“My parents should be home any minute. Where are they? What if they got in a car crash? What if they got distracted and won’t be home for another hour? Maybe someone I don’t know will come to the door. Maybe, maybe, maybe…” I’m 9 years old, and not used to being left at home on my own, I panic until my parents come home.
This was the first panic attack I remember. I have had panic attacks about being home alone, driving, school and other seemingly mundane things. These are personality traits that I think have contributed to my anxiety:
- overactive imagination
- dependence on routine
The first time I had my anxiety treated, I was 20. I showed up at the naturopath with huge canker sores, looking for a solution. The conventional doctors hadn’t been able to help me in any way. So the naturopath told me it was almost definitely stress and gave me some supplements to even out my moods. It worked really well, too well. It had no side effects, other than completely levelling all my moods. I stopped taking them and was doing much better.
Over the last year I have been able to control my anxiety with:
- supplements from the naturopath
- cognitive behavioural therapy
A year ago, I went to the naturopath with the same problem, having forgotten that it was stress. They gave me different supplements, and those have zero side effects. They just take the edge off my anxiety and remind me what it’s like to not freak out about everything. Prescription medication has its place. Sometimes neurochemistry can be unbalanced enough to warrant permanent medication. Most often, it can be used to remind you what normal is, so that you can do the work required to be able to deal with your anxiety without medication.
I use cognitive behavioural therapy (or my own version of it) to be able to change my thought patterns when I am anxious. Basically I change my catastrophization to rational thoughts. First I have to recognize when I am having irrational thoughts. Once I notice one, I try to breathe deeply and slow my heart rate so that I can think more clearly. With a clearer head, I analyze my thoughts and figure out what is rational and what isn’t. I concentrate on the rational thoughts until the feeling goes away. The more I do it, the faster I get. I can also recognize patterns and stop the anxiety before it gets out of control.
Exercise is the most important factor in decreasing the number of times I get anxiety. Supplements break the habit in the short-term, CBT helps you get rid of it, but exercise helps you from getting anxious in the first place. For example, last January I went to the West Edmonton Mall water park and as a personal challenge, went on the two extremely frightening water slides that are so steep they have trap doors. Before I went on each slide I was extremely anxious, but I got through it by saying, “I can do it. I can do it.” over and over again. After each slide, I could barely walk, and had to sit in the hot tub for 10 minutes while the adrenaline ran its course through my veins. Probably took a couple months off my heart that day.
In August, we went to a theme park where I rode a roller coaster for the first time. It was at least as frightening as the water slides, but afterwards I could walk and didn’t even have to stop and recover. At that point, I had stopped taking the supplements, changed my exercise routine, but not started using CBT regularly.
I have also found that the following decrease my anxiety:
- I don’t read, watch or listen to any news
- I don’t consume caffeine
- I get enough sleep
Know that you can change your thoughts. Stay away from high stress situations. Ask for help if what you’re doing on your own isn’t working.
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