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I’ve spoken a lot about my mental health journey this past year and a half since Major’s accident (and my subsequent Postpartum Depression and PTSD), but I’ve spoken less about my lifelong relationship with anxiety. I hesitate to call it a “battle”, because it hasn’t felt wholly oppressive at all times in my life, but the truth of the matter is that since I was a small child I have had what people would refer to as Clinical Anxiety.
Over the years, it’s manifested itself in different ways– fear of germs, panic attacks, fear of flying, body dysmorphia, inexplicable dizzy spells, attachment and detachment to people and places, disturbing intrusive thoughts, obsession with safety of my children…the list goes on and on. I even had a complete stutter at nine years old for a full two years. I have felt many different permeations of anxiety, and they’ve attached themselves to me for varying periods of time. But they were all manifestations of a roaming anxiety disorder that I have always had and that I continue to live with daily.
With therapy, I’ve gotten to a MUCH better place with my anxiety– which comes with a better understanding of myself and some of my triggers– and working through the traumas that caused them– but I’m finally willing to admit that my anxiety is probably something I will manage in varying degrees for the rest of my life. I’m reached a point where I no longer judge myself or my anxiety, and I try to be more accepting in uncomfortable moments. It’s taken me a long time and a lot of therapy to not have my more anxious moments followed by even longer moments of guilt or shame. Having Kyle work to understand my anxiety more fully also helped! It’s amazing how much letting go of the shame of having anxiety in the first place really does help to alleviate some of that anxiety! Go figure.
In many ways, I’m grateful to my Postpartum Depression and PTSD for being the catalyst that made me seek out more aggressive therapy (I am a big fan of EMDR) and for finding a therapist who has been a great fit for me. Getting your hands and heart dirty to do the deep digging can be so overwhelming and scary, but it really is so worth it! I’ve gotten so many messages and emails from my readership sharing their own up and down battles with anxiety– so I wanted to share a few of my medication-free coping mechanisms below, in case they can be helpful to anyone suffering from anxiety disorder. Above all, it’s so important to get the help YOU need to be the best version of yourself. If that’s less aggressive treatment, so be it. If that’s more aggressive treatment, medication, or a holistic approach– so be it. At the end of the day, it’s all about taking care of yourself and being brave enough to do the work. I also really recommend a piece that my friend Julia wrote about her Postpartum Depression, because it talks really beautifully about the many different faces of anxiety and depression– and can be a nice support for anybody questioning the validity of their feelings!
If I’m having a very anxious moment, I’ve found that deep breathing can really help to center me and calm me down. I breathe in deeply for seven seconds, and then breathe out slowly for ten seconds, holding briefly at the top of the breath. I repeat this for several minutes until I can feel my heart rate calm down.
It’s been proven that cold water calms down the nervous system, and I’ve definitely used this trick when I’m in a pinch! Very inconveniently, I developed anxiety-induced dizzy spells when I was acting on a show that we shot in front of a LIVE studio audience (yikes)– and I kept a cold bottle of water hidden on set if I needed to calm myself down if I started to feel panicky!
This yoga pose helped me with anxiety a lot during my pregnancy with Major, and I’ve continued to use it if I feel anxiety starting to build! Here is a video showing the pose. When I do it, I use a yoga mat or towel under my knees for extra support, and I continue the pose for about five deep breaths.
This is one of the biggest changes I’ve made in the past year– really committing to consistent exercise! I was way better about consistent exercise pre-kids (duh) and I notice a real change in my anxiety symptoms if I stay active! If I’m having a really bad anxiety day, I’ll do something that helps me sweat, like hot yoga or spin, and it really makes me feel better almost instantly. Those endorphins are no joke!
This might sound corny, but spending time outdoors always gives me a reset mentally. I definitely wouldn’t even call myself “outdoorsy” by any means (Just ask Kyle about the time I begged our guide to airlift me off of a 10 day rafting trip down the Grand Canyon), but hiking, walking, or even just sitting in the fresh air for a while really grounds me emotionally.
Reaching Out For Connection
In the past, I’ve had a tendency to isolate myself if my anxiety is flaring up, and I’ve realized over time that feeling isolated adds to my anxiety. Now I try to reach out– either to other friends who I know understand anxiety well, to my therapist, or to my husband. Just speaking to my anxiety instead of hiding it helps me work through it more easily.
The more challenging aspect of anxiety disorder for me personally is not the actual panic attacks or moments of extreme discomfort, but more periods of time where I’ve felt a general disease, or a “roaming anxiety”. For me these moods are more frustrating because they can make me fear that my anxiety in this state could be a “forever” feeling, or that the struggle of it won’t get better. This isn’t true, of course! But it’s hard when you’ve been feeling bad for multiple days in a row. Something I like to do is to make a gratitude list every day, mentally. You can choose whatever time you’d like, but give yourself some physical privacy– I like to make mine as I’m laying in bed at night. If it’s better for you, you can also write these down! First list 5 things you’re grateful for today. They can be big, like “My family”, but are actually better if they’re small, like “I’m grateful that got to eat the exact sandwich I was craving for lunch, and it tasted so good!”. After you’ve done this, make a mental list of 3 things you love about yourself today. They can be as superficial or deep as you’d like. For example “I had a great hair day today”, or “I love that I saw somebody I kind of know at the grocery store and I went over to say hello, and that made me feel social and brave”. It’s SO important to celebrate yourself, your life, your big and little victories. Don’t forget that!
Acts Of Service
This one works every single time. Feeling anxious? Go help somebody else. Fill a bag with clothes or toys to donate, start a diaper drive, volunteer at a soup kitchen or at the local elderly home. Getting yourself outside of your own mind, and performing a service for somebody else can really help reconnect with the deeper parts of yourself, and put things in perspective.
Watching Bad TV
If I’m feeling anxious, “bad” TV usually helps! It makes me laugh, gets me out of my head, and makes me invest emotionally in other people’s problems. LOL.
Looking At Photos Of My Kids
Sometimes when I feel anxiety building, I pull out my phone and take a trip down memory lane. I look at photos of my two precious babes, see their smiling faces, and remind myself that ultimately I’m not failing. I’m far from perfect, but I grew, birthed, and am raising two awesome kids– and that is something I am eternally proud of. They inspire me every day to keep fighting for the best version of myself, and they give me the courage to work through the hard parts of therapy to get to the light. I’m so grateful to them for the push they’ve given me these past four years, and I hope when they’re all grown up they’re proud of my fight.
Do you have anxiety? What are some coping mechanisms you use? Please share in the Comments below!
Photographs by Julia Dags