First of all if anyone has read any of the Jessica Darling novels, you’ll know all about Marcus Flutie, and probably have a crush on him too. When I read this series back in high school, I remember reading this quote. “My thoughts create my world.” I scribbled it on the inside of every journal. And now ten years later, here I am using it to help better understand anxiety, and maybe help you too.
Anxiety. It took me a long time to figure out what that meant. I was never taught what it was in school. I would use ‘shy’ or ‘nervous’ to describe my emotions, but no, never anxiety. I remember I was on the phone once with my mom, with the most severe chest pain, and she said that maybe I was “just feeling anxious.” That was exactly it. My brief stint as a hypochondriac ended (even after seeing a chiropractor who fixed a rib and I thought all of my problems have been solved) because the pain I was in had been anxiety all along. It’s been 15 years, a psychiatric nursing education, 5 years in the psych field, a holistic nutrition diploma, and lord knows how many books I’ve read learning about how anxiety works, and how you can overcome it, and I think I’m just starting to scratch the surface of how to heal this tricky little emotion. No, I am anxiety free today. But I will go on to explain how I manage it, and how I sometimes (key word: sometimes) embrace it.
Anxiety is not a simple solution. It’s not a math problem, where x + y = z. It can’t be fixed alone permanently with medication, unless you want to create a life of dependence and withdrawal, then yes go full benzo-sloth-addict status. You can’t trick your mind into being anxiety-free by telling yourself you are a “strong, confident, woman” over, and over, and over, especially if you don’t believe it. And it certainly can’t be fixed with a few sessions to your neighbourhood counsellor, although that one is definitely a start. If ever feeling anxious, depressed, or anything out of your usual, always start by telling someone.
Okay so let’s start with the definition of anxiety. I know, boring. Kind of like during wedding speech’s when they start with the definition of marriage.. speaking of wedding’s I think the most anxious I’ve felt in my life was when I had to make a speech at my brother’s wedding. I was so nervous I introduced myself as my brother than proceeded to recite my speech with my back turned to 175 people in the crowd. So for all my girlfriend’s out there reading this, I am perfectly fine just sitting in the crowd, no need to force-feed me maid of honor duties and speeches. Although I will throw one heck of a stagette.
I digress. Anxiety means: a feeling of worry, nervousness, or unease, typically about an imminent event or something with an uncertain outcome. Yep, bang on. But there also is the anxiety that is unexplained. I mean, subconsciously you are probably worried about something you can’t quite put your finger on it. And then congratulations you now have chronic anxiety, and when presented to your GP, usually ends up with a prescription of medications you’ve only heard about on Grey’s Anatomy. Just kidding, they have like, one psychiatric case per season on Grey’s… so much for erasing the stigma of mental health. Do I sound bitter?
As a psychiatric nurse I am actually glad that I have experienced anxiety in all it’s forms. Lack of sleep anxiety, nervous about public speaking anxiety, post too many tequila shots anxiety, breakup anxiety aka situational crisis, and even chronic anxiety as mentioned above. I believe my experiences make me a better nurse, and no, not so I can win over patients via empathy but because I can help them learn to manage their anxiety by teaching the same tools that have helped me.
I got to learn to feel how uncomfortable it is. How it creeps up on you when you least expect it. How yes, there are things that take it away temporarily, but in order to truly heal it, you need to feel it. Like really feel it. Like want to crawl out of your skin feel it. It takes an incredible amount of strength to sit with your anxiety, in your pain, and trust that it will go away. But it does, because, it too, shall pass. I’ve gotten so used to my anxiety that when I don’t have it, I start to wonder where it’s gone. It’s an unsettling comfort. Just like pain, you don’t realize how bad it really was until it disappears.
I called this post “My Thoughts Create my World” because I truly believe (and backed up by studies) that a lot of anxiety comes from the thoughts you feed your mind. It is not a physiological disorder you were born with. But the negative self-talk, the harsh words, the judgements, and the anticipation of a certain outcome. This is why I will always be an advocate for: Meditation. Tapping, or Emotional Freedom Technique. Exercise. Gratitude journaling. Goal making. Proper Nutrition. Yoga. Supportive relationships. I truly believe these things all working together in harmony can significantly decrease anxiety.
Danielle Laporte says “Negative emotions crystallize in our psyches, they contribute to clogged arteries, and they junk up the morphogenetic field, so it’s cosmically diligent to take responsibility for shifting them.”
Anxiety is worrying about the future. So when people say “be present” it’s not because they are just quoting some yoga Buddhist guru, but because they likely take the conscious effort everyday to focus on being present today. The here and now. The breath. When you are present, you don’t have time to worry about other things. I know, it’s easier said than done. I literally had to force and commit myself to going to moksha yoga as a healing process because I got too stuck in my head every time I tried to meditate, whether guided or on my own. And it worked.
Yoga is a great way to start, as it is more of a moving meditation. You’re focusing so much breathing through a flow, or counting your breaths evenly.. inhale 1-2-3 exhale 1-2-3.. while you fly through dancers pose. The other morning I attended a power flow moksha class and not only did the 60 minutes fly by but it was an entire hour when I moved through poses, linking movement to breath. I didn’t think about my to-do list, or some of the other areas in my life that have been causing me stress. Not to mention you don’t have your phone, something I’m sure all of us spend too much time on, whether texting friends or scrolling through social media, which can bring on a whole new category of anxiety itself if you’re dealing with self-worth issues.
When you’re not feeling crippled with anxiety, it can actually serve you. The anxiety before a big speech, the fear of starting a new business, or even showing up to a workout class you’ve been afraid of going to… yes those can all be scary things. But when you face those fears, you A) realise it wasn’t that bad, and hopefully keep up with it, and B) improve your quality of life! Make more money, lose weight, meet new friends. Sometime’s, just recognise the anxiety and let it lead the way.
I don’t have all of the answers in the world, but having come from a significant history of anxiety, and now sitting here today feeling a fraction of that is proof that anxiety stems mainly from your beliefs, worries, and lifestyle habits. If I’m not all over the map with night shifts or on holiday mode, this is my ideal day and all the activities, or things I include in my day to help keep my anxiety in check.
- Get adequate sleep. I’m not an advocate for the “Sleep when you’re dead” attitude. People need sleep, it’s where dreams are made.
- Meditate. Or if I can’t get it in during the morning (please note: the more you tell yourself you don’t have time, the more time you should spend doing it), then I make sure I meditate during yoga.
- Have an attitude of gratitude. The more you focus on things that make you happy, or things you are grateful for, the less you focus on the sad stuff. Pick 3 things a day, big or small, and focus on the joy it brings you and how lucky you are to have it. Be it your hair straightener, a fridge full of vegetables, your beautiful cat Marlow, or your awesome job, #blessup.
- Nourish yourself. Eat whole foods, cut out the processed foods and sugar. Cut down on factory meats. Drink more water. It’s amazing how when you fuel yourself properly, you run a lot smoother. Sometimes even imbalanced sugar levels can cause anxiety and irritability (aka hanger), so pay attention to what you eat. And if you are unsure how to make nutritional changes to your diet, well I MIGHT know of a holisitic nutritionist that can help you. Hint: me.
- Supplement. Vitamin D, fish oil, probiotic, multi vitamin, milk thistle, zinc, and magnesium are just a few things I take everyday. B vitamins are crucial for managing stress and your nervous system. I also add superfoods like maca powder and chaga to my smoothies, and sometimes GABA to help me sleep (along with magnesium). Do your research, or refer back to that blonde nutritionist that can give you some pointers.
- Limit caffeine and alcohol. Easier said than done. I mean who doesn’t love their morning cup of love and evening glass of red? But these two both may worsen anxiety, so take a few weeks off and see how you feel. I’m currently taking a long break away from my lovely wine rack, however look forward to my daily americano…
- More social, less media. I know, we live on our phones these days. But if you are in a constant state of comparison, it’s only inevitable that you will feel like you don’t measure up, causing feelings of insecurity, mood swings, and can lead to worsening anxiety and depression. There is actually a lot of research going into this lately, as younger and younger teens are presenting with anxiety and suicidal ideation to emergency rooms. Feed your mind with positive, authentic, quality content. Engage in real, social interactions with humans that light you up.
- Embrace anxiety. It’s telling you something. Listen, and run with it. “We must travel in the direction of our fear.”- John Berryman
You aren’t born with anxiety. You have anxiety. And you aren’t destined to have anxiety your entire life. To achieve anything, you have to make significant changes, and they won’t be easy. Let your anxiety challenge you, the Universe put it there for a reason.
Lastly, January 31st is National Bell Let’s Talk Day. Every text, tweet, or post and Bell will donate 5 cents to mental health initiatives. Please participate! If not for yourself, for the 1 in 5 that suffer from mental health issues, some of them which are afraid to talk about it. Spread the word!
Presently yours, THB <3