A friend of mine who struggles with anxiety – and knows I do as well – recently asked if I had tried acupuncture as a way of curtailing the worries. Her question made me contemplate what practical behaviors have brought a more regulated sense of calm to my life this past year. The spikes and intensity of my anxiety have thankfully diminished. Not entirely, but I like the trajectory. I do still have some sort of kink in my neck/ear along with occasional sleep troubles, and I’m still prone to chronic fretting. But my anxiety acreage has downsized. Substantially.
If anxiety – that vague, lingering sense that a possible threat is just around the bend (fear is distinguished more as a response to a known threat) – happens to be in the driver’s seat more than you’d prefer, know this: it is trying to protect you from potential harm. But for a variety of reasons, anxiety can easily morph from being a healthy prompt to listen to our gut to a hindrance that flips our gut inside out. And that’s where it gets messy (sometimes literally…but that might be TMI for the blog). Here are actions I’ve taken that I feel have contributed to lessening my anxiety:
1) Seeking professional help from doctors and a therapist. When things were super nasty, I went to therapy once a week for several months. I also kept my doctors fully apprised of my mental state (anxious, sleep-deprived, despairing, what-have-you). You must LIKE your doctors and therapists by the way, or it’ll only ratchet up the jitters.
2) Supplementing my diet with certain minerals/vitamins, specifically magnesium, B12, iron and vitamin D. There are links between all of these and anxiety/insomnia. Ask your health practitioner to have your vitamin and mineral levels tested.
3) Participating in spirit-filling activities. For me, that includes writing, reading, being outside, having a weekend retreat by my lonesome now and then, the occasional massage, listening to thoughtful podcasts, chilling/geeking out to NPR’s Hearts in Space.
4) Practicing yoga and breathing deeply. Read the research. Alllll the research. It helps.
5) Moving my body. Walking, yoga, and dancing like a white girl.
6) Making use of the public school system. While homeschooling my kids alleviated certain anxieties for me, it produced others. It’s a trade-off. But the time I’ve had to recover this past year is due, in large part, to teachers who care for my kids five days a week.
7) Spending time outdoors. Sunshine, bare feet on ground, fresh air. Being outside works for almost everyone. Loads of research on this. We were born into creation, made to live in a garden. It just makes sense that we would feel at peace in nature.
8) Making time to just be, with nothing to do. This might look like porch-sitting, sipping some tea, staring at the trees.
9) Praying/meditating/listening to God/Love. I feel like my prayers are bumbling and ineloquent but I’m trusting the Spirit can translate.
10) Recognizing what I’ve survived. Seems a bit silly writing that as a white middle class US American who grew up in a safe home environment and married a nice guy. I’ve had it good. But still, life is hard. We’ve all survived something. I try to find encouragement in my own resilience.
11) Reading The Highly Sensitive Person by Elaine Aron and realizing that some of what I’ve labeled “fear” or “anxiety” in the past may have simply been a case of overstimulation.
12) Conversing with others – online and/or face-to-face – who have similar struggles. So much relief in knowing that someone else gets it!
13) Adapting my expectations, especially in regards to certain relationships…and cutting my losses. Some of THE hardest work. I cling to friendships by my fingernails. Don’t want to give up on people who once brought me joy. My nature is to hash it out, clear the air, make it right. But being extricated from faltering relationships, shedding that which is dis-eased, has brought a special kind of tranquility to my every day. It is one thing to be in relationship with imperfect quirky humans who are aware of and open about their imperfections and quirks, and actively trying to navigate them in a healthy way. It is another thing entirely to be in relationship with disinterested, deceptive, arrogant or abusive people. I evaluated who in my life was inciting more heartache than joy, then slowed my interactions with them. In all likelihood, the guilty parties’ hurtful behavior was unintentional (we’ve all got our stuff). Doesn’t matter. If you’ve attempted mending and the other party isn’t interested or doesn’t have the capacity to reconcile, DISENGAGE. Relinquish anyone who makes your gut churn, and divert your energy to people who practice reciprocity and mutual respect in relationship. Depending on the depth and investment made, the ensuing fallout and healing from a relational loss will take months, possibly years. But you will feel lighter. Promise.
14) Keeping boundary lines. This is a biggie. I am fiercely protective of family time and personal time. Sometimes this means saying no to good things (traveling, church events, nights out with friends, etc). I have decided to pursue and nurture intimate friendship only with those who seem interested and invested in my family. I am highly intentional about what I do and do not expose myself to. Example: I don’t watch the news. This has been a practice of mine for almost twenty years. Television news is an info overload of depressing stories, most which I can do nothing about. Another example: I shut down my Facebook account two years ago. This has HUGELY lessened my inner agitation. Limit intake of social media. Need I say more?
15) Waiting. These things take time.
Am I an enlightened zen master floating about the earth in a gauzy muumuu, unfazed by sex trafficking, gun violence, why that friendship imploded, and the disturbing tint of Donald Trump’s complexion? Nope. Not even close. Anxiety will likely always be along for the ride, at least in my story. But I feel like I’m back in the driver’s seat. Anxiety has scooted to the passenger’s side. And she’s dialing the number for an acupuncturist.