A Widespread Concern
Life throws us many curve balls. Some of us, like myself, begin feeling anxiety as early as grade school, while other’s may not feel it until they’re in their adult years. Regardless of when, I’m willing to bet the vast majority of the population experience it at some point or another. Stress is an every day concern for many, which can manifest into anxiety if we’re not careful. Learning skills to cope with anxiety is essential for living a healthy, happy life.
My Story, My Childhood
I remember, as a child, having anxiety over many things. Going to the doctor or dentist, even though I’d never had a negative experience. Going to school, even though my negative experiences didn’t begin until middle school. Any time I was away from my father, sister, or grandparents was a stressful experience for me. As an adult, I have often wondered if I have a biological reason for my anxiety, or is it due to my parent’s divorce when I was two years old. After the divorce, my mom left the area, and from the age of two, to 31, I didn’t see my mother. (No, I don’t hate her, and our reunion is a story for another time…but it was a good one! 😉 Or was it because my father was ill-equipped to raise my sister and I? As a 41-year-old woman, now, who has four children of her own, I realize that all of those factors probably come into play, but my father definitely didn’t know how to teach us how to cope with anxiety, or stressors.
My Story, The Adult Years
At the age of 26, I had a very traumatic, (very personal) event occur that sent me into a downward spiral. While I had experienced anxiety throughout my childhood and teen years, I had never felt this badly before. At this time, I had three small children, and it was absolutely necessary for me to seek counseling. I was having a hard time leaving the house…my safe space…my bubble. I would be on the verge of panic just driving a half a mile down the street to get my oldest child to school. Walking would have been impossible for me.
I started going to a therapist, and after about six weeks, also started on medication due to the severity of my symptoms. And, really, I was so thankful for that medication, after the initial four weeks being on it. Between my therapist, the medication, and an awesome book that my therapist suggested I read, The Feeling Good Handbook, by David Burns. I still, to this day, own that book, and I still read through it when I feel like I need to. It’s in the form of a workbook, so after you read a chapter, you have questions to answer throughout the book.
My Life, Now
Here I am now, turning 42 in just a couple of months, and after being off and on medication over the last 15 or so years, I’ve had to go back on it. I have recently started experiencing symptoms again. As a woman who started experiencing symptoms of perimenopause about five years ago, I’m not too surprised that I’m also experiencing symptoms of anxiety, as it can be one of the symptoms of perimenopause. Despite learning how to cope with anxiety over the years, sometimes I get in a rut, and wind up going back on meds.
I recently had an anxiety attack that was the worst one I’ve ever experienced. Luckily my oldest son, who is 21, was around, and was able to help me out. While I have gone back on medication, it had only been a week, and anyone who knows about this is aware that sometimes, symptoms get worse before they get better. This was definitely one of those days.
How to Cope With Anxiety
1. Healthy Diet
In many cases, changing our diets can help tremendously. Our bodies require omega-3 fatty acids, probiotics, antioxidants, magnesium, tryptophan, and B vitamins in order to maintain a healthy gut, and brain. There is a great post about these requirements here that you should check out. It goes more in depth into each of them and explains how they help with anxiety. Eating a well balanced, healthy diet can help you cope with anxiety.
2. Daily Exercise
Don’t forget to get outside, even if it’s cold out, and get some sunshine! Take a walk, jog, or bike ride. Get some fresh air! And if the weather is absolutely unbearable, or it’s not possible to get outside, at the very least, get some exercise indoors. Yoga, HIIT workouts, tai chi, free weights (super inexpensive to get some of your own), can all be great ways to get your exercise when you can’t get outside. The endorphin release will really help boost your mood!
My favorite method for falling asleep is to listen to a guided meditation. It helps me to cope with anxiety I may have from the day, and get a better nights sleep. I also like to meditate first thing in the morning to help start the day with a clear, fresh mind.
Yes, I mentioned this above, but it deserves it’s own mention. Yoga, for me, is like a mix of great exercise, and meditation. My favorite yogi who I follow is Adriene Mishler. You can find her on YouTube. She’s got some fantastic daily yoga videos to follow, and helps teach you about connecting with yourself.
5. Deep Breathing Exercises
A fantastic way to cope with anxiety is to practice deep breathing techniques. You can find a great technique here. Deep breathing can help you get things under control and calm.
Some of the best essential oils that help with anxiety are: lavender, lemon, peppermint, eucalyptus, chamomile, sweet orange, and frankincense. Check out more information here. And always remember to check out any safety precautions, and how to use each oil. Some should not be used without diluting in a carrier oil. Some can be ingested, and some can’t. In addition to checking safety precautions for yourself, you also need to ensure that you’re not using oils around your kids or pets that are too strong for them to be around. Cats are especially sensitive to essential oils and many of them should not be used around cats, or you will see some very strong, sometimes severe, reactions. Please read up on all of this before purchasing and using essential oils.
Writing your thoughts in a journal can help you cope with anxiety. It’s a great method for getting those thoughts out of your head. You could write, draw, doodle, whatever. Just commit to it. Sit down each evening, and get all of those thoughts out.
8. Seek Professional Help
When in doubt, go to your doctor. He or she will be able to help direct you to the best methods. While not everyone will require medication, some might. Therapy, especially CBT, can be especially beneficial to you. A licensed therapist can help you to identify your triggers, and how to cope with them. Also, if you choose to incorporate any type of herbal, or vitamin remedies, be sure to discuss this with your doctor to ensure that you don’t have any interactions with other medications that you are on.
When to Seek Help
All of us experience stress and anxiety throughout our lives. It’s part of how our brains work. However, if your anxiety causes you to change your normal daily habits, if you find that you can’t leave the house, aren’t eating properly, aren’t taking care of your personal hygiene, and have slipped into what feels like a deep hole, you must seek help. If you’re having difficulty leaving the house on your own, ask a close friend or family member to help by getting you to an appointment with your doctor. There is so much help out there for those of us who experience anxiety, and I encourage anyone feeling this way to get that help. You initially may feel very self conscious, but medical professionals are trained to help us.
Anxiety in Midlife
As we get older and our lives go through changes, such as kids growing up and flying the coop, or changes in career, anxiety may creep up, even if you’ve never had any major issues with it before. I certainly am experiencing anxiety due to my kids growing up and leaving. I have a 21-year-old who lives on his own, as he should. I also have a 19-year-old who lives at home but, of course, has his own life, and we don’t see him much. My 17-year-old daughter is starting college a year early, this fall. That leaves my husband, myself, and our 13-year-old.
We are also starting a very new, different life this spring. While it’s exciting, and I can’t wait to see what this new adventure brings, it’s also bringing up feelings of anxiety. It’s a move to a new state, and, quite literally, a complete change in lifestyle for us.
With all of the things my brain and body are going through with perimenopause, plus all of the environmental/outside factors, there are days when I feel like I might explode with stress. Therefore, I use many of the above methods to help me cope. I can say with absolute certainty that maintaining a healthy diet has been extraordinarily helpful for me, in addition to the medication I have started.