hands feel clammy and my vision becomes blurry. The world around me feels gummy and overwhelming. “Oh no, not again.” And it is, indeed, another panic attack.
Worrying about social events. Fear of crowds or small spaces. Panic attacks. Endless downward spiral of negative thoughts.
Anxiety appears in many different forms and varying degrees for those of us that suffer from its stranglehold. It can come in waves. Or disappears for years and then suddenly makes its dreadful reappearance.
Words cannot explain how it feels to those who do not suffer from it. And because it cannot be measured or quantified, it is so very often downplayed.
“Just be happier.”
“It’s all in your head.”
These are the kind of comments that make an anxiety sufferer shut down and choose to stop sharing their struggle with others.
But it is time to come out of the shadows and start sharing our battle. Anxiety affects millions of people and sharing our experiences can help lead us towards a better understanding and acceptance of this disease.
Yes, mental illness is a disease. Just like diabetes or high blood pressure. And it is time that we start treating it as such.
The scene first mentioned in this post was me just a few days ago. After two years of being (mostly) panic attack free, I had a week of almost daily episodes. If you would like to read more about my mental illness journey, you can find that here and here.
I thought I was done with anxiety. But it is definitely not done with me.
I have chosen to address my disease without the use of antidepressants or conventional medications. That is a very personal choice and not something that I push on anyone else. If you have read about my journey, you know that I have tried medication and decided it’s not the route for me.
If antidepressants work well for you, I am ALL for that. Your journey with mental illness is just that. YOURS. You have to find what works best for you. Don’t let anyone make you feel bad for how you choose to exist, as long as you aren’t harming yourself or anyone else in that process.
This post is not meant to hate on anyone who chooses to use medication. This is simply intended to provide information on alternative methods.
As with anything health related, it is important to state that if you are taking medication and choose to implement any of these things, you should check with your medical provider first. Natural remedies can and do interact with prescribed medication, so it is best to be on the safe side. You will also want to research what possible side effects may occur. Being informed of these things will allow you to be alert if you start having strange or unexplained reactions.
I feel inclined to also mention that if you choose to try out these remedies, starting out you should only add a few things to your days. Everyone reacts differently because our body chemistry differs. Adding too many tactics at once can overwhelm your delicate system. It is best to stick to only one or two things so that you can pinpoint what your reaction is. If you haven’t already read my post on experimenting on yourself, I suggest reading that first.
With that, let’s dive right in….
this post contains affiliate links. all opinions are my own
Seems like a no-brainer right? But sometimes we forget about the simplest things. Sleep is SO important for those of us with anxiety. It is the time that our bodies can rest and regenerate. You desperately need that time. Don’t compromise it. The best way to reap all the benefits from sleep is to get on a schedule. Go to bed and wake up at the same time. Every single day. Even on the weekends. Guard that time and don’t let anything interfere with it.
The way I look at exercise with anxiety is in this way: my anxiety feels like an excess of jittery energy. Not the good coffee-buzz kind where you feel motivated to do stuff. But in the ‘I want to jump out of my skin’ kind of way. Exercise is a way that I can burn off some of that nasty energy. It exhausts my system and distracts my mind. It can take a while to feel the benefits but they will definitely come. If you are very anxious or have other health ailments, look to more restorative forms of exercise such as walking or yoga. These activities can and do provide benefits to your anxiety without raising your cortisol levels.
Food either hurts you, or heals you. There is no such thing as neutral food. But there is a scale of reactivity. There are certain foods that cause more harm than others. The amount of harm that food causes varies by each person. For me and my anxiety, gluten is my poison. If I want to have any shot at managing my panic attacks, then gluten free is the only way I can be. The best way to discover which foods you are most reactive to you, personally, is to carry out an exclusion diet test. I will be sharing more information on how to do this very soon, so be sure to check back for it.
Magnesium is such a vital mineral. It aids in countless biochemical functions in our bodies. It is SO important for proper bodily functions, and yet the majority of us are deficient in it. Not only can magnesium help in minimizing anxiety symptoms, it can also help with better sleep and poops! My favorite supplement is this product which can easily be added to water.
Bach Rescue Remedy
This stuff is absolutely amazing. It can be used daily and/or kept on hand for emergencies. It is made from flower essence and targets emotional distress. The formula comes in two forms. The first is a spray bottle (and my preferred delivery method) that can be kept in your purse and easily carried on a plane. The second form is a tincture that is administered with a dropper. It can be put under your tongue or added to a glass of water.
[Blood/Urine Testing for Nutritional Deficiencies]
Before I talk about the next two things, I think it is very important to reference that nutritional and vitamin deficiencies are a HUGE contributor to mental illness. Just like your eyes need certain things to maintain eyesight, your brain works in the exact same way. The safest and most proper way to figure out where to start with nutraceuticals is to get a blood or urine test done. There can be consequences to taking any supplement, and they can be good or bad. My experience with 5-HTP perfectly illustrates this point. You want to make sure you get tested before you start taking ANYTHING. And be sure to re-test often to track your progress.
You should get a full blood panel done at the very least twice per year. Then you have a proper baseline or marker of your health to compare to. Let’s quit waiting until we are already sick to start tracking our health!
Many of us are deficient in Vitamin D. I live in Arizona where it’s sunny over 300 days a year. And yet, I am deficient in this vitamin because I work inside all day. Low levels will produce symptoms such as depression, muscle weakness, chronic tiredness, and compromised immune system. Although Vitamin D does not directly treat anxiety, it can help to elevate your mood. This in turn can help with managing emotions associated with anxiety.
A note about Vitamin D: before starting supplementation, you should get your levels tested by your doctor. Here is a great article that further explains how to properly incorporate Vitamin D into your life.
B vitamin deficiency can show symptoms of depression, irritability, tingling in your hands and feet, anxiety, insomnia, among other symptoms. Needless to say, it is extremely important to maintain proper levels of this vitamin group.
There is also a genetic mutation linked to B vitamin deficiencies. It is called MTHFR Gene Mutation. The majority of people that suffer from anxiety have this genetic mutation. The only way to truly know is to get your genes tested. This mutation interferes with the conversion of folate and folic acid into a biologically active form. This is another topic that I will post on more in the future. I am looking into getting my genes tested, and I will share all my findings with you!
Again, be sure to get your levels tested before you start supplementation. You also want to make sure that you take an active form of B vitamins. If you look on the ingredient list, it should say methyl- in the name for B vitamins. This means that it is in the most bio-available form.
This option may be a bit controversial. CBD oil is another name for what some people call “weed oil”. When marijuana is grown, it produces two main compounds. The first one is THC, which is the molecule that makes you feel “stoned” or high. The second compound is CBD, or cannabinoids. CBD is non-psychoactive and provides so much relief for pain, anxiety, seizures, and nausea. This compound can be taken legally because it is made from hemp, which are the roots of a marijuana plant and does not contain any THC. So you won’t have to worry about getting high from using a product like this. And as long as you are not using extremely high doses of this product, it will not produce a false-positive result on a drug test.
A few months ago I was feeling so jittery that I felt like I would have a seizure at any time. I started using CBD oil and have never felt that jittery again. Now, when I am feeling extra edgy, I put a few drops under my tongue and almost immediately feel more calm.
This is an Eastern Chinese medicine technique of inserting very small needles into meridian points in your body. This aids to align your chi, which allows blocked energy to properly flow throughout the body. Specific treatment can be used to help alleviate anxiety.
Make sure that you receive acupuncture from a properly trained practitioner. I receive acupuncture from my naturopathic doctor. I have an entire post related to acupuncture and anxiety that you can read if you want more details.
This technique involves tapping certain areas of your body while you repeat positive mantras or affirmations to yourself. There is a specific order of tapping spots that you are supposed to follow. But you can loosely follow the protocol and still reap the benefits.
A few weeks ago, I had my dreaded first panic attack on an airplane. I didn’t have anything on in me terms of tinctures or medicine. The only thing I could think to do was start tapping certain spots while counting. Thankfully it worked. I believe this technique works by getting you out of your head and focusing on your physical body.
I will make sure to do a more in-depth post on this for those of you that are interested in knowing more. I’ll link that up once I get to it.
EMDR is a specific type of therapy, Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing. It is primarily used to treat PTSD, trauma, phobias/fears, anxiety, and depression. This technique of therapy allows for neural pathways in your brain connected to traumatic events to be rewired so that they can be stored in a calm manner. This allows for stored stress to be released by your nervous system.
I have a traumatic issue with driving after I was involved in a car accident. My naturopath has been recommending this type of therapy for years to treat my trauma. I will be starting this week, so I will update and share my experience once I have finished treatment.
Anxious people worry. A LOT. That means that our brains are constantly go go go. The only time that there is a break is when we are sleeping. Although getting a break through sleep is great for anxiety, there still needs to be rest while we are awake. Our brains are not meant to be so ON for 18 hours a day. Meditation is a great practice to learn how to quiet our worries and thoughts.
Meditation is an entire post within itself, so there will be some greater detail in another post. I am currently experimenting with some different styles of meditation and I will share what I find with you.
There are certain points on your bodies that can help with anxiety if pressure is applied to them. The easiest point, and the one I use when I feel a panic attack setting in, is the fatty area between my thumb and pointer finger. If you squeeze that area, as if you were pinching something, it can help to minimize the anxiety building.
Flotation therapy is also called sensory deprivation tanks. You are placed into a tiny pod of saltwater that is set to match body temperature. The environment frees your body of any sort of sensory input. This allows your body to relax and produce lower levels of cortisol, because there is little change of a danger becoming present. This type of treatment allows for the nervous system to decompress and relax so that it can better manage the onset of stress and anxiety.
Contrary to what most people believe, deeply exhaling lowers your heart rate. Taking in a deep breath raises your heart rate. Instead of taking a deep breath, take a more shallow breath in. You want to focus on a long exhale.
I have found breathing in through my nose and then exhaling through my mouth allows me to focus on breathing out more slowly. As I have started incorporating this trick when I get anxious, I have been able to stave off panic attacks more easily.
After reading this list, you may be feeling more worried and overwhelmed than when you first started it! I know that it is a lot of information to take in. And it can feel daunting to figure out where and how to start. Take it one tactic at a time. You can see that I am still figuring this out too. I have been researching and testing for about 4 years, yet I feel I have only begun to scratch the surface.
Your anxiety like a jigsaw puzzle. There are going to be many pieces, or factors, that contribute to management. One technique may be a huge piece of the puzzle. But you may need to keep testing to find the other smaller pieces. Don’t feel discouraged. This body is yours. You can and should spend your life becoming very intimate with it. You spend time to nurture your relationships with your loved ones. Don’t you think you should give the same to your own body and soul? Learning to co-exist peacefully allows your anxiety to not take over your life. Keep up the good fight my loves.
One final note. As my knowledge and experience with anxiety expands, I will continue to update and revise this list. Refer to it often since available information may change. And please share any tips or techniques that you have found to help manage your anxiety. My hope is to be able to share as much info as possible so that you can be well-informed to all management options available.