Anxiety: How I Kick(ed) It

I’ve had family and friends tell me that I’m a lot like my father; easy to get along with, fun, and, generally speaking, maintains a happy disposition.  While I’d like to believe this is true (I’m a total daddy’s girl) there is more to me than what’s seen on the outside. 

Looking back on it, I probably always had some sort of anxiety.  Ever since I can remember, I’ve been a worrier.  When I was a kid, I had dream after dream that something was chasing me, but my feet were to weighted down to run and I would just move in a full on SLOW motion.  I didn’t know it at the time, but that was probably me letting the stress of life get too overwhelming – anxiety.

Flash forward to adulthood.  In my twenties, I totally experienced anxiety!  If only on a here and there basis. I had all the signs.  But back then, I was able to handle it a little more gracefully.  I could see what was causing the anxiety, deal with it, even though it was excruciatingly difficult, have one or two sessions with a therapist, find some way to relax and then move on with my life leaving that anxiety in the past.  But like I said, I never once labeled it as anxiety.  I really didn’t see it that way.  I mean we all go through life and must deal with difficult things, right?  I just saw it as that.  But I didn’t have anxiety, nope, not me.  I just needed a little extra help dealing with life altering decisions and day to day stress, sometimes.  Anxiety.

I have this very clear memory in my head of the first time I really let it get too far.  My fiancé (now husband, Andy) were living together (I know, sinful), and I was taking a shower.  Suddenly, my mind started to race about EVERYTHING, and NOTHING, all at the same time.  I started to shake and then the tears started to roll down my face.  I turned off the shower, wrapped a towel around me, and I saw Andy walk into our room.  He saw my face and just hugged me, asking “Are you okay?” When I told him what happened, or what was happening, and that I didn’t understand it, he said “It’s called a panic attack” …. A what?  But his clarity, and labeling it as something that wasn’t my fault, really made everything seem so much better. We moved through that one together, and I couldn’t be more grateful for his love and support.  And quite honestly, since the day we got married, I hadn’t experienced anything like it…. until the end of 2017.

By the end of summer 2017 I was experiencing the worst anxiety I’ve ever faced in my life.  It was crippling.  I was having chest pains from the stress of motherhood and wanting to start a small business of my own.  But then the shooting in Las Vegas happened, and even though I wasn’t there, I think it just triggered everything else that had been building up for me over the last few years – one week later I started experiencing nightly panic attacks.  Andy had to remind me what they were.  I thought I was just going crazy.  I mean honestly, my life is great, why would this be happening to me? 

If you’ve never experienced anxiety or panic attacks, it’s a little difficult to put into words.  But mostly, your mind won’t shut off and the thoughts just keep rolling, thoughts you wouldn’t normally ever think, and you feel trapped, but the more you try to stop it, the more it keeps going.  You just want it to stop.  And when it does it’s like an unbelievable feeling of relief.  Or, at least, that’s how it was for me.

I’m sharing this with you because I found a way through it and if what helps me, can help even one other person, then I’m all about it.  However, before I share how I kick(ed) my anxiety I want to also share that I am NOT a doctor, or psychologist.  This is not me offering expert advice.  This is me sharing with you what worked for me personally.  And if you find you are experiencing anxiety, I encourage you to talk with your doctors about it sooner, not later.

My Steps to Kicking Anxiety:

Hired Professional Help: 

I knew I couldn’t ‘fix’ this on my own.  I wasn’t sleeping.  At times it was hard to focus on my own children.  I had to get help.  As I searched the internet for a therapist I came across something called Cognitive Behavioral Therapy.  Which isn’t like going to an overall therapist that sits and lets you talk through any issues.  Cognitive Behavioral Therapy gives you the tools you need to exercise your mind and begin to focus on other things, rather than all those thoughts causing you anxiety.  Their goal is to help you improve emotional regulation, help you develop coping strategies and start solving the current problem.  Granted, my therapist, had to sit through a lot of my anxious tears first, before we could get to work.  But it only took about a month before I started feeling relief.  And only another month or so after that when we decided I could do this on my own.  The anxiety had lifted.

If I can offer any advice it would be not to settle for less than you deserve.  If you don’t like who you sit down with the first time, be strong enough to recognize it and find someone that can help you the way you envision.  You deserve to feel amazing!

Took A Look at My Nutrition:

 You had to know this was coming.  After all, I am a nutrition coach!  The simple truth is, how we feed our bodies can significantly affect how our brains operate.  You’re probably thinking there is no way I was eating “unhealthy” right?  Well, while that’s true, I wasn’t eating right FOR ME.  I’ve known since my early 20’s that I have a severe sensitivity to caffeine.  Some of us don’t contain the enzyme that can break caffeine down.  I’m one of those people.  (My husband on the other hand, can have a cup of coffee before bed).  In fact, I’d done a pretty good job of staying away from any supplement, coffee, tea, that contained caffeine, up until, I didn’t.  What I learned is that my sensitivity had expanded….to stimulants.  What I also learned, is that I was taking in MORE than I realized!  I would have a VEGAN protein shake that I thought was safe, when I looked up all the ingredients, one was a STIMULANT.  Before that shake I’d tried several others…. all had AMPLE AMOUNTS OF STIMULANTS.  They want to help you shed pounds, how could I be so naive? !  I think I just ignored it because I really wanted to be in great shape!  I had also been eating more than usual amounts of dark chocolate – STIMULANT.  I was eating chia seeds – STIMULANT.  I was drinking a tea almost daily labeled “caffeine free” – STIMULANT.  Take note, I also have PKD, and while I can’t scientifically prove this just yet, I also hypothesize that I was taking in too much animal protein and stimulants that my kidneys just could not process fast enough.  And kidneys produce hormones, and hormones are an essential function to us women….and our brain!  I digress.  When I cleaned out my pantry and started eating less animal protein and more vegetarian protein from whole food sources while simultaneously getting rid of ALL STIMULANTS (even the chocolate!) I felt significantly better in just a week!!! 

Other things I did: Stopped the late-night sugary snacks and realized how much better I slept without them!  For more on this I wrote a blog on this as well.  Stopped eating sugar first thing in the morning when our bodies are highly sensitive to insulin and started making breakfast full of healthy proteins and/or fats.  And when things got better, I reintroduced stuff to see what my body could take.

All of this might sound completely crazy to you, but the fact is, it completely helped me.  And I now know what my body likes and doesn’t like.  And I’m okay with that.

Even my therapist noted my anxiety seemed so much better after I had made these changes, just sayin’.

MAKE Time for ME/FUN/GRATITUDE:

The truth of the matter is I was doing EVERYTHING for everyone but myself.  I wasn’t making my own emotional well-being a priority.  I was completely focused on the happiness of my children, my husband, my family, my clients.  I wasn’t giving me what I deserved.  That changed!  My husband and I started having more regular nights out, I left the house on Saturday mornings to take a class (not teach it), I made more time to spend with friends and gave myself the break I desperately deserved.  I even made time to play and be fully present while I engage with my kiddos.  I also made time to practice gratitude each day. Recognizing what was wonderful in my life shifted my perspective. All of this is still a work in progress for me, but I’m getting much better at it.  Day by day.

Started Meditating:

You can read my blog on what I learned through meditation.  But what I will tell you is that it was and still is one of the key factors that keeps my stress levels to a minimum.  And if I started to feel anxiety coming on, it always works!  All I need is five minutes every morning.  It’s enough to get me centered.  When I first started it just made my anxiety feel worse…. but I really wanted to feel better, so I kept doing it.  It was then that I realized, when it felt hard, was when I needed it most.  Eventually I learned how to exercise my mind and for that I am incredibly grateful.

Changed up my workouts:

Our bodies don’t want to go hard all the time.  They also don’t know the differences in stress.  It can’t tell whether you are being chased by a bear, doing a HIIT workout, or just stressed out at work.  Stress is stress.  Looking back on it, my workouts were becoming too much, too often.  I’m guessing my cortisol levels were a little too high.  And even though I did have lab work done, and all my levels appeared normal…. I’m just saying it was probably too high FOR ME.  I now have a steadier flow of Piyo, yoga, HIIT, weights, cardio, and walking. I alternate frequently.  The funny thing was, as I slowed down the workouts, my body shape got better…. therefore, I emphasize recovery.  Because I truly know its importance.  Plus, for some reason, during that time, I stopped doing yoga.  And that is one of my favorite things to do.  Why would I ever stop that?   Now, I will always make time for yoga!  I also started eating adequately for what the workouts entailed.  Part of focusing on my nutrition.

Sleep Became a Priority:

If you’re a mom, you know that getting sleep, especially at night, isn’t always as easy as it seems.  In our home we still have a little one that wakes up at least once a night to make sure I’m still here.  However, I always do what they say you are supposed to do…. walk them back to bed.  But sometimes this becomes 4 or 5 walks back to bed.   I had to find a way to get more sleep.  So, I opted to start hitting the hay a little earlier, at 9 pm, and start taking a nap or two on the weekends.  It’s been the best decision I’ve ever made.  It’s not a hard rule per se, but I notice how much better I feel if I can get to bed early.

Put Down My Phone:

Our screen time is doing a number on our minds you all.  And social media?  Don’t even get me started.  I love it, but I also hate it.  And I don’t use the word hate lightly.  I started to limit my use completely.  No phone or iPad after 7 pm, only 30 minutes of social media a day (and for me, that’s spent mostly doing work, not surfing the endless possibilities of what I could be but alas I am not).  I also started a no phones policy on Sundays (unless it’s to communicate with someone we care about through text, face time, or that ancient form of just talking to someone).  We spend time reading, adventuring, going to church, resting…. whatever calls us that day.  And when we are on vacation, I do my best to stay away from all things but my children and our family.   It’s amazing how much better I feel on the days where I’m not on my phone and especially not on social media.  It’s a great science experiment we should all take part in from time to time.

 In conclusion….

 I’m sure my anxiety will come and go but I now feel like I am so better equipped to handle things that come my way.  I won’t lie.  It was a lot of work.  It got messy.  But the work is what made everything feel that much better on the other side.  The year of 2018 was my Year of Self-Care.   I mention this because I had a friend tell me that 2019 is her Year for Self-Care.  And even though I managed to do so much to change my life in that year alone, I also learned that self-care isn’t just about a New Year’s Resolution.  It needs to be moment to moment, day by day, week by week etc.  AND IT MUST BE ALWAYS.  I find this especially true for us women, mostly because we just don’t do it enough.  So, I’m off to do some self-care right now, what about you?