I’ve had issues with falling asleep since middle school. Usually, it takes me over an hour to actually fall asleep at night. Little did I know this was one of the physical symptoms associated with anxiety. I was never officially diagnosed with having anxiety growing up, but I was always under the impression that I had some form of anxiety. After I had a severe panic attack a few years ago, I went to a therapist to discuss my anxiety, where I was formally diagnosed with General Anxiety Disorder (GAD). While having anxiety during certain situations is considered normal [and healthy], being in a constant state of anxiety is not healthy.
Simply put, GAD means I have anxiety or symptoms related to anxiety, all the time. It’s always been a challenge for me to quiet my mind, which I didn’t think was a sign of anxiety until a previous therapist told me. COVID-19 has made it more of a challenge to manage my anxiety. Even if I’m not in a constant state of worrying [mentally], I didn’t know my body could show signs of anxiety that would affect me in a negative way. As I got older, the physical symptoms were beginning to overweigh the mental symptoms of anxiety. Some of these symptoms include:
Tension and aches
Being easily startled/nervous
Headaches or migraines
Nausea, diarrhea and irritable bowel syndrome
For me, the symptoms above I experience the most because of my anxiety are trouble sleeping, tension and aches, headaches/migraines (this is also caused by my allergies), fatigue, and [less frequently] irritability. I have concerns about future things like paying bills, what I’m doing socially, and if I’m being perceived by people the way I want to be perceived. I’ve had bad experiences with imposter syndrome that have made me question my career and affected my sanity.
Luckily, anxiety can be managed with certain lifestyle changes and techniques. I learned how to be better about not overbooking my schedule [when I can control it], setting better boundaries for working outside of my normal business hours, and writing down items I need to remember rather than using my phone. Here are some other techniques that I use:
I started seeing a new therapist back in April. It’s great being able to talk out your problems or concerns with someone that doesn’t have an immediate connection/opinion about you or the problem. I previously went to therapy back in 2017 when my anxiety was at an all-time high. My therapist has taught me strategies for working out problems without being as anxious, as well as methods for me to try to help me fall asleep at night. I did stop therapy recently, but only because my therapist cannot care for patients outside of the state of Illinois, so when I move to Wisconsin in a few weeks I will start looking for a new therapist.
I have a daily medication I take to manage my anxiety. If I’m having a bad panic attack or having trouble sleeping due to my anxiety, I have medication for that too. There’s no shame in needing a little help medically to manage your anxiety. When I first started taking anti-anxiety meds it took a few days for my body to handle the medication and it felt like I was in a constant, heightened state of anxiety. I wish someone had told me that this could happen when introducing my body to anti-anxiety medication. After a few days, my body adjusted to the medication and it helped my anxiety overall. There are still some bad days with my anxiety, but by taking daily medication I don’t have to worry about my anxiety consuming my life every waking moment.
Yoga is one of my favorites. I always feel better after doing a few simple yoga stretches. It’s a great way to get exercise and help recenter yourself mentally. Initially, I was self-conscious about taking yoga in front of people, because I wasn’t familiar with the posts and I wasn’t that flexible. After some time, I realized that everyone is at a different level with their yoga practice and they won’t judge you. My subscription box, FabFitFun, offers fitness videos that I use for my yoga practice. Practicing yoga has also enabled me to be more flexible, both mentally and physically; after a month of practicing yoga, I was able to touch my toes!
I tend to carry my stress in my neck and shoulders. Before COVID, I would get a massage every other month to help relieve tension and stress. A massage is a form of self-care that I like to pamper myself and help relieve tension. It took a little while to feel comfortable with someone touching me that I didn’t know, but now I’m used to it. If you’re not a fan of people touching you, then don’t force yourself to get a massage.
I primarily go to a chiropractor to help with my allergies and posture. It also helps my anxiety because they can help relieve some of the tension on a regular basis rather than waiting to get a massage. Getting an adjustment by a chiropractor can also encourage relaxation since your body needs to be relaxed in order for the chiropractor to adjust it properly.
One of the first things my therapist told me when I was diagnosed with anxiety was to watch my caffeine take. I don’t drink pop, however, I love drinking coffee in the morning. Caffeine can cause or enhance anxious symptoms. When my anxiety was really bad for a period of time, I stopped drinking coffee and switched to black tea in the morning. That way, I could still get a little bit of caffeine without feeling the same side effects as I did while drinking coffee. I’m able to drink coffee again, but I watch what amount of caffeine in other items like tea and chocolate I intake throughout the day to make sure I don’t have too much caffeine. When I order from Starbucks, I make sure my drink does not have an excess amount of espresso [to balance out how much sugar can be in their crafted drinks], so I will normally order a hazelnut coffee or chai tea latte. And don’t forget to drink water; caffeine can be dehydrating!
Overall, what ended up helping me was knowing that what I was experiencing was anxiety and could be addressed. I know now that if I’m feeling anxious it’s okay to tell someone, and if I need to talk it out with them or give myself some space. I’m not afraid to talk about my anxiety in public in hopes that others that might be going through something similar know that they’re not alone.