I get so many emails and have so many conversations with people who suffer from anxiety but have no idea what to do about it. If one great thing comes from my daily anxiety and somewhat frequent panic attacks, it is that I might be able to help someone deal with anxiety in his or her own life.
So, I thought I would tap out anything and everything that helps me on anxious days (every day) and during panic attacks.
Read it over. Choose what you think might work for you. Give it a try. Tweak things to your liking. Store them away in your toolbox to use when needed. And, never forget that you can ask for help.
© whitestorm / Dollar Photo Club
Sleep: This season of my life (or having any child under 6) basically means crap sleep. So, I can’t always prioritize this. But, it is so helpful. So, when I am feeling particularly anxious, I let Mike know, and we make arrangements for me to get some quality sleep (or the best quality I can) during the night or a nap during the day. It is on those types of days that I have to put everything else on hold and make sleep happen somehow. Put your own oxygen mask on first, right?
Limit Sugar: I can barely eat any sugar at all these days. While I still crave it hugely in a big bad way, it is never worth an attack to me. Start thinking of alternative snacks you can have that don’t have such a high level of sugars. Fruits and low sugar baked goods usually are ok for me, and they often curb my cravings.
Limit Alcohol: This seems counterintuitive, but alcohol uses up vital calming nutrients (like fatty acids, vitamin Bs and folic acid) in its metabolism leaving less for your brain and body to use for relaxation. You also don’t sleep as restfully when there is alcohol in your system. I keep it to >1 drink per week.
No Caffeine: Don’t throw things at me. I never really started a coffee habit, so this is probably a bit easier for me than most people. I do LOVE the smell and taste of coffee, but the jitters it causes almost guarantee anxiety for me. I don’t even mess with decaf. If you can ever wean yourself, but you still want something warm to drink, try rooibos tea. Totally caffeine free, and it comes in lots of great flavors.
Drink Water: Did you know dehydration is a huge cause of anxiety in many people? Keep your water intake up. I am so bad at this. So very bad. But, here are some things I do to try to help myself.
Eat Protein: I don’t know about you, but I get shaky without protein. Make it part of each meal and snack.
Exercise: Oh, come on. You knew this would be in here. But it’s here for a reason. Wanna know a secret though? Two minute bursts of activity (think parking in a further spot, pacing while on the phone, etc.) that add up to 30 minutes a day is as effective as a more structured 30 minute workout when it comes to improving cardiovascular health. At least according to Oregon State University.
Know Your Triggers: This may take a while to figure out, but at least become aware of the fact that you should be watching for them. For me? Loud music or noises, visual clutter, and just sensory overload in general throws my anxiety out of whack. I also get increasingly anxious when I am overheated or when my blood sugar dips too low.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy: Consider CBT to learn more ways to reprogram your brain and its reactions to stress.
Find Your Calm: What makes you calm? Not “What do you think should make you calm?” What makes you calm? For me, I need alone time to breathe, pray and read. I also need it every day.
Move Slowly: I am a chronic multi-tasker, get things done at light speeder. To prevent anxiety, I try to deliberately move slowly. Ex. When I empty the dishwasher, I make that the only thing I am doing. I focus on it. I take my time. I don’t focus on being done, I just focus on the doing. I let things take as long as they take without worrying about doing more faster. This takes practice.
During a Panic Attack
Challenge the Attack: If you feel an attack coming on, do not shy away from it. Acknowledge it and tell the attack that is has 20 seconds to start. After that, you plan on going on with your day. For minor attacks, this sometimes will stop them before they start.
Breathing 7/11: Use your diaphragm to breathe in for 7 seconds and out for 11. The idea is to make sure you expel all of the air from your lungs before filling them back up. This prevents hyperventilation. Smell the roses and blow out the birthday candles.
Loosen Your Clothing: Take off any heavy jewelry and scarves. Remove heavy layers. Avoid wearing things like turtlenecks and other restrictive clothing.
Don’t Go There: I make it a rule to never let my thoughts go to the panic thoughts. I stop myself from thinking about taking care of my kids. I don’t wonder how I will manage another one. I don’t think about the future and the responsibilities I have. Yes, this takes practice, but I started to note the thoughts that really make my panic spiral. These ideas are fine to think about when I am not in an attack, but I strictly avoid them during panic. Instead of thinking trigger thoughts, I simply tell myself over and over, “Do not go there.”
Have a Mantra: A go-to phrase is nice during a panic attack. It is a calming thought that is readily available. I tell myself, “These are only uncomfortable feelings. They can’t hurt me.”
Time Them: Once I started timing my attacks, it was a game changer. I was able to see how long they normally last, and it is pretty consistent. For me, the first 10 minutes builds up, and the next 10 minutes calms down. After 20 minutes, I am feeling more normal, and after 30, I am usually able to resume normal activity. When an attack starts, I look at my watch.
Talk It Through: Find someone who won’t just tell you to calm down. Mike is so wonderful with this. He waits with me while I watch the clock and talks me through it like I am in labor. He believes in me and believes what I feel is real – because it is. Find yourself a Mike.
Stay Where You Are: Don’t try to drive home when you are in an elevated emotional state. It is dangerous. Get somewhere comfortable – heck a bathroom stall works sometimes. I also find pacing a bit helps too.
Observe: Ground yourself by making observations about the present. I feel the breeze. I smell… I hear…
Don’t Fight: When you are sure an attack is inevitable, just accept it. Fighting it only tells your body to keep panicking. Your goal is to convince your body that it is not actually in a panic situation. You are trying to turn off the panic switch. Let the attack happen, and practice the above tips to bring your body back to stasis.
After an Attack
Call in Backup: If you can swing it, have someone come take care of you and yours. I don’t need this after every attack anymore, but in the beginning and before I knew more about them (and sometimes after a particularly bad one still), I needed my mom to come take over. Even if it means she turns on the TV for the kids and feeds them granola bars while I take a nap.
Veg: If you don’t have anyone to help, please veg. Cancel whatever you can cancel, and take a mental health day. Going back at it when you don’t need to will just increase your already fragile stress level. Really decide what is necessary and what you just feel like you need to do.
Bare Minimum Mode: While you recover, go into bare minimum mode. This means no unnecessary housework or errands. No limit on TV. No worries about meals. Leftovers, sandwiches and carry-out are all acceptable and edible options.
Supplements and Oils
Doterra Essential Oils: Serenity, Balance, Lavender, Wild Orange, Frankincense applied daily and during an attack.
Fish Oil: Take daily. I use Nature Made brand.
Vitamin B Complex: Again, Nature Made taken daily.
Zoloft: This is the most widely studied SSRI when it comes to pregnancy. Of course there are risks with anything you put in your body, but you have to decide if the benefits of the medication outweigh the potential risks. As my doctor explained to me, Zoloft does present a risk for heart problems in your baby, however, the risk factor is no larger than a child who has not been exposed to the medication. Your child has the same risk whether or not you take it.
Xanax: (not during pregnancy or nursing) This was very helpful to me in the beginning of understanding my attacks. I didn’t have the information I have now to work through my anxiety, so Xanax was a great way to get a hold of myself until I could understand. I haven’t used it in years now, but I still carry an expired bottle in my purse. I suppose just knowing it is there is calming?
St. Dymphna: My favorite Saint is the patron of those suffering from nervous and mental afflictions. “Hear us, O God, Our Savior, as we honor St. Dymphna, patron of those afflicted with mental and emotional illness.” I keep her chaplet in my purse as well.
Rosary: When I am feeling well, I can pray one, but sometimes I am too anxious to concentrate. But clutching a rosary even when you can’t pray it is like hugging your mamma.
Daily Mass: We don’t go daily, but I do try to make it to weekday Mass a couple of times a week. You might think this would cause more anxiety with the kids, but God seems to be blessing my efforts. Besides, isn’t church just the safest and most calming place to be?
Understand how a panic attack works and use the knowledge to rationalize with yourself.
Foods That Help Anxiety:
blueberries, fatty fish, legumes, peaches, maca root (not during pregnancy or nursing), acai berries, bananas, flax seeds, 100% whole grains, chamomile tea, kefir, almonds, leafy greens (spinach, kale, seaweed)
Try mixing lots of these things in smoothies each morning. And remember, just eating well in general is so beneficial.
Keep Living Your Life:
It might seem like sometimes the only thing you do is treat prevent and maintain your anxiety levels. I still feel that way. Often, I just want a cup of coffee and some cheesecake while I stay up until 2am after not taking any pills. Or, on the other end of the spectrum, I find myself wanting to just give up trying. It’s too much effort.
But, when you start to shut down, when you start to avoid parts of life because of anxiety, it is already winning. Don’t let a fear turn into a phobia. Find out how to manage your anxiety in the midst of life. Don’t avoid life because of anxiety.
Consider creating a flexible weekly schedule for yourself. Pick one simple, free and relaxing activity to do by yourself or with kids each day. Getting out of the house works wonders for maintaining anxiety levels. Just remember to make time for what you’re going to do. With kids, nothing can be calm and rushed at the same time. Find joy in the process because when you dwell on what else you could be doing, anxiety rises.
Finally, make an effort to limit social media. Even if you don’t think it causes stress in your life, I will guarantee it does. Make a commitment to do more living outside of the Internet. Be present in your life.
And, I hope you know I’m not a doctor. So, you know, keep all that in mind when you heed my words.