Managing Anxiety My Way

MjAxMy1lZjc3N2MzZTNjYTUwNjZjAnxiety. What a loaded word. And I don’t even know where to start. Is it an emotion? A psychiatric disorder? A state of consciousness? At one point does it become a problem? Well before I can delve into that, I need to try to define what it is.

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines anxiety in many ways. The most basic definition of anxiety is: fear or nervousness about what might happen; a feeling of wanting to do something very much.

Their medical definition of anxiety is:

1.     a) a painful or apprehensive uneasiness of mind usually over an impending or anticipated ill; b) a cause of anxiety; or an abnormal and overwhelming sense of apprehension and fear often marked by physiological signs (as sweating, tension, and increased pulse), by doubt concerning the reality and nature of the threat, and by self-doubt about one’s capacity to cope with it;

2. an abnormal and overwhelming sense of apprehension and fear often marked by physiological signs (as sweating, tension, and increased pulse), by doubt concerning the reality and nature of the threat, and by self-doubt about one’s capacity to cope with it (for more on these dictionary definitions, go here)

For a more clinical definition, according American Psychological Association, anxiety is an emotion characterized by feelings of tension, worried thoughts and physical changes like increased blood pressure.

As is evident from the descriptions above, anxiety can take on a number of forms (also evidenced by the fact that there are many different types of anxiety in DSM-5, each with their own unique definitions, characteristics and diagnostic criteria). I tell you this to remind you that each case is different, and what works for me might not work for you. But just in case (and because I find it helpful to write this down for future reference, I thought I’d share my experiences.

I have struggled with anxiety for most of my life (without having a name/diagnosis for it until a few yeas ago.) (Incidentally that diagnosis was generalized anxiety disorder and I also have a touch of social anxiety disorder). People called me high strung and shy, not realizing that both were very much symptoms of something much greater going on in my brain. My anxiety manifests itself in a number of ways, including panic attacks, racing thoughts and an inability to do anything when I get so anxious about the thought or potential outcome of whatever I’m going to do, or whatever decision I have to make, that I just can’t do anything.(also described as action paralysis and it happens either because I’m too overwhelmed with options or afraid to stat something, lest I make a mistake).  That final part is often my biggest struggle.  I am constantly reminding myself that if I don’t start, I don’t even give myself a chance to do it right.  That, in fact, the paralysis can be a self-fulfilling prophecy.  But telling myself that is only so useful – usually I need more.

For acute panic attacks and racing thoughts that prevent me from sleeping for hours on end, I take prescription medication when necessary. I believe that my antidepressant also helps to ease my anxiety. However, I prefer to manage my anxiety such that I have to rely on medication or other substances as little as possible. Frankly I already feel like I take too many medications (none are optional – last time I tried to go off of one, it was a disaster and I ended up back on even more than I’d started with). And newer studies are suggesting that long-term benzodiazepine use can permanently alter your brain chemicals and possibly pose problems in the elderly (sorry – my psychiatrist told me about this and I cannot find a link right now, so I’ll post one late when I find one).

So here are my non-medication-based strategies that at the very least help me to limit my anxiety and , ideally, keep it within manageable levels (because I do find that some small level of anxiety – the part that makes me a perfectionist and makes me care about the quality of my work or the outcome of situations – can be useful in my day to day life).

  1. Meditation/breathing exercises. These can be a lifesaver. If I’m super super anxious (especially useful at night when my racing thoughts won’t let me sleep), I put in my headphones and listen to a guided medication aimed at falling and saying asleep. If it’s not bedtime, I have some non-sleep guided relaxations or else I mediate with breathing exercises that force me slow down my brain and focus on my breath. With respect tot his, I really want to read Dan Harris’ 10 % Happer to learn more about his meditation techniques and his other coping mechanisms.
  2. Coloring. You might think I’m too old for coloing books but you are wrong. My favorites include mandalas (link is to my favorite mandala book) and the Zolocolor books. They present abstract pictures (totally different kinds) and the act of coloring and choosing colors is very calming to me.  From Amazon (re Mandalas): Each intricate design will draw your eye inward, shifting your focus toward your center and allowing you to fully relax your mind as you express yourself through these beautifully complex illustrations.  I find that the Zolocolor books have the same effect, just more unique, less symmetrical pictures, which is good for when I’m trying to get my brain just to slow down (as opposed to stopping) or tying to re-focus.  Sometimes I use markers, sometimes I use colored pencils.  Depends on my mood – I often prefer the overall aesthetic effect of markers, but colored pencils can be much more relaxing, plus I enjoy the shading aspect.
  3. Walking (and maybe running). Sometimes getting outside the house is all that I need to get out of my head.  Sometimes a quick loop around our parking lot does the trick, other times I find myself going 5 or 6 miles before my mind calms down.  No real rhyme or reason I don’t think.   I often think of walking as a moving meditation. Depending on where I am and/or how I’m feeling, I may or may not wear headphones. Sometimes I need the distraction from my brain, other times, I might be trying to communicate with my brain (for lack of a better word). When I’m in better shape, I find that running can also do the same.
  4. Yoga/Deep Stretching. Yoga and stretching help me stay grounded and more calm in general. I wish that I had better habits and did these things every day, but I do them as often as I remember and always feel better. I love all kinds of yoga, but for purposes of managing my anxiety, I find that gentler or restorative classes (as opposed to the more athletic power vinyasa or Bikram) are better/more helpful. After all, I don’t want to leave class more anxious than I was I went in!
  5. Acupuncture. I’ve been getting acupuncture since Novembe. It started on a week basis for about 6 weeks and now I go for “maintenance” every 3-4 weeks. I originally started going as a potential solution to my migraines, but without question, acupuncture has done the most good for my anxiety. I don’t know why it woks, but I know that it does.
  6. Massage. When all else fails, I know that I will calm down if I go get a nice deep tissue massage. Not a relaxing swedish massage – I find those kind of annoying.  Rather, a deep tissue massage that really gets deep into my muscles and releases tension (or energy blocks) that I can’t get to myself.  I wish I could afford to do this more often. My muscles hold onto so much tension (no matter how much I may stretch and drink water and do all those other right things) and the tension can trigger my anxiety. Releasing all of those toxins/negative energy from my body can be very painful but is extremely effective.

Please note that I do not treat my anxiety with alcohol or non-prescription drugs. While a glass of wine or a vodka soda may have a temporary calming effect, I often find that the anxiety is only worse when the effects of the alcohol wear off.  Which isn’t to say that I don’t drink, I just try not to use it as a coping mechanism (cf food).   When I’ve tried everything above to no avail, am too anxious to even do any of those things, or when a panic attack hits me out of nowhere, of course I take my medication. It would be stupid not to. But I don’t want to be dependent on it and I do want to build up a strong arsenal of coping skills for times when a) medicine is impossible or impractical and b) to help pevent the anxiety in the first place. The one thing that isn’t listed up there that I know has been helpful in the past is counseling, and I hope to re-add that to my anxiety tool-kit in the next few months. Side note: it is really hard to find a therapist without a recommendation, hard to find a recommendation to begin with, and then it is really hard to find a recommendation when your insurance sucks and doesn’t accept any of the recommendations that you’ve actually been given. And don’t even get me started on scheduling issues…

How about you? Do you deal with anxiety? What kind? Is it sometimes crippling or paralyzing? What non-drug related coping mechanisms do you have?

Daily Update: 4-3-14

Little late in getting this posted.  I originally went to bed at 8 PM in an attempt to kick this migraine to the curb for good.  And I slept well for about 4 hours, but now I’m wide awake, so I figured I’d take care of unfinished business from last night.  Hopefully, once I’m done with this (and the next post, which will be far more interesting I hope), I’ll be able to fall back to sleep.

Anyway, aside from the lingering migraine, today was a good day.  I started out my day with a 2.5 mile brisk walk along one of the nearby greenways, marveling in the sights of spring.  Today’s Instagram happy picture was all about those signs of spring:

Spring is coming in Nashville!

Spring is coming in Nashville!

I walked over 15,000 steps today, which made me feel really good.  I enjoy bookending the workday with running/walking or walking/walking – it really helps with the separation of work and home (especially since I work at home).  Plus, I get more enthusiastic and motivated by my numbers as the day goes by.

I also ate pretty well today (after spilling an entire pitcher of green smoothie all over the kitchen, thus making a HUGE mess and wasting tomorrow’s lunch, but oh well).  Only real downfall came when P brought home a package of cookies that I just couldn’t resist.  But I only had 2, so I consider that a win (if it were my package, I would’ve eaten all 20 something in one sitting).

Back to try for more sleep.  Less than 5 hours until the alarm rings to get me out of bed and to the gym.

Daily Update: 4-2-14

Despite waking up with a migraine and struggling with it to some degree all day (thankfully, it wasn’t too bad or intense, it’s mostly just that I couldn’t get rid of it), today was a pretty good day.  I’ve gone over 15,000 steps.  I ran 2 miles this morning (I intended to go for longer, but my head and stomach were not cooperating).  Of course that was before I determined that the headache was a migraine – sometimes in the morning I can’t tell right away.  I don’t think that the running made it worse though.  I also went for a long walk after work – just to get away from the screens.  While I was walking I listened to an episode of Ask Me Another, NPR’s puzzle show.  I think it’s my new favorite show on NPR.  (That was my “happy” today).

I didn’t follow my meal plan precisely, but since I swapped in freshly prepared vegetables for soup out of the freezer, I think it was a good deviation.

Off to bed early to hopefully kick whatever is left of this migraine to the curb.

Daily Update: 4-1-14

It is 8:30 PM. I have walked 10,500 steps so far today. Not as hard to do when the weather is so nice out, but very good since I wasn’t able to take walks during my work breaks as usual.  Also, I followed my meal plan all day.

My “happy” for today was that I used my lunch break to make mango energy balls.  They turned out really well – definitely a recipe that I will use again (and perhaps modify) in the future.  Hopefully they’ll provide just the energy I need in the mornings before I run.

No real exercise today (a 2 mile walk before work, but that’s my rest day “work out” – if I don’t do at least that much at some point in the day, it’s almost impossible to hit 10,000 steps).  Tomorrow is a new day.

April 1, 2014: Re-Dedication (and no April Fools)

Something has to give. I cannot continue to be this unhappy. It’s not fair to anyone around me and mostly it’s not fair to me. As upset as I may be about the state of my life these days, I need to a) stop comparing it to my life from six years ago, b) stop comparing it to other people and c) make sure that I am doing what I can every day to make myself a little bit happier.

(For some reference six years ago, I was working a demanding but very good job that I thought was going to lead to a fulfilling career, I was in a relationship that I thought would maybe one day lead to marriage and children, and I was in the process of buying my first condominium. For comparison, today I am working a contract job grading standardized tests which is kind of mind numbingly boring and hopefully not indicative of the direction of my career (although I am actively working on that, so hopefully the job part is a temporary situation, but it’s been over a year since I’ve been on a real career path), I’m in a great relationship with a wonderful man, but it’s a relationship that does not seem to be moving me any closer to marriage or children and I’m living in a crappy rental apartment while I lease out my condo (in a different city) for no profit at all and am waiting to sell until the day when I can at least make back my investment and pay off my mortgage… okay really just pay off my mortgage).

 Anyway, back to the point, It can be very difficult when I read and hear about my friends’ career accomplishments, their marriages/relationship milestones and their children, but I also love hearing those things. I don’t want that it to be so difficult anymore. I don’t want to be cancelling out my genuine happiness for others with stupid jealousy. Really, I just want to be able to be happy for them and happy for me and stop comparing my life to what it was or to some outdated notion of what it could or should be because what is that they say about the best laid plans?

So today, let’s throw the plans out the window. Today is April 1, 2014. To some of you that might mean April Fools’ Day, but I really hate tricks and pranks, so I choose to ignore that. More importantly it is the first day of a brand-new month, and what better day is there to re-dedicate myself to some of the goals that I’ve perhaps been slipping up with lately and to set a few new complementary goals to keep me going, enhance my progress and make me not just healthier but happier.

 My hope is that sharing these goals and my process and progress with you every day will help me to hold myself accountable.

 So without further ado here’s the plan:

 1. Find something to be happy about every day. This is actually already been doing this for about two weeks with my Instagram with 100 happy days and you can see my Instagram post on the right sidebar. I will continue to do this because I think that it’s important and hopefully I will also remember to at least share the words here with you if I don’t always remember to cross post the pictures

 2. In the month of April I would like to walk 400,000 steps. That’s about 100,000 more steps than I would normally walk in a month, given my existing goal of approximately 10,000 steps per day. I have no idea whether that’s realistic goal, whether once added to my next one it will be very easy, or whether it may be a challenge. I have no clue but we’ll see how it goes I track my with Fitbit One and I will (hopefully) share my step count with you at the end of the day. For the past few months, I’ve been pretty good about hitting 10,000/day, as long as you don’t include the days where I didn’t wear my Fitbit and it only counts if I’m wearing my Fitbit. So, 400,000 this month. Starts today. Go. (edited because I originally wrote a goal of 50,000, which I’ll hit in less than 5 days.  math, yeah.)

 3. I would also like to get back into meal planning and really be good about sticking to it. I need to start now because it’s going to be especially important in the second half of the month when I have a job that will involve working out of the house, which means I’ll have to bring my breakfast and lunch with me to work and then prepare dinner when I get home tired (as opposed to now, when I can use my kitchen during my breaks and at lunch). This was something I got pretty good at a few months ago and I slowly let it slip as I haven’t really needed to do it in order to continue to prepare healthy meals, but I’d like to get back into the habit both for nutritional and financial reasons. I know that it really does make me eat healthier, I also know that it means I don’t run out of ingredients and I don’t waste food. So, twice a week I anticipate sharing my meal plan with you and letting you know how I have kept it up or not in any given week. And I’ll keep posting recipes (or at least giving cookbook references) as much as possible.

 4. Finally and I think that this is the part that I really need to share for the accountability is that I am going to train for a half marathon. (Expect a lot of posts soon on running. Many of them are sitting half drafted right now, and as I start to run more, I imagine I’ll finish them).   Right now the half marathon I have in mind is the rock ‘n roll in Chicago in July but that might change depending on some other things in the next couple of months, so I haven’t actually registered, but that doesn’t mean I can’t or shouldn’t start training. And if life gets in the way and I end up having to do one in August or September, that’s just fine, it would still meet my goal. I would still be prepared for it and I’d rather be prepared a little bit too early than too late. I’m hoping to share my training experiences with you; to write about my running, my cross training, my strength training and how I fuel myself to do this.

So what does all of this actually mean for the blog? Well to start, it means that I hopefully will blog at least once if not more than once every day. However… I think that a lot of those blog posts are going to be quick daily wrap-ups, listing my steps, my food successes (and failures) and my workout log. Oh, and my daily happies. I hope that you will continue to read and perhaps comment as I embark on this journey!

This week’s meal plan (through Thursday) plus more coming later.  Stay tuned!

This Too Shall Pass… Someday

So I am just having a not-very-good run of things lately. And the last thing that I want is for this blog (or any of my social media accounts) to turn into outlets for my complaints and venting. So the best alternative is to simply not write anything.  Some my issues may be related to changes in medications, and hopefully that will work itself out over the next week or two. Then there’s just the fact that it feels like life is shitting on me daily. But this too shall pass, and when it does, I’ll blog more regularly again. I promise.  In the meantime, if I cook anything good I’ll let you know, but I’ve had more than a few failures in the past couple of weeks, so I’m not even optimistic about that!

 On a more relevant note, I’m still fighting the sugar monkey on my back. I just cannot cut sugar. Based on my attempts, I’ve deduced that if I want to get rid of it, I’m going to have to a) deal with increased migraines for a few days, which I don’t have time for right now, b) deal with worse mood for more than a few days (which I don’t want to impose on the people around me right now, I feel like I’m probably unpleasant enough) and c) lock myself in my apartment (or some other location) where I cannot possibly leave and access a store in a moment of weakness. I know that the sugar addiction is largely biological and its grip on me is much stronger than I realized. I’m working on changing my mindset from one of disappointment in myself for lack of self control to one of a need to break an addiction that has nothing to do with my mental strength or lack thereof. It’s a difficult mental transition. For more reading about it, I highly recommend Dr. Mark Hyman’s 10 Day Detox (his website is here – if you don’t want to read the book, there’s a lot of great articles and videos on there).  (At some point, when I am able to successfully cut out sugar and actually do this detox properly, which, aside from the sugar, is not difficult, I’ll write about it, but I don’t feel like my current attempt is worth it given my failures with sugar)

 Anyway, I hope to be back and talk to you soon. And if you see me in the next few days/weeks, I could really use a hug.

EDIT 8:20 PM: And just because things weren’t shitty enough, I (accidentally) flushed my Fitbit down the toilet.  And cannot afford a new one.  UGH.

Motivation for your Thursday

Good morning.  I know I haven’t been around much.  There’s just a lot going on, both in real life and in my head, and it’s been difficult to post here, in part because I don’t want to be too depressing here.  Also, I’ve been busy with work. Anyway, as I was sitting up last night with another migraine, I stumbled across my Pinterest page of motivational quotes (because apparently the only time I like to use Pinterest is in the middle of the night) and thought I’d share a few of my favorites here in case maybe they spoke to you as well.  If you want to see more or otherwise follow me on Pinterest, my user name is Cassiopeia623 (link to my profile HERE).  And if you want to help me link to my Pinterest on the right side of the page, as I do with my instagram, I would appreciate the help!

dream500

nofakerunners500bathedaily bodyvmind nevergiveup OK to not be OKHope you’re having a great week. And, if things are tough.  Remember – YOU CAN DO IT!!