Anxiety Advice

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!

yoga mat, Mindfulness in Plain English

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!
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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.

Anxiety Advice: A Holistic Approach to Dealing with Anxiety

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Confounded Anxiety

Please note that this is my personal story about dealing with mental health issues. All opinions are my own and unique to my story. Everyone and every situation is unique; as such treatment options vary and one should not be considered superior to the other in any way. Help is help. Help is good.

Irish coast

Off and on throughout my life I’ve dealt with depression. It came and went and came again depending on the circumstances of my life. Once in a while I would get anxious, but it was situation-dependent – a big test, a presentation, a difficult conversation, etc.  It was “normal.”

In law school, I began having panic attacks. These were stress-induced and given my life circumstances at the time, considered, if not normal, then not surprising. It was the first time I ever received medication treatment for my depression, and it was such a relief! I had resisted drug therapy for so long due to the social and familial stigma associated with such treatment. For the first time in my life, it occurred to me that no one needed to know – simple as that. It was one of the best decisions I made during that time period in my life.

After graduation, I moved out to Arizona and re-booted my life. The change of scenery seemed to be exactly what I needed and for several years I was fine, “normal” in my ups and downs. Then, as seems to happen, a series of unfortunate events occurred and I found myself back at the doctor’s office. Only this time it wasn’t only for depression. Anxiety had crept into my daily life like a thief, stealing all joy and hope. I could counter any positive thought with ten “what-ifs” or “buts.” In an effort to hide my suffering and to spare others my negativity, I also hid my thoughts. I would smile as friends tried to put a positive spin on a situation. I’d even go so far as to agree, to say the words they needed to hear to think I was alright. Every time I did this I robbed myself of comfort and my friends of the truth – I became a thief in my own right and to my own detriment.

By the time I sought professional help, I was having anxiety attacks. I find them to be subtly different from panic attacks, mainly in that I could see the former building while the latter generally took me by surprise. The same chest-crushing, end-of-the-world feelings were present for both.

I returned to my anti-depressants as if reuniting an old friend. The effect was profound and comforting. I discussed several options with my doctor for treating my anxiety and after much trial and error we finally determined an as-needed prescription would be my best option. The side effects of anti-anxiety medication can be overwhelming; in my case most drugs I tried were worse than dealing with the anxiety itself. Reading about the different options was discouraging to say the least – most anti-anxiety drugs also seemed to double as treatment for other illnesses;  few seemed made for the express purpose of treating anxiety.

Around this same time, I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia. Doctors still don’t understand what causes fibromyalgia, but the consensus seems to think it’s normally triggered by a severe illness, a physical trauma (car accident, etc.), or prolonged exposure to severe stress. I fell solidly into the third category. My experience with FM is for another post, but I will say that the anger I felt about it all wasn’t helpful. I couldn’t help but think it was my own fault for landing myself in all of this – the choices I made led to these consequences. There was no one else to blame, so I took it all upon myself. Luckily, I was already seeking treatment for depression when this occurred or I shudder to think what might have happened.

I bring up fibromyalgia because it slots in so snugly with my mental health issues – does depression and anxiety cause FM or does FM cause depression and anxiety? It’s very much a chicken/egg sort of thing, which can make treatment tricky. The drugs for FM weren’t much better than the anti-anxiety options (in my opinion), so I decided to look into holistic options. Fortunately, I had a doctor who was open to that and helped me work through the various options. We finally settled on a holistic treatment plan that was best for me with very satisfactory results. The added benefit is that the treatment options selected also helped greatly with my anxiety – talk about a win/win!

It’s been decided that I will likely stay on my current anti-depressant indefinitely (or so long as it continues working). It treats the depression effectively and also seems to assist with some of the FM symptoms. Unfortunately, it can also cause anxiety to worsen. To combat that I do have an as-needed option to use in those situations where necessary. Otherwise, I try to take a very holistic approach to treatment. Most days this works really well, other days it doesn’t seem to help at all. You win some, you lose some.

What mostly frustrates me these days is the timing of it all – if I’m really excited about something such as an event or a trip, I can almost guarantee anxiety will swoop in to steal at least some of the joy. If it’s a concert, the crowds bother me. If it’s travel, it might be turbulence or a creepy person following me or lost luggage, etc. (basically all the parts of travel that make it an adventure). Most of the time I can foresee this and I try to maintain a mental grip. I have to work a little harder to find joy in the activity, but I do. I refuse to let the thief get everything. But again, I’m not always successful; sometimes anxiety wins. Dealing with that disappointment, learning not to blame myself when this happens, these are my new challenges. I know that I have other options to treat the anxiety. Treating myself with grace and kindness, however, is something I must learn to do for myself. There is no drug for self-love.

I share my story today in hopes that it might somehow benefit others. The attitudes about mental illness are a huge part of the problem and need to change. I can no more control my depression or anxiety than I could a cold or flu. I can, however, seek medical attention to help just the same. If we can accept treatment for one without stigma, then why not the other?

In the last year or so I’ve really tried to open up and share my experiences with my friends. It was so incredibly uncomfortable at first, but now it’s just another part of our conversation. I didn’t let it become a big deal and after a while, my friends realized it didn’t need to be. It’s opened up another level of conversation to us – it allows both sides the freedom to discuss parts of our life that we might otherwise keep hidden. It’s a safe space between us, which I have found to be invaluable, particularly on the bad days. I would like this blog to likewise be a safe space – for me to include my struggles in the conversation, but also for anyone else who might need to share in the comfort of knowing they are not alone.

You are not alone.

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2017 Ramblings

As much as I enjoy sharing my annual inspiration, I truly love these travel posts. (smile) There’s something about looking ahead at all the fabulous adventures that just makes my heart beat a little faster!

Vik beach, Iceland2016 Review

I did pretty well for my 2016 travel list. I did visit White Sands National Monument in New Mexico (see below), ventured on a South Dakota road trip with my family, and spent plenty of great quality time in California with my niece. Although I did not mark off all of my Arizona Bucket List, I did make it to a couple locations so maybe this year I’ll see the rest! I also didn’t make it to Santa Fe or San Francisco. One day…

What’s interesting is that I ended up in Iceland (see above) last year. Of all the places I had in mind while writing last year’s post, Iceland wasn’t one of them. But it turned out to be the perfect location to celebrate my brother’s 40th birthday. I’m still working on editing photos, but I will definitely be sharing more adventures on the blog this year! (In writing this post I’ve only just realized how far behind I am in travel stories 😕  )


White Sands National Monument, New Mexico2017 Destinations

Arizona: I really want to finish off that bucket list – namely the slot canyons (e.g., Antelope Canyon) and Chocolate Falls.

California: As always, I want to spend as much time with my friend and niece as possible, but I would also like to take some time this year to drive up to Big Sur. I hear such wonderful things about the area, I think it’s time to make it happen!

Alaska: My dad is officially retiring this year and has requested that we all join him on a family cruise to Alaska to celebrate. As I’ve kinda wanted to do this forever, I’m totally on board!

Ireland: This is the year of the solo tour. I’ve traveled all over the world, but never have I ever traveled totally by myself. Someone’s either been with me from the start or I’ve met someone at my destination (even if they were total strangers). I’ve wanted to go solo for some time now, but it hasn’t worked out for one reason or another. This year, however, is my year. I have a nice little cottage on the coast all booked and ready to go and I am unbelievably excited! Here’s to a week of peace, quiet, and breathtaking landscapes! (smile)

What are your travel plans for the year??

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Happy Holidays!!

I've gone to look for myself. If I return before I get back, please tell me to wait.

After much consideration, I’ve decided to take the rest of the year off from blogging. I have so many ideas for this space, but I need a break. I plan on spending my time catching up on my reading instead, both on- and off-line, so I’ll still sorta be around!

I wish each and every one of you a wondrous holiday season, no matter where you are or how you celebrate – may the end of 2016 be the best part of the year! 🙂

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Weekly Photo Challenge: Autumn Nostalgia

Alabama dirt road

These photos may not be the most technically adept, but when I see them I’m always reminded of home. They bring back such vivid memories of fall in southern Alabama – football games, bonfires, snuggling with boys, laughing with girlfriends, baking with my mom and grandmas, and the start of the holidays. I’m immediately a teenager again and I can still feel that same confusing tug deep in my heart for some great unknown.

This week’s challenge is “nostalgia.”

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Wednesday Wisdom (8.10)

Joshua Tree National Park, Vince Lombardi quote

The last week or so I’ve felt like my life has been totally out of my control. Everything I’ve purposefully tried to do has fallen apart and it seems the only things that do work out are obligations foisted upon me by outside forces. It’s been incredibly frustrating.

I’m not really sure how to regain control of the situation (or as much control as any one of us can have). I dream of living a more purposeful life, but the reality is much more difficult to come by. Instead I keep daydreaming about a weekend escape, just by myself. I think I’m going to have to make that happen… I need a “reset” weekend.

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