Anxiety -A Guide to Prevention, Management & Coping.
Every day I get at least 2 or 3 emails or Instagram messages asking me how I manage my anxiety and if I can give any advice on how others can manage and cope with theirs.
Lets get an understanding of anxiety disorders vs a feeling anxiousness before moving forward. There is a massive difference between feeling “anxious” and having a diagnosed anxiety disorder such as generalised anxiety, social disorder, Agoraphobia, PTSD, OCD or panic disorder. For example being a tidy person who like organisation doesn’t mean that you have OCD - OCD is a very serious and life controlling and dibiltating disorder for those who suffer that unfortunately is not taken seriously because every second person slaps themselves with an “OCD” label because they like a tidy house / things a in a certain order OR if something major is happening in your life like the birth of your child or starting a new job and you feel nervous about it it doesn’t necessarily mean you have an anxiety disorder. It is very normal to feel anxious, it’s a basic human instinct , it’s actually healthy and necessary but it’s when these feelings don’t go away and they start to control your life that they are a problem and there could be more to it. If you have been feeling anxious for longer than 2 weeks on end and you feel like it is controlling your life or impacting your relationships or work I would recommend seeing a doctor for advice. Being a aware of your condition is the first step to growing and learning to manage.
In saying all of this we do live in a highly stressful world with so much pressure on us constantly so even if you don’t have a diagnosed condition there’s a lot of benefit in practising the tips and tricks in this article.
It’s taken me many years to get to where I am at recognizing, coping, managing and preventing my anxiety from spiraling out of control. I don’t think an anxiety disorder is something that you ever “cure” but you do over time find ways to cope and manage life living with it. I’m not saying I don’t have bad days, I certainly do but when I can foresee these days or even when they smack me in the face out of the blue I have ways I manage. I also practice a lot of different things to help prevent these bad days and when things get extreme I do sometimes still need to turn to medication to cope.
I was medicated with anti-depressant and anxiety medications for years on end but once I had Millie I decided that I didn’t feel like I wanted them anymore, I wanted to start to feel true emotions again and worked with my medical team and psychologist to come off them. In saying this I have no regrets for taking them for as long as I did because I believe they gave me a stability to be able to work on all of my issues & the core of my problems and find these ways of coping and managing that would eventually mean I wouldn’t need them anymore.
In this article I want to share with you ways I prevent, manage and cope with my anxiety using different techniques, practices, products, professional help, people and medications. These are my own beliefs, none of these products are sponsored I just genuinely love them (and get asked for specific brands I use all the time) and things I have learnt along the way and I hope they can help you also but if they don’t just remember we are all different and we all cope in different ways – just keep searching for what helps you because it is out there.
And, of course the best thing you can do is seek the help of professionals if your anxiety or depression is out of control and is taking over your life.
This is a long article so please stick with me as there is a lot of useful info for those who need it!
There are many ways to seek help for mental illness these days from easy access counselling, to helplines you can call, online forums and websites and even apps. If you’re feeling like you need some professional help reach out to your GP who can refer you to a psychologist or psychiatrist – if you qualify you can get a mental health plan which entitles you to a number of sessions with a psychologist at a discounted rate each year. Psychology and even more so psychiatry can be very expensive so this is a great way to help.
Keep in mind it can take many different psychologists or psychiatrists until you find the right person who you feel you can relate to and who really help you. Don’t give up because I ensure the right person is out there and once you find them it will be life changing.
One last tip when it comes to professional help - I honestly believe you MUST be ready to fully face your demons and your issues and that you can only benefit from these sessions if you are 100% honest and open with yourself and your therapist. Some of the sessions will be intense and confronting and you may leave feeling worse or triggered but long term by really getting deep and facing these head on you will learn to overcome and manage your anxiety or depression.
Help Lines & websites:
Lifeline: 13 11 14 www.lifeline.org.au
PANDA (Perinatal Anxiety and Depression): 1300 726 306 www.panda.org.au
As I said earlier I was medicated for many, many years and I don't believe there is any shame in that but I do believe you must also work on the actual cause and core of your issues as well as being on them otherwise you’ll never get anywhere.
If you are feeling or your medical team feel like you need the help of medication I would personally recommend seeking the help of a psychiatrist who can help you find the best one specifically for you rather than a GP who usually just throw you the most common type which may or may not be suitable for you - some of them can have nasty side effects so really take the time to find the right one for you. Also, if you are just starting on them keep in mind they do take a while to start working so try to be patient.
If long term medication isn’t right for you either then there are medications that you can be prescribed that you can take in times of high anxiety and panic. Ask your doctor about these options.
There are also some great natural medicines and herbal supplement blends that can be used that are super accessible at the supermarket or pharmacy and some over the counter sleep aids and calmative medications that might help you short term when things are bad. If you are feeling this way head to your local pharmacy and chat to your pharmacist about what is right for you.
This is something I’ve been doing on and off for many years. Writing down my what’s going on in my life, emotions and feelings, writing poems or just words can help to express your feelings and can also help you track yourself over time. Sometimes I find it hard to talk to others and just need to get out the words on paper to express and move forward. This one crosses over with the next one and can be done in the same journal or diary or separate.
TRACKING TRIGGERS, EMOTIONS, SYMPTOMS, MEDICATIONS:
Have a diary or a journal where each day you write how you feel (happy, sad, emotional, nervous etc,), the symptoms of your anxiety (heart racing, sweaty palms, nervous, dazed etc.), anything you notice that triggers you and if you need to take any medications or writing down your regular meds. I found this particularly helpful to track and see over time the improvements I made and also to realise relapse happens but that you can bring yourself back out of it. It is also very handy to take along to any therapy sessions or doctor appointments so they can have an understanding of how you’ve been feeling over time.
Gaining an understanding of what triggers your anxiety is invaluable. For some it can be as simple as caffeine or enclosed spaces or airplanes but for others it can come very unexpected what actually causes you to be triggered like certain noises, things that remind you of a past event, loss of control of situations or certain foods you never expected. For example my anxiety can be triggered by repitive noises, feeling like I’ve lost control of a situation, being unprepared or if foods contain gluten to name a few.
Exercise is one the best ways to both prevent and manage your mental health. The release of endorphins not only instantly helps you to feel a relief but over time you will feel the benefits of a calmer mind, more self-confidence, better strength, better sleep, better digestion and better appetite. Exercise is truly one of the most undervalued forms of medication for mental illness but has a huge impact.
The only thing I would say is that sometimes we need to listen to our bodies and our minds and choose the correct form of exercise for that exact time in your life. Although a boxing class or HIIT circuit class can make you feel like you are releasing anger/anxiety , if you are already highly stressed that type of highly stressful, high intensity and high impact type of exercise with loud pumping music can cause extra adrenal stress and stress on the nervous system and in turn cause you to feel even more highly stressed or anxious. Save those types of workouts for when your emotional stress/anxiety is lower and when it is high try something to calm the nervous system and mind like yoga, pilates, walking, swimming, stretching or gentle forms of exercise.
There is a reason why people have been practicing meditation for thousands of years – it works! Not only does it help you switch off in times of high anxiety or stress it helps you live a life more full of gratitude, hope, happiness and presence. I have been meditating for years after my physiologist suggested it to help my busy mind. I would recommend starting with a guided meditation. There are so many apps you can download these days or simply jump on YouTube and search “guided meditation.” Start with 10 minutes and move up from there if you wish. I like to start my day with 10 minutes of medi whether that’s with a guided medi on YouTube or just by sitting and being. If you’re not quite ready for the guided meditation try just sitting listening to 2 of your favourite slow, calming songs.
Another practice that has been used for thousands of years to restore and strengthen both the body and mind. I always feel such a sense of calm and relief after a good yoga class. Anxiety can cause so much built up tension in our bodies and to release it this way feels so good. If you’re feeling highly stressed try a more relaxing class rather than a power yoga or hot yoga.
If you’re not quite ready for a class you can always find Youtube videos or apps to try at home or even just start with 10-15 minutes of fully body stretching on the floor at home.
I originally started doing acupuncture for fertility but found that it was so super effective for my anxiety and stress that I would highly recommenced it to any one who suffers anxiety. I was a totally skeptic at first so if you are too just give it a try for a few sessions and see what you think.
Along with acupuncture they usually also offer you traditional Chinese herbs to aid and support your treatment which will also help your anxiety.
Hypnotherapy is another alternative type of treatment which helps you to get to the bottom of your anxiety and overcome it. I personally found that by finding the right psychologist I could speak with openly and doing some very intense sessions I didn't need the hypnotherapy but I do know a lot of people have great results with it.
FIND A HOBBY:
Find yourself something you can do just for you. It’s so important as a woman not just a mother to have self-identity outside the home or work. Whether its writing, jogging, playing tennis, swimming, knitting, dancing or joining a sports team find “your” thing. For me my thing is writing now blogging – it always has been, before I had my blog I always kept a journal to share my thoughts.
Podcasts, books, websites, text books are all readily available at our finger tips.
People ask me SO often how I can be so positive or how I can manage to do so much when I suffer from anxiety. It’s taken me many years, this feeling is not a new thing I have been suffering and learning to deal with it for around 14 years now so half of my life, there’s so many things I’ve done to help including years and years of therapy but the one thing that has always helped me is reading and finding out more and more about self-help, mindset, mindfulness and positive thinking. It’s so easy to find a book to start with google self-help books or mindset books and whole entire universe will open up before your eyes. If reading is not for you there are literally tens of thousands of podcasts you can listen to. At the end of the day only YOU can help YOU and knowledge is power and so is the reinforcement of an ideal such as positive thinking.
Believe it or not what we put in our mouths plays a huge part in how our bodies and minds react. Too much sugar, highly processed foods and caffeine leave our bodies in a state of stress which in turn makes us feel highly strung and anxious. If you can handle one cup of coffee a day that’s fine but try cutting out the 2nd or 3rd cup if you’re feeling anxious or you know anxiety is a part of your life. Make the switch to a herbal tea in the afternoon or try a bone broth or a banana for an energy kick. Same goes for the 3pm snack, try replacing a chocolate bar with a healthy handful of nuts or a piece of fruit. What ever you do, do not drink energy drinks no matter how sleep deprived you are these are not healthy for anyone and will only amplify your symptoms.
TAKE CARE OF YOUR GUT:
Gut health is crucial to overall health including mental health so by taking care of it you’re truly taking care of yourself. Some simple ways to look after your gut include ditching sugar and refined carbohydrates, starting your day with a warm lemon water with some apple cider vinegar, taking a high quality pro-biotic and eating some fermented veg or bone broth.
My favourite pro-biotic brands:
PONO Probiotics @ponoprobiotics
Pregnancy & Breastfeeding specific: Life Space Probiotics @life.space.probiotics
Bone Broth I drink:
Nurta Organics: @nutraorganics
There’s so much hype around essential oils these days and with good reason. Before I tried them I honestly didn’t believe they could help but they do help to calm my mind and are great for sleep. There’s a blend to help with everything including anxiety, stress, tension headaches and sleep.
Some of my favourites for stress and anxiety are:
“Calm Your Farm” by @daniloxton
“Self Love” by @daniloxton
“Tension Headache” by @daniloxton
“Sleepy Head” Spray by @daniloxton
For more info or to purchase any of Dani's blends https://www.daniloxton.com/shop
“Tummy” (also great for gut health) by @thecalmcompound
“Calm” by @thecalmcompound
For more info or to purchase any of Jazze's blends https://www.thecalmcompound.com.au/shop/
ORGANISE & PLAN YOUR DAY, WEEK, MONTH:
This one is such a huge thing for me. If I have planned out my day I don’t need to worry about what “may” come next as I have prepared for what I need to do that day. I’m not saying there won’t be road blocks or hurdles along the way but by having order in your day it brings a sense of control and calm.
I have a few ways I plan my day but it always involves a “to-do” list for work which is categorized in priority order and that contains no more than 5 things which I write on my monthly desk planner so I can see it all in front of me – being a very visual person I need to see it.
I also have my notes section on my phone where I literally type the night before exactly the plan for the next day for myself.
Using a daily action planner broken down into hours is also great especially if you have a whole day of activity, appointments and meetings. This was how I used to manage my day when managing the gym day to day.
The other thing I have is a white board sitting on the wall above my desk so I can see exactly what tasks I have to complete whether it’s now or later I like knowing what’s to come and I can also add things there as they come even if I'm not 100% sure when I’ll get to them. I catagorise these into three sections – blog work, business work and personal (Millie, home, general errands or appointments).
These are just my own ways but there are hundreds of ways to organize and plan using technology, apps or planners.
In this fast paced digital world we live in I honestly believe we become so anxious because we have our lives, work, friends, family and everything right there on our phones which are constantly attached to us, it’s like we MUST always be connactable.
It can be so easy to get caught up in social media, comparisons to other people online, work deadlines, emails, missed calls or text messages that we forget to stop and enjoy life. When you feel a little anxiety coming on or even when you are feeling overwhelmed, put down your phone, switch off the laptop and head outside for a walk in the fresh air with or with ut your babies. Take your kids to the park and see them smile and laugh at the simple things like a swing or a slide. It honestly helps so much with your anxiety to see someone else smile, to be disconnected from everything else and to just be.
LEARN TO SAY NO:
As someone who always wants to help everyone I find this one of the hardest things to do but you MUST learn to say no to things or people that are either going to trigger your anxiety or that do not fit into your life or serve you purpose.
What I have learnt over time is that by saying yes to things I can fit in or things that are outside my scope of work only lets more people down in long run because I can’t complete them, cancel at the last minute or become so stressed and anxious that it reflects on to my family and inner circle of friends.
I to have set myself limits and boundaries on the number of projects, events or tasks I can do to help manage this even more. I have also found that by being completely honest with people about why you’re saying no they actually have the world of respect for you.
FIND YOUR COMMUNITY OR VILLAGE:
Whether it be an online community through a Facebook group, forum or Instagram community, a mothers group, a close friendship group or family member if you suffer from mental health illness it is vital you find your community, find a village or even just one person let them in to your emotions, make them aware of what you go through and ask for help or just have an ear that will always listen with out judgement.
I know myself I still find it hard to open up all the time but I know my closest family and friends understand who I am and can just tell when I'm not in a good place and are always there to offer a hand or an ear to listen.
From here I want to move into techniques you can use in the moment of anxiety or panic – ways to pull yourself out and get back in touch with reality.
MY TOP 3 TECHNIQUES FOR HIGH ANXIETY & PANIC CONTROL:
Sounds simple and too easy right? Well it can be. The more anxious we become the shallower our breath becomes. In our busy states these days we are constantly in a rush and the majority of us breath from our chests which naturally makes our breath shorter and shallower causing extra stress on our bodies and in turn anxiety. If you can feel anxiety coming on or you are in a state of panic stop sit or lay down and focus on your breathing.
What I do is hold my tummy with the palm of my hands and focusing on nothing but breathing in through my nose for 5 slow seconds and feeling my tummy fill with air and then breathing out for 7 slow seconds feeling the air releasing from my tummy. Repeat 5-10 times. If you cant control your breath for that length of time try 3seconds in and 5 seconds out, just try to keep your inhale shorter than your exhale for the best result and calming of the body.
This is actually a great thing to practice even when you are not anxious to help you feel happier and more energized instantly. Perfect thing to try in the morning just before you head to work or when you’ve done school drop off to set your day up in a calm space.
2. SENSORY AWARENESS GROUNDING TECHNIQUE:
This exercise helps you to be present in the moment rather than letting your thoughts take you away somewhere else.
I find this particularly useful when I am feeling overwhelmed or a panic attack approaching or in the past when I would have night terrors or couldn't sleep from anxiety.
What to do:
Name 5 things you can see in the room around you - lamp, desk, bed, clock, TV.
Name 4 things you can feel - like the pillow on my neck or the blanket touching my body.
Name 3 things you can hear right now - like the wind outside, the TV in the background.
Name 2 things you can smell or if you cant smell anything name two things that you like the smell of that bring you happiness or a good memory.
Name 1 thing you are grateful for in your life.
3. REALITY AWARENESS:
Like the one above I find this particularly useful in time of overwhelming anxiety or panic.
When you feel like you're spinning out of control lay on the floor or sit in a chair or wherever you can and breath and ask yourself these questions:
1. Where am I? (In my Room, in the care, in bed ect.)
2. What is my full name?
3. What day of the week is it?
4. What month and year is it?
5. Who are my family?
6. What is my address?
7. What is really happening right now? (I am laying in bed and its 10pm)
I know these sound like strange things to ask yourself they are helpful to remind you of reality - repeat them a few times if needed.
If you made it this point thanks for reading and I hope that there have been some helpful pieces of advice, products or tools you can use to help prevent, manage and cope with your anxiety. If there is anything you think I have missed please let me know via my instagram, comment below or flick me an email and Ill add them in.