Can We Talk about Anxiety?

If you’re wanting a light read today…ummm..I’m not sure I can assist you ha! Not only is it kinda deep but wow, it’s a longy! This post has been brewing for awhile. Anxiety. It’s such a buzz word right now. I’m pretty open about my relationship (or shall I call it my relation-sh$%) with anxiety. In a past post I got over worrying about what you all would think and opened up about how a laid back girl like me got bowled over by overwhelming panic and anxiety. I still look back and am a bit surprised that it walked into my life. My childhood and teen years were so…well..chill. I was a kid who worried very little. As I grew older, I had very strong opinions towards those who were what I considered to be emotionally weak. My opinion sounded something like this: “Seriously, pull up your boot straps and just deal”. So…you can imagine that when feelings of panic and anxiety started visiting consuming me, I was doing a bit of a WHAT THE??

Was it genetic? Possibly. There is a history of depression in my family. Was it in my head? Trust me, I thought I was going crazy. And when I say that, I’m not just throwing out a figurative cliche. Like I really felt that I was going crazy. An awful feeling.

There were a handful of reasons why it might have been triggered: genes, a late term miscarriage that was still simmering in my mind, a hyperactive thyroid… In the end the reason mattered little. The bigger concern was how to get ahold of the debilitating state I was in and get back to living life.

This was 12 years ago and while I think there’s still a stigma or gap in understanding anxiety, I’m going to go out on a limb and say it was even more misunderstood back then. Either there weren’t many people openly talking about it or it wasn’t nearly as prevalent as it is now. Anxiety is pervasive in today’s world… not just in adults but beginning in young kids. Obviously there are different levels to it but regardless it feels like a topic worth talking about. One where hopefully we can encourage each other, begin to understand it a bit more, and share what we have each learned that has helped us. I just want to be clear when I say that anxiety does not have to be a life sentence (even though I worried that it might be at the time). Life is full of joy. Life is also not perfect…far from it…and yet, there is JOY. And that knowledge helps me when some of those ugly feelings rise within. So let that encourage you RIGHT AWAY!

By no means am I an expert (so far from one!) but I wanted to share some ways that have helped me to manage my anxiety… it no longer rules me. I no longer feel like a non participating part of the equation. Maybe it’s not you who struggles with it…maybe it’s someone in your household. And maybe you could use some help in knowing how to help.

You see, I’m not the only one in our household who has faced the challenges of anxiety. Our eldest, Lexi, has been brave enough to allow me to talk a bit about her in this post. If there was one thing that I wished my kids would not have to endure it might have been this. Anxiety isn’t super kind. It threatens ones confidence in really has to be one of the most uncomfortable feelings.  When Lexi began to experience these feelings, it was frightening for her (maybe because she had watched me?). Of course, I immediately blamed myself. But…as I said about my own walk with anxiety, what really mattered was not exactly why it had shown up in Lexi’s life, but more so how we tackled it and worked to help her learn to manage it. She has often said that she doesn’t feel like she’s totally got the managing part down pat….but Scott and I can both see just how far she’s come. Sometimes we’re our own worst critics!

Learning to recognize the triggers is something that takes time. Lexi has to come to understand that home is her safe place. For years we could never understand why she refused to go to sleepovers. It befuddled us. As she has grown older she has been able to work through many parts of this but it hasn’t been easy. It was a real trigger for her. And might I add, that this is where I encourage you to support your child/friend/spouse when they have a trigger that you just don’t understand. I remember vividly driving to pick Lexi up from a sleepover (that we had suggested forced her to go to). She was probably 13 years old at the time. It was 1:00am and I was furious. I honestly could NOT get why she couldn’t just freaking go to sleep. Safe to say, I completely screwed up on how I handled it. What she needed was for her mom to show compassion…not to give her the silent treatment for the entire 30 minute drive home.  We have really tried to learn when the right moments are to gently push her and when the moment calls for us to just love on her. It’s not always an easy balance!

In my original post, I mentioned some of these “tools” that really do help in keeping anxiety in check for me…so some are repeats, some are new ones that we’re learning as well as ones that Lexi has found to really help:

  1. Say it. Unequivocally the worst thing is to keep your anxious feelings to yourself. Share them with your spouse, a close friend, your parent. Being able to verbalize your thoughts has an immediate way of kinda spreading out the load. That is the beautiful thing about relationship..the people who love you want to support and encourage you. Trust in that and tell someone.
  2. Don’t become a hermit. I can take no credit on this one. During my roughest days, I almost felt paralyzed to leave my home. But for loving people who said, “We’re coming to get you”, I would have most likely left my home very little. Getting out was pivotal in taking the focus off of me, in re-directing my mind and thoughts and giving my mind a rest from the incessant racing thoughts.
  3. Take stock of your schedule. I’ve just said to not be a hermit. At the same time, an overwhelming calendar isn’t super helpful. Decide what the most important things are and follow through with them. And be ok to get rid of things that won’t be healthy for you. Sometimes I had a really hard time with deciphering through these and had to rely on my hubby and closest friends to help me with that. When Lexi becomes super overwhelmed, she finds it helpful to write her schedule down so she can see it on paper. Sometimes, a new set of eyes looking at the schedule can help her see things that can be re-arranged, combined or deleted all together.
  4. Sleep. Any of you who know me, know that I love my sleep and I’m fiercely overprotective of it. If it’s lacking, my defences are down. Lexi is very similar to me in this aspect. When she is feeling overwhelmed one of the first things we’ll talk about is sleep. Her schedule is incredibly full so we will physically write down on the schedule when she can sleep. Knowing that she will have time to catch up on rest is one way to manage and ease the feelings of being in over her head.
  5. Exercise. It’s no joke that exercise releases serotonin. This is one area where time has proven it’s effectiveness. Over the past 2 years I have started to take barre classes which have been an incredible fit for not only exercising the body but also for the mind. Breathing is one tool that can positively change the body…such as slowing down your heart rate, warding off a panic attack and literally lowering your stress. Find what works for you and do it…even when your mind tells you that you should instead take cover in your bed all day.
  6. Write it Out. The mind is a wondrous thing. And what you put into it can very much impact the state of it. My counsellor had me write out cards…and my sister in law also wrote me out some cue cards that I still keep in my bedside table. Promises. Encouragements. Verses. When the anxiety was at an all time high, out came the cards. I would read them again and again. If you’re the one supporting someone through a time of anxiety, I hope you can recognize the power of written word….and write them a card. Or give them a pack of cue cards where you have written out positive encouragements to them. These are incredibly valuable tools.
  7. Be aware of what you’re putting in your mind. This might seem a little similar to the one I just talked about but consider it to be a further reminder of how powerful the mind is. When I’m sensing some red flags on the anxiety scale, I become uber careful of what I’m listening to, watching, reading. Friends, watching Criminal Minds on a night where you’re feeling emotionally frayed? Maybe not the best idea. It may seem trite, but I have learnt that when I’m emotionally tired I am much more sensitive to negative, sad, dark images and it simply doesn’t help my state of mind. In a situation where there are so many things that I cannot control, this is one that I can. And so I do.
  8. Seek the help of a counsellor. Oh man. That was so hard for me…until I was in such a deep dark hole that I was desperate for help in whatever form could deliver peace to me the quickest. If I could change anything I would have sought help quicker. These sessions were like a life raft for me. I actually should have made this suggestion #1…because these sessions were the birthplace for many of these tools that I’ve talked about. Both Lexi and I are quick to recognize the value in being able to be vulnerable and raw and transparent in the company of someone who simply has more knowledge about anxiety. There really wasn’t anything that either of us could say to our counsellor that freaked her out! It was again, another safe place.
  9. Rest in Faith. I would be re-miss if I didn’t mention how much FAITH has gotten me through the rough patches. Anxiety can really do a number on your self esteem…on how you feel about yourself, about how your perceive others view you, what you feel or don’t feel you contribute to the world. I can see how very easily this turns into depression (been there) and could spiral so much further . My firm belief that I have been created by God…that He knows every intricate detail about me AND still loves me and has a purpose for me..these confidences were and continue to be an anchor for me. I am grateful that Lexi holds to these truths as well. Knowing that there is a greater purpose for the muck that you’re going through this moment is a real source of comfort.

I sure hope this is helpful to you…and if not you, then maybe someone you know. Underlying all of this is a desire for you to know that if you are feeling weighed down and stuck in anxiety, you are not alone. That it does not have permission to be in charge of you. That you can proactively take some steps to work around it and to lessen it’s hold.

Thanks so much for reading….for without you, this would be simply be a diary to myself….which wouldn’t be the worst thing either 🙂 Because by writing this, I really do come to a place of gratefulness. And deeply want to cheer you on in your walk wherever it might be. Thanks again xo Laurel