Hi, I’m Chelsie and I’m a hypochondriac. Not just the kind that is afraid of illness but the kind who’s stomach drops at the mere mention of a child’s stomach hurting. The kind that becomes completely non-functional after weeks of a persistent headache because my anxiety has created a migraine, my migraine gives me anxiety and so the circle continues. Of course I know and understand that my anxiety is giving me “unexplained” symptoms but in the back of my mind I have a horrifying fear that something is horribly wrong. Suddenly I’m not sleeping, I have lost my appetite, I don’t want to leave my house but I also don’t want to be in it. I have headaches, nausea, I clench my jaw and my fists, and am an emotional wreck and it can all be traced back to my anxiety. Anxiety is hard to talk about because to those who haven’t truly felt it, it comes across as attention seeking or over exaggerated. Everyone has felt some measure of anxiety in their lives and for those who are on the less severe end, it’s easy to assume that someone with severe anxiety just wants attention. This is why anxiety can silently steal who you are and leave you feeling like a shell because talking about it can feel crazy.
I’ve had anxiety for as long as I can remember. I remember as a child fearing that someday my mom would turn 50, to my small mind that was old and soooo close to death. I would sit in my room and panic as I counted the years until her 50th birthday, I didn’t want to lose my mom. Turns out, she turned 50 and is nice and healthy. It seems silly looking back at all of the time that I spent in terror but that’s what anxiety does, it controls your feelings even when you’re consciously aware that those feelings may be irrational. I needed relief, I couldn’t feel this way anymore, I was 29 and I had had enough. I was exhausted and I felt that I had tried it all. I truly felt trapped in my mind because my options for treating my anxiety seemed as though they were diminishing. It was only a matter of time before there was nothing else that would offer a solution, and that terrified me. So I researched and I did A LOT OF THINGS, in conjunction with each other to finally find SOME peace. I am still anxious. I still find myself clenching my face or worrying about my children’s unexplained pain but I’m getting stronger and that’s what matters. Overcoming your struggles is a process. It takes every day effort and time dedicated to becoming stronger than your mental health. Here’s what I did.
1. Lean into your anxiety
Anxiety is uncomfortable and the same can be said for depression and other mental disorders. When I feel anxious I tend to lean away from those feelings and instead try to distract myself from them. When I first started trying to let myself feel my feelings and then try to establish where those feelings were coming from I was physically sick because it was just so overwhelming. The more that I forced myself to confront my feelings the more comfortable I became with them which maybe sounds like it could be unhealthy but think of it this way. Your brain is a building. I large building with hundreds of rooms. Each room represents a feeling or experience. Some rooms you want to live in, the rooms that provide happiness, joy, laughter and fond memories. Some, you want to lock and throw away the key. Now imagine being forced into the rooms you’ve been trying to avoid. The feelings that come are ones of panic, stress, anxiety and the flight aspect of fight or flight kicks in and you run, only to be eventually forced back into that room. Now, if you instead slowly introduce yourself to that room you will start to feel more comfortable with the space. Imagine that you at first just stand outside it’s door, the feelings are strong enough that you can just feel them by being close. Once you’ve had enough of that feeling you walk away only to return VOLUNTARILY later. Later, you open the door, but only for a moment and then shut it to return another time. Next, you enter the room. Next you sit on the couch. Next you explore the space and so on until this room no longer triggers the flight option but instead causes manageable discomfort. What you’ve then done is allowed yourself the OPTION of visiting this space and have taught yourself how to navigate your feelings and know when you’ve had enough and need to leave. So it is with anxiety. If you allow yourself to slowly start to feel those feelings and explore where they are coming from and why, you will find that you slowly start to develop a manageable discomfort that you are better able to control and ultimately understand.
This is something that everyone says. If you’ve, like me, googled natural ways to relieve anxiety, exercise will ALWAYS be on that list. Well, if you are also like me, you do exercise, and thus far it hasn’t really yielded the results that you would like. So what did I change? I worked, HARD. I went to the gym, I sweat, I pushed, I told myself that I wasn’t going to stop even when I felt like my heart was going to beat out of my chest. I told myself I was strong over and over again. I created a playlist that pushed me past where I was used to going and I left everything that I had on that floor. It wasn’t my workout where I went, pushed myself a little bit and took long breaks in between. It was my workout where I left and knew that I had nothing else to give but somehow wondered if I could find more to give next time. THAT kind of exercise is what fights anxiety and that is what you need. So push, fight, work, put in the effort that allows you to say, I could not possibly have done more. Leave your workouts with heavy limbs and a lighter mind.
3. Find time for extra Z’s and don’t feel one bit bad about it
My boys are both in school now and there is a two hour window, 3 days a week that in the middle of the day it’s just me and the girls. That two hour window is their nap time. My natural thought was “this is my time to be productive.” I was tired. My house was quiet. I wanted to sleep but I felt guilty leaving my house in it’s current state so that I could rest. How would I tell my husband that he still didn’t have clean pants because I was napping? WELP, I decided that I didn’t care anymore and I was napping too. Now, the 3 days a week that I have a quiet 2 hour window, I put the girls down and I PASS OUT! I wake up, get the boys from school and you know what, I’m WAY more productive. Actually, my husband came home after my first week of naps and said “you’ve been so productive this week! The house looks amazing!” So there’s that. TAKE THE NAP! It’s been such a huge blessing for me to not feel torn between a clean kitchen and some much needed sleep AND the kitchen is cleaner than it’s been in months because I actually have the energy to clean it. Win/win. I’m also more patient, kinder and more fun because I’m not just counting down until bedtime. If naps aren’t an option, let the laundry wait and opt to go to bed just a little bit earlier.
4. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
I’ve struggled over the years to find a therapist that I like. One that does more than sit there and say things like “sure,” “I understand,” “I can see why you would feel that way,” “uh huh,” and more. I generally leave therapy feeling better but days later am back in a slump. So do your research, find a therapist that works WITH you and teaches you the skills necessary to manage outside of the office. One thing that really changed me was a workbook that I purchased about Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. CBT is all about re-wiring your brain to see the things that trigger your anxiety or depression differently and ultimately manage those thoughts in a healthier way. The workbook is what first encouraged me to lean INTO my anxiety but over time has taught me how to more appropriately manage those feelings. It has daily exercises over a 7 week period of time that really helps you re-wire those thoughts that get you down. You can also look into therapists in your area that specialize in CBT.
This too is a frequently mentioned idea on any google suggested list of how to manage anxiety. I again have felt very annoyed by this because I’M BREATHING and I still feel like my skin is crawling, so explain that. However, if it’s on all of the lists then it must be proven to be helpful to enough people that it’s worth continually mentioning. SO, I studied. I went to yoga classes, meditation classes and read all about breathing to calm your body, turns out it works. When you really put in the effort to learn how to control your bodies breathing it’s amazing what else you can control. Suddenly I’m controlling the thoughts that I’ve always felt controlled me and it all starts with having control over one thing, your breath. So, don’t just take deep breaths and say you tried it. Research what kinds of breathing will offer you a dose of calm. Go to classes that teach you about meditation and learning to control your thought patterns so that you can stop unhealthy thought processes before they spiral. Do the work to gain control of your own thoughts and feelings instead of just “breathing.”
6. Do more of what makes you happy
After I had kids I felt like all of the things that I had once loved were gone. I stopped exercising, I didn’t get to take the time I would have liked to read. My favorite TV shows were replaced by every talking animal show on the planet and my clean spaces of serenity were now so cluttered that I never even knew where to begin repairing them. I stopped blogging, crafting, going out for a nice dinner. Then, after about a year of feeling that I had sold my soul to have children I decided I needed to rediscover CHELSIE, not just mom. I made what I call “My Happy List” and it’s exactly what it sounds like. It’s a list of things that make me happy and it ranges from my children, to chicken wings, to cookies and cream candy bars to having my windows open when it’s raining. It’s all of the things that really bring my soul joy and I make sure that I do something on that list as often as I can if not every day. I exercise. I take a nap. I eat brownies. I watch a true crime documentary. I read for at least 10 minutes before bed. Something for ME. Do those things, it will bring you some peace to take time to enjoy the things you love, I promise.
7. See a doctor
Medication is taboo. Everyone would rather find natural ways to relieve their discomfort and mental disorders, I know I would. If I could simply find happiness in natural remedies I would be 100% sold but let me tell you my experience. For years I didn’t want medication because I wanted to fix it my dang self. I was strong, competent and powerful and I was going to correct my thoughts “naturally.” For years I struggled to find peace in my life. I’ve often said that I could have been in Disneyland, riding a unicorn with a lifetime supply of brownies and Nikes and I still would have felt unsettled. I went to sleep at night and I laid there in the silence, dreading my own thoughts and where they would take me and I would put myself down when I couldn’t just get them to do what I wanted them to. After years I saw I doctor again and I was extremely honest this time. When they asked me how bad it was I didn’t say “Oh it’s not that bad I just am feeling uncomfortable.” Nope, it was bad and I told her that. I told her that I was nervous that nothing would help. I explained that the weeks that it would take for medication to kick in felt unbearable. I told her I felt hopeless. Friends, that sweet doctor looked me in the face and said “you’re going to be fine. We are going to be fine. This is going to get better. Do you promise that you’ll stick this out with me?” I promised, and she was right. For the first time in years, I laid in the quiet of my house, listening to the quiet breath of my family as they slept and I didn’t want to close my eyes. Not because I was afraid or anxious but because I was so happy and I just wanted to feel it. I just wanted to be in that moment, the one where I was finally free to be me. In that moment, I was strong, competent and powerful and I was proud of myself for recognizing that I needed help. I would take medication every day for the rest of my life if it meant that I got to be this person. So, if you’re feeling this way, find a doctor that you can trust, shop around until you find someone that will look you in the face and promise that they’re going to help you because YOU MATTER. Then establish a plan that you can both more forward with.
I love you. Not because I know you but because if you’re reading this I understand you. I have been where you are and will likely be there again someday as anxiety is a rollercoaster that you only become less afraid of riding. Do these things, not separately, not one at a time but together. Overload your life with things that will help you climb out of the hole that you feel you’re in. Find someone that you can confide in that won’t make you feel as though your feelings are invalid or exaggerated and should be dismissed. Surround yourself with anxiety fighting tools and really dive into why you feel the way you do. Research how to really act on the basics that we’ve all read about “breathe, exercise, sleep, healthy eating.” Anxiety does not define you and I was wrong, there are solutions. I’m not slowly checking them off of my list to someday find that I’ve run out of options. You are strong. You are powerful. You will not quit. Not today. Not ever.