Hi Love Vitamins 🙂
Today I wanted to talk to you about my recent experiences with general anxiety, and what I’ve found has helped me the most.
I have always been a worrier if I have had something to worry about (aka acne), but I’ve never really considered myself to be someone with just general anxiety.
However, after a challenging 2015 which included going through a period of deep loneliness as well as my scary-intense Ayahuasca experience, I wound up with this lingering anxiety that just wouldn’t go away.
The Ol’ “What Ifs”
The content of my anxiety is at a basic level just worries.. worries about things that could happen, but haven’t.
The ol’ “what ifs”.
The pointless fears that almost always amount to nothing, but .. but… but WHAT IF THEY ACTUALLY HAPPENED??
Some people like to worry about more down to earth things like…..what if I fart while public speaking?
I personally like to worry these days about the most morbid of things I can think of. Cancer. Earthquakes. Death. Crippling disability.
I could think about these things during the day and it would hardly bother me, but for some reason, every night like clockwork a scary thought of the day would flash into my head and trigger a very deep dark terrifying feeling, like a claustrophobic trapped-and-you-can’t-get-out kind of feeling.
Highly, highly unpleasant.
In fact a few nights it got so bad that I had full on panic attacks, which is a first for me.
If you’ve ever had a panic attack, you’ll know it’s an awful experience. Whooshes of the most terrifying adrenalin that you make you literally nauseous, sweating, and panting with fear.
As soon as you have the first one, you know for sure it’s something you never want to have again.
So then you tend to seek out ways that you think will stop you from experiencing that level of anxiety again.
For example, if you start to feel anxiety or a panic attack come on, a lot of people will do anything they can to leave the situation they’re in to get away from the panic.
Then you start to just completely avoid situations where you think you’ll start panicking and won’t have an escape route.
And you start little rituals that you think will save you from the anxiety. And then you get a bit addicted to them.
How I Played Out the Above Scenarios with my Anxiety
For me, if the anxiety was starting to get too much to bear, I would get out of bed and go watch youtube videos in order to get away from the feelings.
As for the full on panic attacks, the most intense ones happened when I was camping. I think it reminded me of the Ayahuasca, and I felt claustrophobic in the tent.
So I started to toy with the idea of maybe ..well…. just…. maybe I’ll just never go camping again. (I love camping, by the way, so it felt disappointing to me that I was even considering this).
I also started using essential oils. There are lots that are great for anxiety, so I started using them at bedtime as an anxiety precaution. But then of course, if I didn’t have them, I would feel insecure and worried.
Anyway… close to a year on from the onset of the anxiety, it was not going away. It was as strong as ever.
I had hoped and assumed that as time went on and the events of 2015 faded into the past, so would the anxiety, but it was not budging and I started to get frustrated and just didn’t know what to do.
What Helped Me the Most Was Understanding Phobias
What actually ended up helping me the most was this psychologist guy’s free and totally unassuming website, The Anxiety Coach. And because I found his website so helpful, I also read his book The Worry Trick.
Basically, his information on panic attacks and explaining the real-deal behind phobias really helped me to understand what was going on with me.
Let’s start with phobias…
I have to admit – I was always a little skeptical of people with serious phobias of seemingly benign things. Like.. I don’t know. Spiders.
I didn’t get it. Like I know spiders are kinda creepy, but SURELY they know this little thing is really not worthy of that level of fear?
The thing is, people with phobias do know that. They know it’s silly. But they can’t help it.
Well let’s pretend you have a phobia of dogs, for example.
The phobia began for you one day when you had a bad run in with one. Maybe a dog bit you once.
Next time you see a dog, you are understandably a bit scared after your recent dog bite, so you do what you can to avoid the dog. The next time, well… same thing. And it goes on.
Eventually this phobia is kind of ruining your life. It makes you seem like a total weirdo when you shriek in terror at your neighbour’s chihuahua or avoid making plans with your friend in case she happens to bring along her big goofy golden retriever.
You know it’s dumb, but you just can’t help it!!
So what’s going on?
Your Nervous System is More Powerful Than Your Mind
Well, the thing is, the fear gets stored in your body’s unconscious nervous system, which is more powerful than your mind. This is the system that helps you respond to actually dangerous situations with the fight or flight response.
Basically, every time you feel scared of a dog, and you remove yourself from the situation (or try to), or consciously make decisions to avoid situations with dogs, you are telling your unconscious nervous system that dogs are a dangerous thing that are worth being afraid of.
The more you do this, the more you’re training yourself to be afraid.
And no matter how many times you berate yourself for it and try to talk yourself out of being afraid, you just can’t. Because there’s no way to “think” the fear out of your nervous system.
And so what is the answer to this situation?
Facing your fears.
The only way to overcome it is to go and spend time with dogs. Yes, it’s going to be terrifying. Yes you will want to run away.
But the key is that you don’t. You have to go sit with a dog, and sit there until the fear passes. If you stay with the fear and don’t run or fight, then your nervous system starts to learn that this isn’t something to get worked up about.
And then you have to do it again and again, until you’ve retrained your nervous system completely. And sooner or later, you won’t feel scared of dogs anymore.
Anxiety and Panic Attacks are Just Fear of Fear
So if you think about it this way … trying to avoid anxiety and panic attacks are actually the things that keep them alive.
If you start having bad anxiety, or a full on panic attack… well, it’s so unpleasant, that you start to get REALLY scared of having those feelings again. I know that’s what happened for me.
The thing is, the feeling of fear or anxiety or worry or panic is actually benign. All it is is literally your brain just playing tricks on you.
It’s unpleasant, but it can’t kill you. It can’t bite you. It can’t cause an earthquake or break your back or cause you to fart while giving a presentation.
But the more you do to avoid it …. removing yourself from places it happens, avoiding places you think it will happen, using ritual items or actions to ward it off…. the more you create it.
And if you keep up with this behaviour, it only spirals into a situation where you’ve built this box around yourself. There’s so much anxiety about where you can go, what you can do, and anxiety if you don’t have your “safe” items.
Some people with panic disorders get to the point where they won’t even leave their houses anymore! The fear rules them.
I didn’t want to end up like that.
So What Do You Do?
So, much like the dog example, the answer is to NOT avoid places or activities that you think will cause or trigger anxiety.
And when the anxiety or panic does hit, the answer is to just stay where you are and ride it out.
Don’t get out of bed and watch youtube. Go camping. Use essential oils because they smell pleasant and you like them, but don’t take them with you everywhere you go out of fear.
Just breathe, and try to bring yourself back to the present moment. If you are starting to panic or get anxious while you are in the middle of an activity or conversation, fully immerse yourself in what’s going on right now with hyper-focused concentration.
If you’re in bed and there isn’t really anything else to focus on, then keep reading onto the next section and use the “anxiety humour” trick.
Whatever you do, you gotta stick it out where you are until it passes.
Use “Anxiety Humour”
This might seem really weird but…. when anxiety hits… make fun of yourself a little!
This is the second most helpful tip that Anxiety Coach guy offered, for me anyway. Lighten the mood with humour.
I’m not saying be mean to yourself… but I’m talking about what we were saying before. About how at a fundamental level, we kind of know that our “what if” worries and phobias are a little bit exaggerated and silly.
Just like that lady shrieking at the chihuahua know it’s silly, even though she can’t help it.
So use that to your advantage.
Anxiety Coach suggests that you take the content of your worries and make them into a silly, satirical song that you can sing to yourself when anxiety kicks in.
“Then I farted on stage, doo da doo da. Everyone laughed at me and I turned beat red doo da doo da”
Or this sung to a silly tune:
“I am an anxious ind-i-vid-ua-al, I worry all day every day! Cancer, earthquakes, terrible acc-i-dents, my mind will get me before they get me!”
It’s hard to take your worries seriously when you do this.
If I’m feeling too lazy to come up with an anxiety original, I just lighten the mood by concentrating on singing funny songs to myself that I already know. Flight of the Conchords is my favourite.
This lifts my tune of thinking out of the deep dark crevasse until I can get on with sleeping or whatever else I was doing. It works!
These two things – stopping my avoidance behaviours, and lightening the mood with humour – my generalized anxiety has gotten significantly better.
It’s not like I never worry anymore, but it doesn’t happen as often and I don’t feel as concerned or trapped by it like I had been. I can see now that if I had continued on the way I was, I was on the path to a full on panic disorder.
So anyway – I wanted to share that with you, because I am sure that many of you also struggle with worry and anxiety, and I personally found the Anxiety Coach‘s information so helpful and real-world useful.
Do you struggle with general anxiety and worries? What’s helped you?