I could feel the uneasiness in my body, the shortness of breath-catching up to me, the tightness in my chest almost unbearable. But to outwards appearance, I seemed as if nothing was wrong. Proof, that you can’t always see anxiety.
I was 29 years old and 3 months into holistic nutrition school when the worst of it began. I’d managed the constant fluttering in my chest with exercise for years. Running had officially been dubbed “my fix” as it seemed to calm me in a way nothing else could. Maybe it is the repetitive motion of one foot in front of the other, the sunshine beating on my face or the smell of fresh-cut grass on a warm summer day; nonetheless, it wasn’t working no matter how long and far I ran, the pressure in my chest was building.
My go-to remedy of running was now out of the question (I tried but with the difficulty breathing it only intensified the pain). For years my anxiety had come along in my life like an inconvenient visitor who was no longer welcome but refused to go home. I've had panic attacks walking into work, avoided family gatherings like the plague because being in a social situation was too much to bear, and cancelled on friends for the same reason. But this. THIS was a whole other level.
When the tightness in my chest grew to a gnawing pain that made it incredibly difficult to breathe; my parents insisted that I go to a doctor to rule out any issues with my heart or any other possible physical explanations. It was and is completely healthy. The walk-in clinic physician said something to me that day that has stuck with me, “you are so anxious and stressed that you are producing actual physical symptoms.” It was the moment that I realized maybe I did need help.
That week, I booked my first appointment with a psychologist and began controlling my anxiety instead of letting it control me.
I’ve had 6 episodes of that extreme in the past 5 years – all times related to extreme anxiety and stress. Each time physically forcing me to take care of myself, to slow down, to rest and to ask for help. The latter probably being the most difficult for me.
I have had panic attacks in university while preparing to present my thesis and the general uneasiness of finding a job after 5 years of studying. But even full-blown panic attacks seemed like nothing compared to the pains of these episodes that seems to last the better part of a week for me.
What I’ve learned through the course of my anxiety from the extremes that I described above to a gentle uneasiness; is that I don’t have to be alone in it. Reaching out for help whether that is to a professional or an empathic friend is extremely helpful. Even now I sometimes forget that we all struggle and that I don’t need to sit in it all by myself. And it is perfectly okay to admit that I too need help sometimes.
Aside from exercise, other modalities I have found helpful are:
Meditation. This is probably the number 1 thing that has helped me control my anxious symptoms to the point where I now go long periods of time with no anxiety at all. It’s also been scientifically proven in several studies to reduce anxiety-related symptoms in as little as 20 minutes per day. Click here to download a free guided meditation.
Breathing. As anxiety is a state of hyperarousal or your fight-flight response, deep breathing can help calm your nervous system to a state of calmness where you can emotionally regulate as described by Daniel Siegal in Mindsight. Just 6 deep breaths can transform you out of anxiety and into a calmer sense of self.
Grounding with 5-4-3-2-1. This technique brings you back into your body with your physical senses. Listing 5 things you can see, 4 things you can hear, 3 things you can feel, 2 things you can smell and 1 thing you can taste.
Talk therapy. Therapy has been a gamechanger for me and I highly recommend that you book the appointment. If you need a recommendation please don’t hesitate to reach out.
Whole Foods. Focus on eating whole foods because they are important for neurotransmitters synthesizing and balancing your mood. Those foods rich in B vitamins (leafy greens), magnesium (avocado, kale, asparagus) and omega 3 fatty acids (wild-caught fish).
Probiotics. The research on the gut-brain connection is fascinating and they’ve shown that having a healthy gut microbiome can help calm our nervous system.
Supplements to ask your healthcare provider about - 5-HTP, Ashwagandha, GABA, Magnesium and Vitamin B Complex.