Monday, March 23, 2020

Things I’m Doing to Manage My Anxiety During This Time of Uncertainty

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It’s no secret that I struggle with anxiety as I’ve been vocal about it here on the blog.  For those of you who are new here and are unaware, though, here’s a brief history – I’ve struggled with some anxiety to a degree for most of my life, although I wasn’t fully aware of it until recently.  2019 was a rough year for our family and my anxiety took on a whole new form, manifesting in all sorts of ways that I never even knew possible – shortness of breath, constriction in my throat (the feeling of being strangled), lump in my throat, the loss of my voice, physical body pains, chest tightness and heaviness, and many other things. 

All year last year my doctors searched in all the wrong places, thinking the symptoms were from a physical medical issue – asthma and allergies (which I do legitimately have, but are not the root of the problem), reflux (which was eventually ruled out), heart problems (also ruled out), and several other things.  They prescribed one medication after another to correct said issues, but none of them ever fully helped with my symptoms.    

One day, thankfully, after checking my throat for signs of LPR and vocal cord dysfunction and finding not one thing wrong, my ENT doctor gently told me that his wife suffers from anxiety and that she experiences all of the same physical symptoms that I was having at the time.  He strongly advised that I see someone for anxiety and the rest is history. 

Sure enough, I started seeing a therapist, I started meditating, and I started doing a whole bunch of other things to strengthen my mind, and slowly but surely, I proved my ENT doctor to be 100% correct.  I always knew that I was a worrier and that I was kind of high strung (I’ve been like that my whole life!) but I didn’t realize just how extreme my worrying was until I started talking to a therapist about it.  I thought it was totally normal to worry constantly about every single little thing and prepare for worst-case scenarios for everything in my life.  It never even occurred to me that it was all because of anxiety.  I thought I was just a worrywart.

I was diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder last October, and only then did I realize that I’ve probably struggled with anxiety to some degree for most of my life… especially my adult life.  Unfortunately, I had to let it get completely out of control before I found the problem.  If someone had realized this a long time ago, it probably wouldn’t have ever gotten this bad.  Sad, but true. 

I’ve been working really hard since October to get my anxiety under control naturally (without medication, although there’s absolutely nothing wrong with taking that route if that’s the right thing to do!), and although I feel like I’ve started to harness it, I still feel like I’m fairly fragile. 

As you can imagine, the recent turn of events in our world has shaken me up quite badly, and I know that it’s going to be an ongoing struggle to get by day after day without letting my anxiety get the best of me.  I’m the type of person who likes structure and routine.  I’m an enneagram 6, so I thrive on schedules, normalcy, and comfort, and I like to be prepared at all times.  This worldwide crisis we’re in is most definitely the opposite of all of those things.    

However, I’m bound and determined to keep my anxiety in check these next few weeks and months as we navigate this uncharted territory, and today I’m sharing some things that have helped me tremendously with my anxiety these last six months.  Some things target the actual anxiety and some of the things are just things that make me happy, and when I’m happy, my anxiety is a lot less likely to rear its ugly head.  :o)

Disclaimer – I am obviously not a doctor, and therefore, I’m only sharing the things that work for me personally.  If you suffer from anxiety or depression or any other mental illness, please contact your doctor. 

O N E – Have Quiet Time with God Every Single Day

Of all the things that I’ve done for my anxiety these past six months, I have found quiet time with God to be the most effective.  I’ve always been a spiritual and religious person… I was raised Catholic and went to a Catholic school for most of my life.  I still attend the same Catholic church weekly, I say my prayers each day, I bless our food before every meal, and I pray with the kids each day/night.  However, until six months ago, I rarely took the time to just sit alone and be with God.  I’ve had a devotional for years that I’ve read off and on, but when things get busy (which is most of the time) that is always one of the things that gets pushed to the backburner first.


Six months ago I knew things needed to change, so I’ve been intentional about my time with God ever since then, and I’ve made it a point to have quiet time with Him nearly every single day (right now I’m on an 83 day streak).  I cannot even tell you how wonderful it has been for me to just be still for a few minutes each day.  My quiet time is nothing fancy, I just grab my two devotionals, read from each of them, literally talk to God about any and everything that’s on my mind, and then tell Him my specific intentions for the day.  I am currently reading this devotional and this devotional to get a double dose each day and I can’t even tell you how comforting the words are in those books.  Most days it literally feels like God is reaching out and talking to me directly.  I cannot recommend them enough.  As a matter of fact, I'm not the only one... this devotional has 34,996 reviews with 4.8 stars!!

T W O – Meditate Every Single Day

Meditation comes in a close second for managing my anxiety.  I had never meditated in my life until October last year, and it has been quite literally life changing.  I love it so much there will never be a time in my life from this point forward that I don’t do it.  I downloaded the Calm app last October and it has been a Godsend.  There are meditations for anxiety, sleep, stress, self-care, inner peace, focus, emotions, and so much more.  My favorite meditations to do are “7 Days of Calm” and “7 Days of Calming Anxiety.”  I do a meditation from this app every single day (each one averages between 10 and 15 minutes) and then I follow up the meditation with my quiet time. 

If you’re not familiar with meditation and you want to learn the science behind it, I urge you to watch this YouTube video.  It breaks everything down so it’s easy to understand, and by the time the video is over, I promise you’ll want to try it for yourself.  Meditation literally changes the structure of your brain to make it more powerful.  It’s a workout for your brain just like the gym is a workout for your muscles.  Why meditation isn’t more mainstream, I’ll never know.  It was the very first thing that my therapist told me to start doing to manage my anxiety as there is rock solid evidence that proves it works.  The key to mediation is consistency, though.  Just keep that in mind!

T H R E E – Focus on the Things You can See, Hear, Smell, and Feel

Last year I had my first panic attack and it was one of the scariest things I’ve ever been through… I thought I was having a heart attack, the doctors ruled it an esophageal spasm, and then they later ruled it a panic attack.  I’ve had several more instances since that day where I could feel another one coming on, but thanks to having the ability to identify it and know how to manage it, I was able to stop them in their tracks. 

My therapist taught me that the best thing to do to help with a panic attack or to calm down when feeling overwhelmed is to stop what you’re doing and focus on the things you can see, hear, smell, and feel.  Doing things like watching a bird fly through the sky, listening to the sound of dinner cooking on the stove, smelling the honeysuckle that’s growing wild on the fence, or touching the freshly cut grass forces you to be in the present moment.  When your mind is in the present moment, that means it’s not worrying about the past or trying to predict the future.  Being present is one of the most important things you can do for anxiety and I have found that to be true for myself.

F O U R – Go Outside and Spend Time in Nature

Speaking of being present, there’s nothing like being present out in nature!  Being able to smell the fresh air, focus on the vastness of the sky, and enjoy all of the beautiful things that God created just for us is another one of my favorite things to do when I start to feel symptoms of anxiety coming on. 

F I V E – Spend Quality Time with Family

Since being present is of utmost importance for managing anxiety, another thing that works for me is to immerse myself in quality time with Brian and the kids or other family and friends when anxiety starts to creep in.  There have been so many days where I have experienced symptoms of anxiety all day long, only to have it completely disappear after I pick up the kids from school.  Why?  Because I’m spending time with them, listening to them talk about their day, helping them with homework, and loving on them.  Focusing on other people keeps me anchored in the present which means that my mind has no time to wander and worry and stress.  Unless of course, they’re the ones stressing me out, of course.  ;o) 

When you immerse yourself in conversation with another person and try to make them feel comfortable, that takes your mind off of your own self and how you feel.  It allows your mind to focus on someone else’s feelings and needs which means that you’re not in your own head, worrying about your own discomfort or anxiety.

With everyone keeping their social distance these days, it’s getting harder and harder to spend time with loved ones in person, but I fully intend to talk on the phone, Facetime, Skype, and Zoom with everyone as much as possible to keep in touch! 

S I X – Listen to Uplifting Music / Podcasts

Music has always played a big role in my life, and there are certain genres that can lift my spirits in an instant.  If I could only listen to one genre for the rest of my life, it would be old standards/jazz.  Frank Sinatra, Count Basie, John Coltrane, and even the newer takes on the classics like Michael Buble, Steve Tyrell, and Rod Stewart’s songbooks are my favorite.  I can be having the worst day and turn on some standards, and it is an instant mood-booster.  The Jazz for Studying channel on Pandora is what I listen to most often and it’s free!

Somedays I’ll be in the mood for something more current, and I’ll reach for Lizzo or Taylor Swift or Ed Sheeran or Dave Matthews Band... whatever makes me happy at the time.  Maybe yours is rap?  Classic rock?  Worship music?  Whatever it is, turn it on and blast it!  Or play it softly… whatever makes you feel more relaxed and happy.

I’ve also recently started listening to podcasts that are uplifting and informative.  Someone recently turned me on to Rhythms for Life with Gabe and Rebekah Lyons and they often talk about ways to manage anxiety.  Feeding your brain with knowledge on how to combat anxiety gives you the upper hand!

S E V E N – Watch Uplifting Shows/Movies

Watching movies and shows that make me happy is another way that I calm myself when I’m feeling anxious.  The show Friends is my all-time favorite show ever and I’ve watched it so much that it’s become a comfort to me, like covering up with a warm blanket when it’s cold.  Sometimes I sit and actively watch it and sometimes I just have it on in the background while I’m doing other things.  Either way, it does me a world of good to hear those familiar voices and watch the same episodes that I’ve been watching over and over since I was a kid.

Watching beloved movies is also one of the ways that I find I can lift my spirits.  Some of my feel-good favorites are The Wedding Planner, Miss Congeniality, What Women Want, 10 Things I Hate About You, Clueless, and Father of the Bride 2.  If you watch Father of the Bride 2 and tell me your mood hasn’t improved by the end, then something is just wrong with you!  Also, can you tell I’m a child of the 90’s??  Haha.

E I G H T – Read Books That Help Increase Mental Strength

I’ve found that arming myself with lots of knowledge about anxiety and knowing how and why it manifests has had a tremendous positive impact on my mental health.  Since I was diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder, I’ve been devouring article after article about anxiety on the internet, and I’ve also lined up several books to facilitate my learning.  I’m currently working my way through 10% Happier and it has been a game changer.  Knowledge is power, y’all.  Knowledge is power.  Here are a few others I’m hoping to read in the near future.

N I N E – Use Essential Oils

I know those of you who don’t “do” essential oils are rolling your eyes, but during my past year of oiling I’ve discovered that there are definitely some scents that make a huge difference in my mood.  There is one scent in particular that makes a huge difference in my mood is LIME.  It’s fresh, it’s clean, and it reminds me of the scent of Moscow Mules which I love so much.  It’s my absolute favorite oil for diffusing and it’s been going nonstop these last few weeks.  My most recent favorite blend is 5 drops of Thieves (because Thieves is for wellness and immunity which is so important right now!) and 5 drops of Lime and it smells like pure heaven. 

There are also several oils that have calming properties, and I’ve found that they help me tremendously when I start to feel panicky or overwhelmed.  Peace & Calming is my absolute favorite for this, followed by Valor, followed by Lavender, followed by Vetiver.  Vetiver is actually kind of stinky, but for some reason it calms me right down when I smell it.  To use those oils, I literally rub them directly on my skin (usually over my heart and on my wrists) or I breathe them straight from the bottle. 

I know a lot of people are skeptical about the whole essential oils craze, but I am no longer one of those people.  When you know, you know.  And you’ll never know until you try.  If you’re interested in trying them out, you can learn more from this page on my blog or you can shoot me an email if you have questions.

T E N – Make a Gratitude List

If ever I’m feeling anxious or down, I start to make a list (physically or mentally) of all of the things that I’m grateful for.  Having a grateful mind and heart trains your brain to focus on the positive things in life rather than the negative.  A grateful heart helps one rise above their circumstances and a positive mindset leads to a happier life. 

E L E V E N – Manage Physical Pain and Tension

A lot of people don’t realize it, but anxiety plays a major role in physical pain.  All last year I kept having tension headaches, neck pains, upper back pain, jaw pain, and shoulder pain and I couldn’t for the life of me figure out why.  Turns out, when I get anxious, I carry my stress in all those areas.  The days where I would experience a lot of anxiety tended to be the days that I would end the day in physical pain, and that in turn, made my anxiety even worse.

My therapist said that an important part of keeping anxiety at bay is keeping physical pain under control, too, and she strongly recommended that I start getting a full body massage once a month if I can.  Well, since I’m not working full-time anymore, I’m not comfortable with spending that kind of money, so I bought this shiatsu massager on Amazon instead.  Between a sale + a lightning deal + an extra coupon to clip, I got it for just $17 and it has been worth its weight in gold.  If I had to do it all again and pay full price for it, I WOULD.   

The thing I love most about this one is that it’s on this little belt which means that you can place it pretty much anywhere on your body (hips, neck, arms, legs, back).  You can move it around easily to make sure that the balls are applying pressure to the right spots and the handles make it easy to apply as much pressure as you need.  It rotates clockwise and counterclockwise and it also has a heat option.  I’ve used it on my neck, shoulders, upper back, middle back, lower back, and hip and it’s been amazing.  It literally rubs/melts the tension away.       

Less physical pain = less mental pain, so this is a must for keeping my anxiety at bay!

T W E L V E – See a Therapist

This one is a no-brainer.  I started seeing a therapist at the end of the year last year and she’s been fantastic.  She’s been able to help me identify some things about myself that I wasn’t aware of (even though I’ve always considered myself to be a very self-aware person) and she’s been able to provide me with some tools to manage my anxiety.  Most importantly though, she has been able to validate my feelings and emotions and SHE HEARS ME.  I cannot even tell you how good it feels to be validated and understood!!  I’m not sure how things will look over the next weeks/months during all of this social distancing, but I’m praying I can at least continue to have appointments with her over the phone.

T H I R T E E N – Keep Busy

The worst thing for my anxiety is being idle, because when I’m idle, that’s when my mind starts to wander… usually into worry.  When I start feeling anxious, a lot of the time all I have to do is get up and work on something engaging – organizing a drawer, cleaning out a closet, or working on some kind of project.  The project has to be something that takes some thought and concentration, though, otherwise my mind slips right back into worry. 

F O U R T E E N – Be Prepared

One of the main things that gives me peace of mind is being prepared.  I’m a planner by nature, and I need security, so being prepared is of utmost importance to me.  During this time of crisis that the whole world is going through, it’s more important than ever to be prepared.  A few things we’ve done to be prepared are:

-       Stock up on essentials – we currently have enough supplies (toilet paper, food, medicine) to get us through at least two weeks at home should we end up being on lock-down.  However, there is a difference between stocking up and hoarding.  Please, for the love of God, do not go out and buy 10 packages of toilet paper!!!!  Every single package that you buy takes away from someone else who is in need!
-       Keep our immune systems strong – another important thing to do to be prepared is to keep our bodies healthy and ready to ward off germs should this virus spread.  At our house we are all taking daily vitamins, eating plenty of fruits and vegetables, exercising, getting fresh air, using immunity oils, and getting plenty of sleep.  Pretty basic stuff, y’all.
-       Stay on top of the news – I am constantly monitoring the situation and making sure that we are staying informed because that’s so important right now.  However, I am not reading every single article that I come across… there is too much fake news and too much sensationalism on the internet and that could end up making you more anxious.  I’m currently loving NPR, the New York Times, theSkimm (they send a daily email straight to my inbox every morning), and The Happy Broadcast (they report news in an anxiety-free manner and it’s so cute).  I also read local news on occasion, but other than that, I try not read much of anything else.  There have been plenty of days that I’ve completely stayed off of Facebook because it’s better for my sanity that way. 

F I F T E E N – One Glass of Wine

Before anyone jumps down my throat, let me go ahead and say, I am not advising anyone to start drinking for their anxiety and I am aware that drinking does not solve problems.  I am also aware that alcohol is a depressant and that trying to drink away your problems can lead to very serious conditions such as alcoholism.  I am in no way encouraging anyone to use alcohol to medicate, I am simply stating that I do enjoy one small glass of wine on occasion when I’m feeling particularly tense.  I do not in any way use wine as “medication” for my anxiety.  It’s simply a tool that I use occasionally for relaxation.  I told y’all at the beginning of the post that I was going to tell you what works for me, and I didn’t want to leave this out since I’m being transparent!

I personally only drink on the weekends (socially), and when I do, I almost always only have one drink except in rare circumstances.  Occasionally, when I’ve had a particularly anxious weekday, I will pour myself one single, small glass of wine to help me wind down.  It physically helps my muscles relax after they’ve been tense all day, it clears the gunk from my mind and makes it a little lighter, and it helps me take the edge off.  I never have any adverse reactions during or after consuming it, even the next day.  I know that’s not the case for everyone, though, as alcohol can increase anxiety in some people. 

I discussed all of this with my therapist early on, and she said that as long as I continue to have a casual, healthy relationship with it that it’s totally fine to have a glass of wine to take the edge off… she said that for a lot of people, it can actually be very beneficial. 

Anxiety can be a beast, but there is hope if you’re struggling.  If you’re suffering, I strongly urge you to see a medical professional about it, because there is help to be had!  So many people only focus on keeping their bodies well, but it’s equally (maybe more) as important to take care of your mind.  Yes, I still struggle with anxiety and I probably always will to some degree, but at least now I have the knowledge and the tools I need to keep it under control.  If I can help even one person by posting about this, then it’ll be worth it!

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  1. I think this post will help so many people! For me what works is a lot of the same things - reading my devotional each morning, writing in my gratitude journal, going for a walk outside, keeping busy, and yes, a glass of wine! I need to try meditating again. I have a hard time turning my mind off, but like you said practice and consistency is key!

  2. I have terrible anxiety so I get this 110% my beautiful friend! These are wonderful tips that I shall enact as well! Big virtual hugs to you my darling!

  3. Definitely needed this today - I have been struggling on some days and other days I'm fine. While I'm so grateful to be able to work during this time, it's added another level of difficulty, but one again that I am grateful for! Hugs to you love! xo, Biana -BlovedBoston

  4. I don't know that I knew your physical symptoms were determined to be from anxiety. My anxiety manifested into signs of depression - non stop crying - and anger - snapping at people close to me constantly, which I still do! I do take medication for it. Now Gabbie is having anxiety as well and she sees a therapist for it. I appreciate all of your advice here, and I think even those who don't have anxiety regularly are having it now!

  5. I am so glad you got it diagnosed properly and are managing it well. I really miss my Sunday outdoor yoga right now, it combined 2,3,4 and 11. Nothing wrong with a nightly glass of wine, I do that too. Anxiety is more common than we think and these uncertain times may make it even more common. Stay well!

  6. Love these, Lindsay! I can’t even imagine how you feel right now. I’m glad you are taking care of yourself.

  7. I am not a very anxious person, but times like these brings it out in me. I have been struggling for sure. I hate the unknown. Thanks for sharing some tips that you have been using.

  8. I'm so sorry you've been struggling so much, but glad you have found ways to cope. I have been trying to get better about daily time with God, and now more than ever it's so important. Sending hugs girlie <3

    Green Fashionista

  9. I too have always been a worry wort (so much so that I can remember my high school English teacher predicting I'd have an ulcer by age 30). I have been having a slightly harder time with it lately but am finding walks outside, practicing deep breathing, and focusing only on those things I CAN control are helping too. You have a great list here!

    1. Thank you! I'm sorry you're such a worrier, too. It's so stressful. Deep breathing works very well for me, too, and I'm learning how to use it more now that I'm meditating.

  10. Great tIps! I have never really be a worry wart until this! I have been a MESS!

  11. Love that you're finding ways to combat the anxiety! I'm sure it was so reassuring to finally have an answer and diagnosis as to what was causing your symptoms. These are great tips to live by, anxiety or not. Stay strong, girly!

    Kaitlyn @ Oh, the Places We’ll Go!

  12. Very important and helpful post! Thank you for being a voice!

    1. I'm so glad! And you're welcome. I know a lot of people don't like to talk about mental health, but I'm hoping one day that stigma will be broken.


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