Anxiety is Real, and you’re not alone

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If you’re here, chances are you’ve been experiencing anxiety-related symptoms, or perhaps full blown panic attacks.  Whether your symptoms are mild or disabling, they are real, and I want to help you understand them so that you can better manage the situation.

Everyone has at some point experienced a form of anxiety, whether a mild nervousness associated with going to a dental or doctor’s appointment, or a panic attack in the middle of the grocery store when you have a buggy full of groceries and only a few aisles left.  Maybe it happens when you are sitting in a restaurant enjoying a meal with family or friends, or before going into class to take an exam, or work to give a presentation.

Symptoms vary and usually come on pretty suddenly.  The most common symptoms include nervousness, a jittery feeling, sweating, chest pain, tachycardia, the feeling that you cannot breathe, dizziness, nausea, paresthesia, and a feeling of being smothered.  You may feel just one of these symptoms, or you may feel several at once.  Everyone is different.  What anxiety attacks generally have in common is the feeling that you need to get away from wherever you are, and you need to do it quickly.  Sometimes when this feeling takes over, we abruptly exit restaurants, grocery stores, etc.  I have been there many times, so I know how it feels, I understand the feelings associated with it, and I acknowledge how real it is.  For those who have not experienced anxiety or panic, it is easy to brush it off and tell someone to just get over it.  Please do not do that to someone who is having an anxiety attack as it will only intensify their symptoms.

Let’s begin by discussing the physiology of anxiety.  What is happening inside your body as you have these feelings?

Anxiety is the body’s response to a perceived threat or danger.  Notice I said perceived.  This will be important when we get into coping techniques.

You’ve probably heard of the “Fight or Flight” response?  This phenomena was first studied by Walter Cannon in the 1920’s as he developed a theory explaining why animals react to threats with a general discharge of the sympathetic nervous system.   When the body perceives a threat or danger, the stress response initiates.  This response is caused by the release of epinephrine (adrenaline) and norepinephrine (noradrenaline) from the adrenal glands (small endocrine glands located above your kidneys).  These hormones are felt by essentially every system in our body — the heart, the respiratory system, blood vessels, etc.  Your body is incredibly smart.  When your brain perceives the threat/danger, and your endocrine system releases appropriate hormones to “fight or flight” from the situation, it is protecting you from that perceived threat of harm!  Think of this example — you are  walking through the park on a sunny afternoon and see five tigers ahead.  Your heart begins to race, you breathe rapidly, you may perspire a bit, shake, and so on.  That is your body’s biological process telling you to protect yourself!  Without this biological response to threats (whether perceived or actual), you would essentially have no fear at all, and would not differentiate between a dangerous situation and a leisurely stroll through the park.

You have heard stories of women lifting cars off of children or their husbands, right?  You have heard of people arriving at the scene of a motor vehicle accident and finding that they have incredible strength to help pull a victim out of a car to safety.  It happens all the time, thanks to our Fight or Flight system.

So, where does anxiety cross the line of normal to a disorder or even a disability that inhibits one from living a normal life?

Remember earlier when I said “perceived” threat or danger?  That is the key in managing your anxiety because it is what is causing your Fight or Flight response system to basically malfunction.  Chances are you are feeling great fear about a situation that has not even occurred, or even dealing with post-traumatic stress that induces these feelings.  While what you are feeling is totally real, it may not be justifiable (biologically), so your adrenal glands release the same hormones as if the tigers were approaching you, but then does not utilize those hormones by “flighting or fighting.”  Having too much adrenaline in your body is equivalent to having way too much caffeine and leads to the symptoms of anxiousness.

Let’s get your anxiety under control, so that it can stop controlling you!

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I will start off by saying there is no one size fits all here.  What works for me may not work for you, or it may work wonderfully.  This is where each individual must practice steps to alleviate their own symptoms, and see what works and what does not.  Another important thing to note is that it takes much dedication, focus, and time.  Nothing will fix it immediately.  You must retrain your system and change your way of thinking.

Identify your triggers– before you can fix it, you must first determine the source(s) of anxiety.  This can be hard, since so often we do not know why we are having an anxiety attack.  Many find it useful to keep a log or a journal of what is going on when your symptoms appear, where you are, who is around, and what you are thinking about and feeling.  What are your triggers? Do you have a nerve-wracking doctor’s visit approaching that you’re worried about? A test in school? A meeting with superiors at work that intimidate you? Are you getting in a car to drive after a wreck? Over time, you will likely begin to see an identifiable pattern.

“Worrying is similar to praying for what we do not want to happen.”  Trust me, I know all too well that there is no “on off switch” for worrying.  But, identifying your fears and being mindful of what triggers them can go a long way in addressing them.  The one thing I have found helpful here is to realize that when we worry, we are investing a lot of time in what could go wrong.  There have been studies conducted at Harvard that assert that if we live in the present, it reduces worry and thereby reduces anxiety.  This takes a lot of training and you cannot give up on yourself during the process.  It will be frustrating and difficult at times, but I’m confident you can do it!  Baby steps are important here.  Don’t just set a goal that you’re going to stop worrying about things.  It’s a great idea but it isn’t reasonable, because if it were, I wouldn’t be writing this, and you wouldn’t be here to read it!   So, start slowly and as you feel worrisome feelings taking over, stop what you are doing, identify that trigger, and replace those negative thoughts with positive.  Something incredibly important here is having a focal point.  A focal point is a “happy place” that we can go to (not necessarily physically), that provides you with the feeling of safety, happiness, and comfort.  If you do not have a place like this, it can certainly be fictitious until you find one.  Simply find a photo of a place that comforts you, and close your eyes and focus on being there.  Maybe a good song works better for you.  I for one cannot listen to the radio, sing along, and not feel better!!

Choose your battles! Do NOT invest your time responding to every critic!!  I often stress to people, “You are only subject to what you allow yourself to be.”  If someone is causing you strife, remove them from your “circle” for a while! I do not and have never believed in the famous saying “keep your friends close and your enemies closer.”  No! Get rid of them!! You don’t have to duty yourself with keeping an eye on people who do not positively impact your daily life!  Unfriend them, unfollow them, and do not think twice about the “repercussions.”  And, remember you do not owe them any explanation!  This is your life!

Make time to do what you enjoy!  The old saying “stop and smell the roses” is so important.  The art of doing nothing is sometimes the best remedy for stress and anxiety.  You have heard it said that laughter is the best medicine.  That is true, and so is your “me time.”  If you don’t have any hobbies, find one.  Consider your interests and make time each day or each week to dedicate to that.  This certainly does not have to be time you spend alone.  I personally do not enjoy “alone” time.. I prefer to spend my time with my husband.  Again, everyone is different!  Just do you!

Get adequate rest and sleep.  (Yes, both!)  Resting is kicking back and relaxing, and your body needs it as much as it does sleep!  If you work long days, go home and eat dinner, go to bed, get up and start allover, when are you resting? You’re sleeping, but not resting.  Try to make a little extra time to just kick back and watch your favorite show on television, listen to the radio, meditate, etc.

Exercise.  I could write for hours about the importance of exercise, but I won’t (in this article).  You are smart, you know your body and your mind needs it, so get up and do it.  This is another that will vary by person.  Some like a leisurely stroll around the lake, while some enjoy a gym full of various equipment and workout classes.  Try to get a minimum of thirty minutes, at least three times per week.  Essentially, at least every other day.  Mind your limitations and any health conditions you may have.  Do not overexert yourself.  If you are not physically fit, take it slow and perhaps take 15 minute walks twice a day to build up your stamina.

Exercise releases chemicals known as endorphins — the “feel good” hormones that are released when you experience a joyous activity.  There are many ways to achieve this naturally, but I will let you research those 🙂

Breathe.  Ah, the famous “take a deep breath.”  If you’re anything like me, you may find this one particularly annoying.  Any time I experience anxiety and someone says “just breathe,” I think “I AM breathing.. very rapidly.. don’t you see!” But, it does help.  The key is to breathe properly in a manner that will “reset” your respiratory process.

A cardiologist at Harvard, Dr. Herbert Benson, discovered that in the same way the fight or flight response is hardwired into us, so too is what he called the relaxation response. When triggered through breathing methods, it can instantly and automatically send out neurochemicals that neutralize the fight or flight response.  One of the ways to elicit the relaxation response is through controlled breathing.  You want to breathe in through your nose, count to three, breathe out and count to three.  Do this until your breathing is back in a normal rhythm.  Take short pauses in between breaths, and make sure your breaths are deep, not shallow.  Watch for your stomach to rise up as you take that deep breath.

Implement Essential Oils into your life.  Some of you may be well versed in essential oils, others may not care for them.  I am here to share that they have worked absolute wonders in my life, and I highly recommend giving them a shot.  They are the most natural, pure, unadulterated thing that I have ever gained such relief from.  Check out my other articles for detailed information about essential oil usage, or feel free to e-mail me for advice!

Never forget, you are strong, you are worthy, and you can get through this!  You must believe in yourself.  You must refocus and reset your mind to replace certain thoughts that are causing you anxiety.  Trust me, I know it is very easily said, and not so easily done.  That is why I stressed that it takes time, dedication, and practice.  It is like learning a new sport.  You must practice new techniques, often, to master them.

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Thanks for visiting my site!

Nicole

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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