Recently, I shared my own mental health story with you guys. That was a difficult post to hit publish on, but I’m glad I did. Today I thought I’d share a few of the different methods I personally use to control my anxiety in particular. Most of these have the added benefit of helping with my depression and/or fibromyalgia, which makes them all win/win/win in my book!
1. Diet & Exercise: Above and beyond anything else, changing my diet has made the biggest difference in the way I feel. I didn’t make any immediate or drastic changes, but rather I started with the small things – for example, I drink one caffeinated drink in the morning before switching to water or herbal tea for the rest of the day. Cutting out the excess caffeine cuts down on the anxiety and drinking more water keeps me better hydrated. Fun side note – I’ve discovered that no matter what’s wrong with me, drinking water helps 99% of the time. Turns out dehydration can cause all sorts of chaos I’d never known about, but luckily I’ve discovered the secret to “drowning” it out – haha.
Exercise is the next best treatment. Let me be frank here, I hate exercising for a purpose. I don’t enjoy pushing my body to its limits, particularly if it’s just to meet some arbitrary social standard. I can, however, get behind the whole deal if it makes me feel better. So, I walk – a lot. I also start most mornings with 20-30 minutes of yoga. I hike on the weekends whenever possible. All of these gradually keep my body strong but also have the added benefit of soothing me mentally. You have to find those things you enjoy, that make you happier, that aren’t an even bigger challenge to you than the worry you’re trying to combat in the first place! The most important thing is to keep moving.
2. Meditation: Of everything on this list (with the exception of talk therapy), this is the one that’s hardest for me. If you suffer from anxiety/depression/etc., spending “quiet time” in your own mind seems like an oxymoron. There are all sorts of apps out there now that assist with meditation (the free version of Headspace is awesome by the way), but none of those are necessary. Do a bit of background research – there are all sorts of different ways to meditate. You can do the version that follows a voice (aka guided meditation; your breath (aka breathing meditation); a sound (like a gong, mantra, etc.); a candle / light of some sort; or any one of many other versions. You have to find what works for you!
I’m going to share a secret with you today that really helped me. When I first tried meditation, none of these worked for me. I was just too distracted and more often than not, I ended up more frustrated at the end of the 10 minutes than when I started. Then someone told me about an exercise that can help – a warm up if you will to prepare yourself for a more traditional form of meditation.
For 10-15 minutes a day, leave your phone in the other room, turn off the tv and any other electronic distractions, put your book down, find a quiet place free of interaction with any distraction, and just sit with yourself. Let the thoughts come, but don’t argue with them – just notice what they are. There will likely be boredom and a bit of panic, but sit through it. If you can help it, don’t daydream or allow yourself to focus too long on any one topic – let your mind run the gamut. It’s an incredibly difficult exercise that often doesn’t feel as worthwhile as it is. You see, once you’ve done this often enough, you become familiar with yourself and the thoughts you might typically encounter. So when you venture into a more typical form of meditation, you know what to expect – the thoughts, the feelings, etc. – so there are less surprises. You’re better prepared to view them dispassionately and to just let them pass on a more subconscious level. it takes the pressure off and allows for a more relaxed meditative state. And there’s nothing quite so nice as a 10-minute break from yourself… (smile)
3. Essential Oils: This one is my favorite. You can use essential oils in a number of ways – aromatically, topically, internally, etc. I will say that they do take a fair amount of research though. First you need to find a reputable place to buy them as they are not all created equal. I can make some recommendations, but the biggest things to look is where the oil comes from (not every plant on this earth should be grown in the U.S.) and it’s Latin name. These two indicators generally give you a good idea of quality. The ranking in the descriptions isn’t regulated, so it’s hard to depend on. And quality becomes a really important factor if you decide to use the oils topically or internally.
Aromatherapy is my personal favorite. I have a couple diffusers set throughout my home. Depending on how I feel, I mix and match the oils to get the effect I want. At first I didn’t believe this would work, but even in my darkest mood, certain smells can make me happy. Some days it even makes me a bit non-plussed at how well this works, but it does work, so I can’t really complain! Find what works for you and go with it – everyone has a different preference.
Topically and internally are a bit trickier for essential oils. It’s almost never a good idea to apply an oil directly to the skin or to put it on your tongue. In both cases the oils should be mixed. For topical application, a carrier oil (coconut, argon, grapeseed, etc.) is used to dilute the essential oil. Likewise for internal use the oil should be mixed with water, juice, etc. In both cases there are some oils that are just no go. For example, wintergreen is one of my favorite smells, but can be quiet poisonous if applied to the skin or taken internally (improperly, which it almost always is outside of candy, etc.). It’s really important to do your research.
4. Vitamins / Supplements: Other than diet and exercise, I’ve noticed the most long-lasting and consistently positive results from taking a specialized cocktail of vitamins and supplements. The vitamins involved, the brands, the dosage, all of that has been a series of trial and error, but luckily my doctor was there to help me through it all. If I miss a day of any one of these I don’t immediately notice a difference, but I try not to miss more than one a week. It seems like vitamins and supplements really need to be taken consistently to be most effective. My blend comes from both my doctor’s recommendations and my own independent research. If there’s one thing I’ve learned on the holistic journey, it’s how to research. (smile)
I will say that much like essential oils, this can be a tricky treatment option. In the U.S., vitamins and supplements aren’t regulated like prescription drugs. This means that products vary wildly and there are no consistent standards across brands. Furthermore, some vitamins can have negative interactions with prescription drugs. Allergic reactions can also occur. For all of these reasons and so many more, it’s incredibly important to discuss any vitamins or supplements you may consider taking. At the very least you should ensure that your doctor and pharmacist are aware of which ones you take regularly so they can warn you of any possible interactions. I’ve found both to also be good sources for finding reliable brands and for figuring out the proper dosage. And that brings up another point – most vitamins and supplements contain way more of an item than you may need. In some cases, taking the recommended dosage from the bottle can even lead to an overdose for your system! Do your research and don’t be afraid to ask questions of those in the know.
5. Therapies – Talk & Massage: Of all these options, therapy of any sort is my least favorite. I’m uncomfortable talking about the cause of all these issues, especially in being pressed on ways to change the situation. I also get really tired of hearing the same advice over and over. I’ve studied enough psychology in school to know the basic techniques and frankly not only are the conversations uncomfortable, sometimes they can also be downright boring. It’s like repeating a conversation I’ve already had in my head a thousand times out loud – it can be frustrating. I also have a bad tendency to tell the person what they want to hear in order to avoid deeper conversation. Because of this tendency, this is usually one of my first confessions to the good doctor. I cannot tell you how frustrating it is when they then later fail to realize this is what I’m doing. But that’s neither here nor there – the important point is to find someone you like. In order for talk therapy to be useful, you really have to connect with the person you’re talking to. My favorite therapist was someone who would totally call me on my BS – it perturbed me at first, but then I really grew to appreciate her style. Those sessions with her have been the most productive of any of them, and I always feel better after.
Massage therapy may be a bit of a surprise, as most people enjoy massage. I, however, don’t like to be touched – particularly by strangers. The idea of stripping down and having hands all over me does not, therefore, really rock my boat. However, must like the talk therapist, you just have to find someone you connect with. I still get really tense, but I’ve found that focusing the massage only on certain areas really helps relieve and limit the tension. Recently, I’ve been hearing a lot about float therapy, where you float in a pod of saline water. I haven’t tried it – yet – but it’s definitely on my radar. I’ll let you know how that goes!
You’ll notice that these are holistic options – that’s because drug therapy is so unique to each individual. I’m not a doctor and so I have zero basis for recommending any one drug over another. And in all cases, I encourage you to talk to your doctor about any therapy you wish to integrate into your treatment, particularly if it involves a major life change.