Since I gave up drinking in 2018, there has been no escaping the fact that I have anxiety. I believe it was there long before getting sober, but without the self medicating effects of alcohol (which all too often ended with disasterous consequences) it was too hard to ignore and I sought help from my GP in October 2018. She diagnosed me with depression and anxiety and reccommended a combined approach of medication and therapy to help get me back on my feet, out of a rut and in her words ‘enjoying this precious time with my young family’.
A low dose of Sertraline lifted my mood and a set of CBT helped me hugely understand my triggers, my achilles heel and why certain things set my head spinning. I am a huge advocate for Mind , the incredible work they do and the benefits of accepting the help on offer – it has been an absolute game changer for me.
So well on the road to recovery, I made a pact with myself that I would be off the meds 12 months later. This was to be my first mistake – I realised that even sensibly weaning off a medication can have effects, and ultimately I realised it was more important to feel well and happy than beat any self imposed targets.
So here I am 18 months on. Absolutely not depressed – the help I was fortunate to receive helped me turn my life around. But the anxiety? I’m still trying to figure out whether that’s something which ‘too shall pass’ or if it is something I will always have to live with.
That said, I have, like many others experienced a heightening over the past few weeks – possibly from the time of year, the post Christmas slump, the cold dark mornings and the long nights, or possibly from stresses and strains of everyday life, who knows. But it has had me wondering if I can make some lifestyle changes to help myself out and become less reliant on medication, and more able to build a robustness using other techniques – because ultimately, my long term goal is to be medication free.
Anyone who exercises regularly can tell you the amazing healing power of an endorphin boost post work out. Whether you are hooked on Yoga, spinning, crossfit, powerwave, running (my bag) or even a you tube home work out, the results speak for themselves. Nowadays, I make exercise one of my top priorities when time allows, and even if it doesn’t, because mentally, I need that lift.
At this time of year when the Sun has left the building, seasonal deficiencies can come in to play – Vitamin D the sunshine vitamin might be lacking so supplementing your diet with multivitamins is worth a shot…
Cut down on caffeine
I’m giving this one a go this week – the rushy feeling of anxiety feels a little like I’ve had waaaay too much coffee, so it got me thinking, maybe all those stimulants are an easy way to ease off the rushing sensation. I’m allowing myself one coffee in the morning, one tea in the afternoon and hitting the decaf the rest of the time.
As well as a vitamin D boost, getting outside in the fresh air and natural surroundings has been proven to do wonders for your mood. Getting out of the office and doing a lap of the block, walking to somewhere you would usually drive or just getting out somewhere fresh and bracing is enough to put the whole family in a way better mood, and that’s why it’s made it’s way higher up our agenda.
Meditation, ha! Imagine…me?! Yep that was my reaction also, until I actually gave it a go. With simple easy to follow apps like headspace or simple habit, you can build five minute meditations into your life with very little effort, and a lot of benefit. I have used this technique when I really feel in need of some calming down and despite making it a regular routine, I totally soak up the benefits when I do practice a pre sleep meditation.
Seeing as I’m cutting down on the teas and coffees, I’ve stumbled across some alternatives…pukka teas Peace tea with hemp, plus my favourite sleepy tea with lavender and chamomile.
And then there are energy boosting products like the Arbonne fizzle sticks a friend gave me to try. With so many different products on the market it’s worth trying different ones out and see if any live up to the hype.
It’s not always easy to build rest into your busy schedule, but burning the candle at both ends is a huge factor in the build up of feeling meh. Learning to politely decline invitations, spending time alone or just being quiet and within your own safe haven is a real leveller. Getting early nights or even a night out away from the usual routine is a rest in itself – but the key is to make the terms your own. We all need time to breathe, to be ourselves and to enjoy our own space.
Note – no blog posts in a while? I’m choosing to rest, putting that as priority… you too can prioritise resting over non essential, self imposed to do items. Honestly, you can.
One of the biggest revelations for me was that to really take away the power of anxiety, is to understand it and keep on top of it. Know your triggers, know your symptoms. Observe them and let them pass, and remind yourself of the reasons you know you feel off. By being open and aware of what it is you need in that moment – a breath of fresh air, a change of scene, a hug, a good friend, a big cry, a run, silence, to talk or to just let it wash over you. If you can master that, you are really on the road to beating anxiety.
It goes without saying that being open and honest about how you are feeling is a huge step towards feeling better. Responses are often overwhelmingly supportive and when good friends show you they care, talk to you about it, and share their own experiences, the world really does seem a better place in one simple exchange of words.
I know I am lucky that my symptoms are not severe, or life debilitating. I am accepting of the fact that for now, the medication is doing it’s job. But ultimately I am building up the tools in my toolkit for the day I’m ready to go it alone, whenever that may be.