The first time I began to experience anxiety, would have to have been in my teenage years. So many changes were happening, I was trying to find my way, figure out who I was, what I wanted to do, what direction I was heading in, silly arguments with friends and crushes that seemed to be the be all and end all of my existence. Can you relate? I am sure the answer is yes!
It wasn’t until I was 27 years old until I really truly experienced the worst of it. I was going through a pretty tough time in my personal life, and to be honest, I felt like I was living in a locked room with no windows, no doors and no way out, no way to change what I was surrounded by. It was truly debilitating. The worst part was, no one around me understood what I was going through, they just thought I began acting weird and crazy and I became the girl who was not so fun to be around anymore. On the outside, I tried so hard to mask my pain and frustration so that I wouldn’t affect those close to me with my “issues”, but on the inside I was screaming for someone to hear me and make this thing go away. I experienced a number of panic attacks during this time, but instead of consoling me, those around me at the time just left me alone to “get over it”.
I decided to seek professional help and began seeing a counsellor, which helped me tremendously. I began reading books and trying to find answers in any way I could to beat this horrid state of being. To be honest, not much helped me because the cause that was contributing to this was still very much the centre of my world. It wasn’t until a year later that it all changed. My world as I knew it came crushing down and when it all finally fell, I instantly felt free! No amount of counselling, no amount of books could have prepared me for that feeling of relief and lightness. I could breathe again.
But it wasn’t so simple. I still had so much to overcome because my state of mind was fragile and whilst I could now walk my own path, on my own terms, I basically felt like I had to learn how to walk on my own again. I recall at this time, for the first time in my life, I couldn’t get a full nights sleep. I would wake up between exactly 3 and 4am, every single morning in a state of panic and crippling anxiety, and could not calm myself back down. It was affecting me at work and affecting my ability to heal.
This is when I discovered the world of meditation. I went along to a few weekly sessions with a close friends mum and sister, who have been a part of this mediation group for years and really raved about it. So I gave it a go, and the experience was unlike any other. It was a circle of women, the setting was in a small church with dim lighting and instantly I felt like I was exactly where I was meant to be. The lady who ran the session guided the entire 1 hour meditation. She guided us on our breathing, posture, and talked through everything step by step. Her voice was calm and soothing and I felt as though I had been transformed to a new world. I was in such a state of calm leaving after just the first session that for the first time in weeks, I had slept again, and every night there after. What I learnt in those few sessions, I still practice to this day. It helped me create a world in my mind that I can escape to and be completely able to gather myself and find the answers that lie within myself with no disruptions. It is incredibly powerful stuff.
While this helped me a great deal, I was still on a journey to heal and the anxiety still lingered and made its presence known. Not only was it having an impact on my emotions, but it now began impacting my physical body. Well…it was impacting me physically all along, I just never actually thought to link my physical symptoms to my anxiety, or to my diet for that matter.
A few months later I began seeing a naturopath. With her guidance and along with all the other research I was doing on nutrition, I completely changed my way of eating. It was like a light bulb went off, and I knew this is what I was meant to do. This was the beginning of my journey to healing and the time when I made the call once and for all to change my career and go back to uni and follow my passion for health.
I am so passionate about helping others overcome their state of any mental and emotional burdens and this is the area that I will aim to specialise in once I am fully qualified. It is far too common, far too debilitating and absolutely preventable! How? Well that is a question that has many answers. There are so many ways these disorders can be managed, but it is going to be so different for each person, simply because we all have different triggers, we are affected at different stages and experience them to different degrees. Having said that, here are my top tips for management and prevention that I swear by have worked for me, so hopefully at least some may be just as beneficial for others. Keep in ind these are kept very simple and are meant as a general guide to help you along.
- Nourish your body: Eating the right foods is key. Our bodies are incredibly complex but so simple at the same time. They are designed in a way to function optimally and have an innate ability to heal, providing we nurture ourselves in the right way. Nature has given us all the tools we need, but yet we abuse this ability and take our beautiful temples for granted. So many diseases are caused by stress that we self inflict and claim we “have no time” to deal with. How sad is that? Our bodies are like any electronic device. They all have the intrinsic, detailed functions that we can’t see, but we know they work. They both run out of power and need to be recharged. They both need repair if they are not maintained and the longer we ignore the little red warning light, the more detrimental the issue becomes. So nourish your body. Ensure your gut health is working optimally so that all the beautiful nutrients you out in from delicious, nutrient rich whole foods can be absorbed and distributed to all your precious cells so that you run at full capacity. This where seeking advice form a qualified nutritionist will be extremely helpful.
- Drink plenty of water: Studies have shown that if we are in a state of dehydration, our anxiety can be exacerbated and feelings of nervousness may worsen. Being nice and hydrated also supports our liver function, our digestion, and can make us feel more energised. So how much water should we drink? Generally the rule is about 2-2.5 litres a day, depending on your body weight. An easy way to know is by checking your pee. If it’s clear that’s usually a good indicator that you are hydrated.
- Move your body: This is a pretty common one we hear, but there is a very good reason for it. Moving our body, whether it’s a 20 minute walk a day, an hour of yoga or a pump class at the gym, exercise produces our feel good neurotransmitters, endorphins. These are our feel good chemicals which can instantly lift our mood. This is why you always feel better after a workout. Regular exercise can also improve your sleep and general energy.
- Deep breathing: Doing deep breathing exercises can instantly reduce our state of panic to a state of calm. The best part? You can do it anywhere! On the train to work, in the shower, 5 minutes before you jump out of bed. If you have trouble sleeping, try this simple exercise before you go to bed, it may just help relax you that little more.
- Avoid stimulants: Let’s face it, caffeine, soft drinks and those horrid energy drinks are consumed in way to high quantities nowadays. We can barely function without them, right? I have given up all caffeine and I am feeling so much better for it. All of these drinks are stimulants, which if you are already feeling stress and anxious, are only going to further stimulate and exacerbate your already dominant sympathetic nervous system. This can be a very tricky habit to break, especially the soft drinks due to their high content of artificial sugars. These are not only addictive substances, but can be detrimental to our neutrons and cause irreversible damage if we consume them in high quantities. My tips? By looking after your liver, eating healthy wholesome foods and staying hydrated can help you break from these nasties. More on that in a later blog perhaps…
- Disconnect: Much like caffeine or any other addictive substance, our mobile phones are the new drug. How much time do you send on your phone? I’ll be honest, I spend much more time on mine than I care to admit, which is a habit I am working on breaking. Being so consumed with technology is not only contributing to this stimulated state, but seeing everything through a glass screen is distorting our reality. How about you switch your phone onto airplane mode an hour before you hit the pillow and don’t turn it back on until you have had a chance to wake up, stretch, have your breakfast and actually wake up before checking the bright screen. Just a thought.
- Set a routine: Set a beautiful morning and night routine that is just yours. Even if you only have minimal time, make the most of it. Do 5 minutes of stretches, 5 minutes of deep breathing, go a on a little walk, whatever it is, make it a part of your routine that you look forward to and something that makes you happy.
- Find your trigger: One of the most dreaded things I hear people say is, “I’ll get over it, it’ll pass” when they have absolutely no desire to make any changes. I hate to tell you this, but if you don’t find your trigger, if you don’t learn to nurture yourself, it will only pass with sheer luck and nothing more, if that at all. I want to make this as loud and clear as I can, and this is why I have left the most important to last. There is no shame in feeling stressed, anxious or depressed. There is commonly a trigger and there is no shame in fighting for your self, no shame in wanting better for your self and for your health. If you can not find the cause on your own, seek help! We can not deny that we aren’t superhuman and sometimes there are things we can not solve or fix on our own. Don’t try and be brave if you don’t know how to be. Seek help and use the guidance of others to create the tools for a wholesome, healthy and happy life because no matter what, that is what you are absolutely worthy of.