I always thought anxiety was all in my head – it turns out I was wrong.
I’ve never been able to walk on ice. Ever since I was a little kid, as soon as I stepped onto ice I would be slipping, catching myself at the last moment and having a mini-heart attack during the whole thing. There was always a patch of ice on the path from my house steps to the sidewalk and I would stress going over it every morning. I used to try to put sand on my boots for better grip, tried walking in different ways or different speeds, but usually I would just end up walking through the snow and avoiding it all together. I was spending so much time focusing on trying not to fall and ways to keep from slipping I never even thought of stopping the problem at the source. I could have just iced the path to melt the ice altogether.
I’ve had anxiety for as long as I can remember but I didn’t always know that’s what it was. It wasn’t to the point of me not being able to go about my life but I’ve had this constant underlying sense of worry and discomfort. When put myself into certain situations – talking with strangers for example – the feelings would intensify and I would freeze up, start to sweat, and my heartbeat would be going non-stop. I used to drink to counteract these feelings but the more I used it the more I found the next day those things I pushed away came back 10 times as hard. I had my panic attack when I was around 18 and very hungover at work. I almost passed out – luckily I caught myself as I was falling and stepped outside into the winter air. I remember rubbing snow on my forehead and back of my neck trying to cool off. Since that experience the worry of it happening again made the underlying anxiety even worse.
It would look something like this:
- I would feel anxiety about something and it would add a lot of tension and stress
- I would drink to “relax” and calm down from my anxiety
- Drinking would allow me to temporarily forget my problem but not actually do anything to prepare or move towards solving it
- I would wake up hungover – shaking, terrified of what I did or said the night before, my whole body tense and panicked.
- I had to drink earlier in the day to level me out from the anxiety of the hangover – starting me all over again
This cycle seemed never ending – I was stuck thinking about how not to slip on the ice instead of how to get rid of it altogether. Of course the first thing to do is remove the recurring source of stress – alcohol. After removing alcohol we can stop the crippling effects of the hangover and intense panic attacks that accompany them. The one thing that has helped me manage my anxiety from then until now?
REALIZING THAT THE MIND WILL FOLLOW THE LEAD OF THE BODY
What does that even mean? Back when I was a kid – trying to shuffle along that ice – when I would slip, what would happen? My body would in a split second realize I was falling and make my legs and arms flail out to catch my balance. I always noticed though that that surge of alarm would go through my body just after I had already caught myself. My body had reacted and my mind caught up just a half second after. This same concept applies to anxiety and anxiety or panic attacks are there are two different types of exercises – preventative and responsive – that will help depending on which one it is.
Preventative – for small but constant underlying anxiety.
These are long term and ongoing breathing, stretching, or awareness techniques that are done everyday (or as close as possible) to help bring down your base level of calm and bring attention to that underlying stress so you can notice when it starts to rise.
What I’m doing now:
In the morning while laying in bed I will focus on the muscles in my body, starting from the top of my head all the way down to my toes. I will start at the top and really feel the weight of my own head laying against the pillow. Sometimes I might raise my eyebrows all the way up and let them go to feel the difference. I’ll do this for about 30 seconds or so then move down to my neck. I’ll do this for each part of my body until I’ve gone all the way to the end. Usually I’ll finish by stretching out before climbing out and starting the day.
Responsive – for coming down from a imminent or ongoing attack.
These are short term and used as needed. Deep belly breathing and posture exercises that will reset how your body is moving and help bring you back down to normal.
What I’m doing now:
Change my posture – if I’m standing I’ll sit down in a chair with a good back so I can sit straight. If I’m sitting I’ll stand up and might walk around. I’ll then breath in deeply through my nose (breathing into my belly so my stomach expands out,) hold the breath for a second, then slowly exhale through my mouth. I’ll count down starting from 20 and keep doing that until I hit zero. Usually by that point my body will have reset enough to have brought me down enough to think logically enough to get me through the rest of the way.
Practicing the preventative although is the most time consuming is the most effective for me. It can be hard to make stick but when you do it can make a world of difference. It is important to also have a preventative plan in place for your sobriety as well. If you haven’t read Early Warning System – my free ebook for prevent relapse, you can get a copy sent to you for free by entering your info below:
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