Little steps can take you far
By MEG CRANE
For those of us who have anxiety disorders, it can seem like the awful feelings will never go away. Becoming hopeless is easy. While the road to lessened anxiety is long and slow, it’s worth the effort to gain a little confidence that relief is possible.
In my experience, it’s best to make small changes that gradually build up to improvement; making too many changes at one time can be a shock to the system and may become overwhelming, causing everything to be dropped and nothing to change.
Here’s an overview of a few successful anxiety-busters I’ve tried along my journey to a calmer life.
Teach people about anxiety
Dealing with people who don’t understand having an anxiety disorder is hard. It’s even harder when they don’t know you have anxiety or haven’t been told how it specifically impacts you. In my experience, there are a few people who don’t get it, won’t get it and aren’t worth the time and energy of trying to change their behaviour towards you, so they make you less anxious. But, in most cases, letting friends know what’s going on, how it impacts you and how they can help leads to a lot of productive conversations and real change in the relationship.
For example, I get super stressed out by how many messages I get. I often have a massive number of unread texts, Facebook messages, and emails. There’s so many, I can’t possibly keep up with them all, and this causes me a lot of anxiety. I’d ignore the ones that just said “Hi” or “How are you.” Then certain friends would be annoyed, feel like I didn’t like them anymore or think that if I’m too busy to respond, I’m too busy to chill, and I’d miss out on invites to gatherings. Aware of these feelings, I’d become even more anxious about not responding.
Then I started telling everyone about my anxiety disorder. Specifically, I let friends know exactly how it felt getting dozens of messages each day. Now, I know friends aren’t expecting a quick response because they know what I’m going through. I also get fewer messages that only ask “How are you?” and more that say something like, “I’ve been thinking of you and hope you’re doing well. Answer if/when you can, but no pressure.”
Similarly, I’ve explained to people why I need them to be on time for plans or have good reasons for being late and not tell me to just “not worry” about things that give me anxiety. When people understand, they can act accordingly and be a better friend to you, which may just give you the strength and energy to be a better friend back.
Find people who get it
Even with all the support of friends and family, having anxiety is lonely. When surrounded by people who don’t suffer from anxiety disorders, it’s easy to begin to feel different from everyone else. Finding a community of people who also deal with heightened levels of anxiety can help that. It also connects you to people who perhaps have more experience and knowledge about living with anxiety that they will share.
A good place to start looking for communities is by searching on Twitter and Instagram using mental health-related hashtags, such as #anxiety, #anxiousaf, and #mentalhealth. Follow some of the accounts that talk about these issues. Checking out their posts and commenting regularly is a great way to start creating a community. Doing this has even connected me to people who run support groups on Facebook for people dealing with different types of mental health issues.
Another option is to just start a group of your own. Find a few people who struggle in similar ways that you do and organize an online group or a monthly meetup where everyone can share their experiences and offer, or ask for support.
Explore natural remedies
Medication is a valid solution for mental health problems, and, in many instances, it’s all that will help. However, the process of finding the right meds and dose is long and arduous. For me, there were weeks where I felt virtually nothing after popping the first pill. There were times when I bumped up my dose and then cried nonstop for days. One terrifying time, I felt like I had lost my mind and became suicidal. Focusing on finding natural remedies during these times helped me reduce anxiety while I searched for the right med and it made me feel like I had some control.
Natural remedies are not often the entire solution, but meds likely won’t completely kick anxiety’s butt alone either. Finding the right combo is key. Here are a few options.
Cognitive Behavioural Therapy
People with anxiety often fall into negative thought patterns. For example, I often become paranoid that people dislike me and will overanalyze every social interaction, always interpreting small actions as feedback that I’m boring and stupid.
Using Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), my therapist helped me first recognize these thought patterns and then come up with activities to change them. When anxiety comes up, I sit down and think about what is going on. Once I’ve identified the thought patterns that got me there, I think through it rationally. Has my friend not responded to my text because she suddenly hates me? Well, we’ve been friends for more than a decade, and she always tells me when she’s upset with me, so probably no. More plausible reasons are that she’s busy, she’s overwhelmed with her own life, or technology is failing us, and the text didn’t go through.
Regularly examining thought patterns like this, it eventually becomes a quick process that nips anxiety in the bud.
The solution to so many health problems is to get moving! Many anxiety resources I’ve consulted recommend calmer forms of exercise for anxiety, such as walking and yoga. Personally, I prefer high energy activities such as Zumba and running because they let me get some of my anxiety aggression out.
What’s most important is that you’re doing something regularly that you can stick with. If you start to get bored, find a new activity. If you feel too busy, add something that doesn’t take time out of your day like doing exercises at your desk, cycling to work or doing stretches while watching the news. Find what works for you.
Lots of plants are said to reduce anxiety. With some experimentation, you might find some that work for you.
A friend of mine makes a tea she not so fondly calls Ass Tea. It’s made of dried Angelica sinensis slices and dried astragalus roots. Toss a handful of each into a pot of water, boil them, simmer for 25 minutes, let cool and then strain. It tastes awful – as the name implies – but chilled with ice and some flavouring (tea or herbs), it’s tolerable. It makes her need to pee uncontrollably, so she adds a bit of poria. I can skip that last awful-tasting ingredient.
Lavender, chamomile, valerian and lemon balm are all calming as well. You can grow some of these plants to have them readily available for tea, or buy teas that include them in the ingredient list. At the very least, settling into a cozy spot for a warm drink can be relaxing.
I tried meditating many times before I finally found a meditation series that explained the purpose of the practice in a way that makes sense to me. It helps us strengthen our thinking muscles so we can have more control over what is racing through our brains.
This has helped me so much with CBT. When my mind is going too wild to be able to deal with my thoughts using the techniques I’ve learned, I do a quick meditation on my Calm or Headspace app. With my mind a bit calmer, I then implement what I’ve learned from CBT.
A lot of anxiety comes from overthinking, so being able to control the mind is a huge factor in its reduction.
If you have an anxiety disorder, it’s unrealistic to expect that anxiety will ever be wiped out completely. However, with small changes over time, it’s entirely possible to reduce anxiety enough so that it doesn’t have a significant impact on your day-to-day life.
Winnipeg, MB – Resources
The Aquarian urges anyone with depression, anxiety or other mental health concerns to seek help from qualified health care professionals. Alternative health modalities can enhance and support your treatment.
Anxiety Disorders of Manitoba: a peer-led organization providing resources across the province, including Cognitive Behavioral Programs.
Mood Disorders of Manitoba: A self-help organization dedicated to providing support, advocacy and education offering programs for men, women and youth, as well as selling light fixtures to combat Seasonal Affective Disorder. mooddisordersmanitoba.ca
The Canadian Mental Health Association – Manitoba & Winnipeg Chapter: Offers information services and programming including resources for depression, grieving and anger management. They do not offer crisis counseling or emergency mental health services. mbwpg.cmha.ca/resources/mental-health-resource-guide-for-winnipeg/.
Are You In Crisis?
Help is just a call away.
KLINIC Crisis Line: 204-786-8686
Manitoba Suicide Line: 1-877-435-7170
Crisis Stabilization Unit: 204-940-3633
Mobile Crisis Service: 204-940-1781
Youth Mobile Crisis Team: 204-949-4777
Seneca House: 204-942-9276
Kids Help Phone: 1-800-668-6868
MB Farm & Rural Support Services: 1-866-367-3276