Though it’s debatable whether Bridget Jones has anxiety or just “appallingly bad” public speaking skills, I have certainly experienced moments when words were expected from my mouth and nothing came out. Or worse yet, I would become so overwhelmed in social situations that it was hard to breathe.
Have you experienced the following?
On a daily basis I feel like I’m doing
when I’m really doing
When I was a kid a dear family member of mine struggled with agoraphobia (an anxiety disorder in which you fear and often avoid places or situations that might cause you to feel trapped, helpless or embarrassed). I was encouraged to stay home when I felt overwhelmed and didn’t want to go to school (which was often). But now, years later, I don’t want to let anxiety control me any more, so I’ve resorted to being creative…
DISCLAIMER: Medication and counseling can be wonderful tools to help anxiety sufferers manage life. For some people these are the only methods that they have found effective. For me, counseling and a diet change were the essential first steps to address anxiety. I honor that we are all different and require different things.
What I used to do
[A day-in-the-life example] One day as a college student I was assigned to write a 10-page paper. Every time I thought about writing my energy would flare up and I couldn’t calm down or focus, so I’d eat a pint of Ben and Jerry’s Phish Food ice cream (Mmm-mmm). My nerves would seem to calm down initially, but a few paragraphs later I’d start to doubt myself or abilities, the anxiety would flare up and I’d need another hit of sugar to feel calm again. This time I’d bake a family-size apple cobbler, eat 3/4 of the entire pan and sit back down moaning – now prepared to work in my “food coma”.
Eventually this led to an emergency room visit and later the diagnosis (by some amazing naturopathic doctors at Bastyr University) of hyperinsulinemia, food allergies and a compulsive overeating disorder. Looking back, I knew I always overate to feel better, but that’s what we did in my family – and in our whole culture for that matter. I wasn’t starving myself. I wasn’t throwing up. I didn’t think I had an eating disorder. I just couldn’t stop eating! To further complicate things, I was in the normal weight range, so no one assumed anything was wrong.
I spent my days more excited about eating than I was about anything else: I was living to eat, instead of eating to live. Thanks to Bastyr University, I went on a cleanse with some nasty (though miraculous) Chinese herbs, a crazy healthy diet, and began counseling for an eating disorder.
The Tip that Saved My Life
In my first session I was told that overeating was “symbolic of a need for affection”. My body just wanted to feel better. It wanted comfort because the rest of the world felt so overwhelming that I couldn’t find comfort within myself. I soon began to attend Overeater’s Anonymous (yes, they thankfully have those) and found out that I wasn’t alone. Looking around at how many people I know eat when they’re not hungry, I wonder how many other people struggle with managing life.
There is no need to feel bad about experiencing mental health issues. Every year 1 in 4 people in the United States will experience some kind of diagnosable mental health disorder.
The doctors also had me brainstorm healthy alternatives to eating that could bring me comfort without the calories: stretching to soothing music, leaving my apartment immediately to go on a walk instead of into the kitchen, no snacks next to my bed (bummer), deep breathing, visualizations, etc. These have all become my staples (much better than a whole loaf of white bread) and I can proudly say that today I no longer live to eat. 🙂
What I’m working on
I now know and avoid all of my food allergies: gluten, dairy, eggs and beans. If I eat them on accident my body feels terribly anxious and depressed – isn’t that amazing? I avoid refined sugar and processed foods. I exercise 3-5 times per week. I lost some weight I didn’t need and I feel so much better, but I still experience loads of anxiety at times and I don’t wish to start on prescription medication. So what’s a girl to do?
What if we re-named anxiety as “an abundance of energy”?
Brainstorming. For some reason, when I think to myself, “Oh my God, I’m so anxious,” I feel like sitting down and quitting. My subconscious says to me, “I can’t do this.” But if I think, “Wow. Check out how much energy I have! I have an abundance of energy and I know just what to do with it,” all of a sudden, the energy feels totally different to my body and I start looking for solutions rather than presuming I can’t. Fantastic TED talk on how stress can be good for you.
I think there are many alternative methods that can contribute to living peacefully with “an abundance of energy”:
- Accepting and letting go of the energy, instead of trying to fight it
- Understanding that you may be a highly sensitive person
- Herbal supplements
- Letting go of perfectionism
- Avoiding food allergens and chemicals (like perfume or hair spray)
- Letting go of the ego
- Practicing positive thinking
- Learning to be resilient, to have faith in yourself
“There are a million things one might do with a block of wood, but Mahoney, what do you think might happen if someone just once believed in it?” Mr. Magorium, Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium
What do you think? If you have anxiety, what helps you? I’d love to hear your thoughts.
Thanks for reading!