I was having a talk with someone recently about anxiety. These are the talks that truly matter. The ones where people can relate to one another and find commonalities. I believe it’s what drives us as humans. As I reflected on this conversation I started to think about all of the symptoms that anxiety brings to me at a given time. I thought I would list those and the strategies that I use in hopes that you too can relate. Maybe it will help you or someone you love.
I also received two messages over the weekend from people that have read my novel and they said that it helped them see themselves and their families within the reading. This meant a lot to me because once again, life is all about connections and being there for one another.
Here’s a few of my symptoms:
Dizziness: My dizziness can be so severe that I feel like I need to sit down and that I could fall down or run into something if I don’t. It’s extremely uncomfortable. Dizziness comes from the shallow breathing that anxiety or panic attacks often bring with it. It’s not necessarily dangerous but your body thinks it’s in danger, so blood is taken away from your head to other body parts in case you need them to flee a situation. It’s a survival response.
What can you do: Focus on mindful breathing. Over the years, I have taught myself to box breathe: Breath in through your nose deeply for a four to eight count (build to this), hold your breath for a one count, and then breathe out of your nose for a four to eight count, and repeat until you feel yourself calming. Try this when you are not anxious for practice.
Stomach Problems: For me, anxiety causes nausea. It’s extremely uncomfortable and can make you sick to your stomach and take away your appetite, which then compounds the problem. When stressed, blood also can flood your stomach and then causes issues. It’s all about your body feeling danger and trying to protect itself.
What can you do: Go back to box breathing, especially a half hour before your meals to help release tension in your stomach muscles. A healthy diet full of fruits and vegetables helps too, and a lot of herbal tea. I have also exercised and focused on cardio and core work and it helps relieve tension in your abs.
Heart Palpitations: This can feel like your heart is skipping a beat. You feel as if your heart is coming through your throat or out of your chest. It can make you feel like you are having a heart attack, which really sucks if you find yourself miles into the woods when it’s happening. Though, dying in the woods wouldn’t be the worst death. Again, when your mind and body feel it’s in danger, it sends more and more blood around the heart for protection. However, it creates heart palpitations. I’ve ended up in the emergency room a few times from this one. Be mindful!
What can you do: Hold ice or place your hands under very cold water. It’s a trick that special forces and deep sea divers use to slow their heart rates. It works and doesn’t take that long. An ice bath or extremely cold shower works too. It just takes getting used to and it’s awesome for inflammation.
Muscle Twitches: I sometimes get muscle twitches in my legs, chest, arms, hands, and back. I guess everywhere. They are annoying and make you feel like something is seriously wrong with you. When your body is tense from anxiety, muscle twitches can occur.
What can you do: I like to squeeze my hands tight, hold for a few seconds, and then release. It helps relieve tension and you can do it anywhere. I also hang from a bar as long as I can, which helps stretch your entire upper body. Yoga and exercise can be amazing for muscle twitches because it relieves tension. Of course, doing deep breathing helps as well.
Brain Fog: This is when my head feels full, like there’s a balloon filling it up, pushing against my brain. I can start to forget things, become extremely tired and fatigued, and disoriented. This one is difficult because we are asked to function in our jobs, school, with our families, but it’s difficult to be fully present when your brain feels like it’s dark and full of cotton.
What can you do: Sleep is crucial for brain fog. Unfortunately, anxiety and depression likes to take sleep away. I find that taking twenty minute naps can help. I’ve gone out to my truck during lunch to close my eyes for twenty minutes just so I can function for the rest of the day. I have also pulled off the road when driving to take a quick nap. Another thing that helps is to take an ice cold shower and exercise. Even a twenty minute spin or quick workout can lift brain fog.
Chest Pain and Shortness of Breath: My chest can hurt, especially the left side, making it feel like I’m having a heart attack, which then increases the anxiety. It’s a cycle that is unrelenting. When this happens, I usually have shortness of breath too. I feel like I cannot take a full breath and am struggling to breathe. This is all due to tight chest muscles from tension.
What can you do: Go back to deep breathing. Learn to breathe from your belly, not your chest. Again, yoga, exercise, and hiking is your go to’s for these symptoms. This is also a good time to take a steaming hot shower and just breathe deeply for several minutes. Meditation can be done walking, standing, sitting, and just about anywhere and anytime.
Tingling and numbness: I hate all the symptoms of anxiety, but this is often my worse one. I have had the entire right side of my face and body tingle and become numb. Talk about scary. I have thought I was having a stroke when these symptoms hit me. My hands often tingle when I am having anxiety, which perpetuates to thinking there are more serious issues, and increases your anxiety. Tight muscles from tension are most likely the culprit again.
What can you do: Again, exercise, belly breath, ice baths, yoga, meditate, walk in nature, and possibly take some magnesium supplements. Focus your attention on writing, reading, and other activities to take your mind off it. This is easier said than done because tingling and numbness in your body is annoying and downright scary. However, it will go away.
A few other strategies, which I believe are more long term solutions are:
- Accepting your anxiety. Acceptance is key. Don’t fight it. When you learn about your symptoms and what may be causing them, anxiety can become less frightening. Study yourself, your interactions, day to day happenings, and see if there are patterns. Are you fulfilled with your life?
- Impermanence. I first learned about the concept of impermanence through Thich Nhat Hahn. Nothing is permanent, including our anxiety and our life, so live in the moment.
- Limit stress. Really reflect and ask yourself are you living the life you want. If not, change it. Not feeling fulfilled can lead to a lot of stress. Are you coming home exhausted daily? Angry? Are you becoming short and bitter toward the people you love? It might be time to reassess your life and how you are spending it. Life is just too short not to be content.
- Be mindful of your circle of control. Ask yourself if the situation that is causing you stress or an interaction you had with someone, is really in your sphere of control.
- Toxic people. Stay away!!!!!!!!! The people that bring you down and want you to swirl around in their negative emotions with them, keep away. Protect yourself from them. You may not be able to completely remove yourself because you work with them or they are in your family, but you can control how you respond to them. Remove yourself emotionally and realize that their negativity is about them, not you.
- Find a healthy routine. Exercise, read, write, make love, hold the person you love, and place yourself around positive people that bring your energy up, not down. Have deep conversations with someone about life and then laugh loud with those same people.
Working on your anxiety and depression takes time, patience, and discipline. There are no easy fixes, especially for a long term approach. If you have anxiety or depression, you are not weak! Quite the opposite. To go through all of the symptoms that I mentioned above, and then be able to pick yourself up and function through this life, takes a great deal of strength. Never let anyone underestimate you, especially yourself. Stay away from the naysayers. I cannot say this enough. If people are bringing you into their negative space, run like hell, at least emotionally. Be kind, smile, and then simply remove yourself from their space. After all, this is your life to live. Enjoy the hell out of it!
The journey is the destination.
Be well and take care of yourself and one another.