Me and anxiety have always been old friends.
Ten years ago, I was a 19-year old uni student, and I used to have to run out of the lecture theatre as an impending anxiety attack would approach, fearing the ‘closed-in-ness’ of those walls.
I used to be driving on the freeway and be scared that I’d crash my car because my I’d be overcome by an overwhelming dizziness.
I used to permanently feel like my chest was so constricted, that I could never breathe deeply enough.
It was awful! And, rather crippling.
At this point, I hadn’t yet studied naturopathy – and while I was studying human sciences at university, I didn’t yet have the knowledge or self-awareness to understand the link between my stress, my nervous system, and my adrenals – and the profound ways in which my imbalances in these areas, were affecting my ability to function normally.
So, as many would, I took my 19-year-old self off to a GP, and told her of my symptoms.
Within ten minutes, I was out the door with a round of SSRI’s to try (this is a type of anti-depressant). I felt a bit weird about this (was I depressed?? I didn’t feel like I was …), but I started taking them anyway. Within one week, I was a wreck. One of the side effects of anti-depressants is that they can initially exacerbate symptoms, and this is entirely what happened for me. 7 days in, I remember standing in line at a grocery store, feeling more anxious than I’d ever felt in my life, barely able to move, on the verge of fainting. I stopped taking the SSRI’s that day.
For the record: I do NOT have a problem with anti-depressants. At all. I know that they save lives, and improve the quality of life for many people. I don’t even have a problem with the rather haphazard way in which I was prescribed them, because the experience I had lead to me to follow my intuitive knowing that there was a better way (for me, personally), to address my anxiety.
The 3-4 years following were much the same, in terms of my anxiety, except, that around age 22, I had finished my uni degree, and moved onto studying naturopathy. I started to be introduced to some amazing, holistic ways of restoring nervous system function. I finally understood the profound effect of living in a constant fight-or-flight response. I saw my own naturopath, and started to get treated for adrenal fatigue (a condition which I’ve written about in depth, over here).
All of these things helped … but not enough.
At age 23, a long-term relationship that I’d been struggling in for some time, came to an end. Soon after, my life kind of tumbled down around me, with many other factors falling to pieces at the same time. I was probably the most anxious I’d ever been. I sat on the floor in my bedroom one night (actually, many nights) in tears, knowing I had to do something about it.
Thankfully, life was just about to turn in a better direction.
I used tickets that were supposed to be for a lush trip to Bali with my ex-boyfriend, to fly to Bali solo, to do a yoga retreat. THIS was the turnaround. I came out of that 5 days feeling so calm, so aligned, and so healed. I arrived home on a Friday, and by the following Monday, had booked myself into a one month yoga beginners intensive, where I had to be at class at 6am for four weeks straight. I knew that if I didn’t just dive straight in, and make some sort of commitment to myself – and feeling better – then I’d never move past my anxiety issues.
I had never felt so amazing in my life.
Life was busier and more full than ever – but I was floating out of class each morning, knowing that whatever the day would bring, I could handle it. I could breathe again. People started to comment on how much happier I seemed.
I had found my anxiety medicine.
From that point onward, anxiety has never overcome me again, in the way that it used to. I certainly have my moments – well and truly. We all do. After all my years of studying natural therapies, I know what to do to support my body, my nervous system, and my adrenals, to remain balanced. I also know what my triggers are – in terms of workload, foods, drinks, how much sleep I get (or don’t get), and more. When I have anxious days (or weeks, or months!), I always know that it’s a message from my body (and mind, and soul), asking me to come back to what I know is right for me.
I don’t believe anxiety is a normal state to live in, and I don’t believe we have to suffer through it in silence.
I also don’t believe that we have to ‘push through’ feeling like that, in order to live up to the expectations of society, or the expectations of anyone.
Life with anxiety is HARD, really hard. I know it, and I know that so many other people know it WAY more than I do.
I’m not here to act like I’m an expert. I’m not.
But, as always, I’d like to use my personal experience in overcoming my own anxiety, to potentially help other people shed light on their own.
To this day, my anxiety only ever creeps up when I let go of my yoga practice. Yoga is my everything, in that sense. The profound effect that a yoga practice has upon our nervous system, cannot be underestimated. Linking breath with movement, shifts us straight out of the sympathetic nervous system fight-or-flight response, and back into the parasympathetic nervous system rest-and-digest response.
This is potently healing, for the entire endocrine system (meaning all other hormonal glands, including the adrenals, thyroid, and more).
It reduces the frequency of adrenaline release from the adrenals, a response which dramatically imbalances our blood sugars, and drives insulin resistance, when left unchecked. It allows our digestion, our menstrual cycle, our sleep, and our daily healing capacities, to function optimally. It allows us to think clearly, sans the disruptive anxiety.
It has now been scientifically proven that diaphragmatic breathing is the most effective way to clear and regulate cortisol (another stress hormone that significantly influences anxiety states). I know that it is via the regulation of these two hormones, that yoga was able to significantly improve my own anxiety symptoms.
When I go on holiday, I often let go of my yoga practice, because I’m out of routine. What I find, is that by the end of my most of my holidays, I’m actually more anxious than I was before I left! Everything about my anxiety symptoms points to me needing yoga, as a daily part of my life.
Have you ever tried yoga, and noticed how much clarity and stillness you gained from doing so?
How well you slept? Granted, I’m not saying yoga is for everyone. But I do believe that the healing effects of diaphragmatic breath, with gentle movement, have the power to dramatically alter the way we feel, for the better.
If you’re not sure about starting a yoga practice, or you feel like you don’t have time, I encourage you to check out www.yogaglo.com, or even just google a short yoga class on YouTube. Dedicate 15 minutes a day to this practice, for two weeks or a month, and you WILL notice an effect.
Personally, there are a few other things that I’m always careful with when it comes to anxiety, and keeping it at bay:
> I watch the caffeine intake. I do drink caffeine – but not much. Caffeine will dramatically influence anxiety levels. I don’t care how many studies come out listing the benefits of drinking ‘X’ coffees per day – if you have anxiety, regular and consistent caffeine intake isn’t doing your symptoms any good. It’s likely exacerbating them! If you feel like this may be you, try cutting out coffee and switching to tea for while. Or better yet, having a short caffeine sabbatical! I promise you, you’ll notice a difference in how you feel.
> I watch the alcohol intake. Alcohol may be a central nervous system depressant, but it acts as a stimulant on your adrenal glands, meaning that it puts you into that fight-or-flight response. If you feel nervy or have a bad sleep after drinking alcohol, it’s likely exacerbating your nervous system a little too much. If you want a drink, try not to have more than 1-2 at once, and always eat BEFORE you have even a sip. Drinking while you’re eating is one of the best ways to regulate the potent effect that alcohol has on the system.
> Make sleep a priority. Sleep is incredibly important when it comes to balancing our daily cortisol rhythm. If you experience anxiety, prioritise your sleep. Get to bed earlier, and let yourself wake up naturally, as often as you can. It’s so very important.
> Stop overcommitting yourself. If you feel constantly overwhelmed, like your life is just one big rush, getting from one commitment to another, consider how it became like this. What can you do to bring a little more stillness to your life, today? What can you let go of, in order to create some space for yourself to rest and recuperate? Living a chronically overcommitted life is one of the quickest ways to put yourself into a state of constant fight-or-flight. I used to live like this – but not anymore. Living anxiety-free is far too important to me now. I understand that life is busy, but if you’re suffering under the weight of anxiety (or other symptoms, like hormonal imbalances), then isn’t it SO worth making some small changes? If you need some help or inspiration to do so, you might like to check out my eBook, The Slow Down Movement – which is all about hormonal imbalances, adrenal fatigue, anxiety, women, modern life, and slowing down in order to heal.
And, finally > Do what you love. When our lives are filled to the brim with things that we find tedious, boring, or unfulfilling, this is naturally anxiety-fuelling! Life is supposed to be vibrant, fun, and a journey to finding and fulfilling YOUR purpose, whatever in the world that may be. It will never be without challenges, but the challenges will be SO much easier to move through, when you love what you’re doing.
My intention with this blog isn’t to challenge anyone’s personal opinions or treatment of anxiety.
It’s simply to shed some light on my own experiences. I estimate that around 90% of my clients have reported some level of anxiety to me, and it’s often quite debilitating, affecting their daily lives. I would LOVE to see this change, and I believe there are so many things we can do for ourselves to prevent this scenario.
Above all – if you suffer anxiety, take some space for yourself, to prioritise your healing, and what you initially need to make that happen.
Do you need a day off work? Do you need longer? Do you need to admit to some of the people in your life, that you’re not doing so great, that you need some help? Do you need to see someone? Do you need to sleep more, do less, get rid of some commitments from your schedule?
Whatever you intuitively KNOW you need, do that.
I implore you – because the world needs the version of you that feels her best, and you so deserve to feel great.
Some resources that might help you:
Find my eBook, The Slow Down Movement, just here.
Or, you can join the tribe and receive your free copy of ‘7 Steps to Happy Hormones’, just over here.
Love and light,
Naturopath | Women’s Coach