When I think back to my life in college (and even in high school), my emotions were ALL over the place. I remember specifically one day working at a local coffee shop in Florida and I started having an anxiety attack behind the counter. I don’t even know about what….I just started hyperventilating and it felt like my body was spiraling out of control. About 10 minutes later, I found myself on one of their sofas breathing into a paper pastry bag. I laugh thinking back on it, but in the moment it was SO scary. You literally feel like you’re dying and no one really understands what’s going on. It’s a lonely and dark place to be, contributing to more anxiety from feeling like you are crazy.
I know that some of you reading this may not be able to relate, but most of you probably clicked on this link because you too, suffer with anxiety. The reality is that we ALL do in some way, shape, or form. Sometimes a little anxiety can be a good thing….it means we care. It can be turned into positive energy that motivates us. But sometimes we care a little TOO much. So much that it becomes unhealthy. We start forming ideas in our head about things that aren’t real. We start fearing the worst before it even happens. We overanalyze and overthink every situation, and before we know it, we’ve done it SO much that it’s now a habit. We become GOOD at being anxious. Unfortunately, this is NOT a good thing to be good at….and many of us are.
A Learned Behavior
The reason I put it in those terms of “being good at it” is because I truly believe that anxiety is somewhat a learned behavior. I think that there are certain genetic factors that can maybe make us a little more high strung and on edge than others, but I also feel like looking back on my life, my mom was a very anxious person. She’s an incredibly loving and beautiful soul, but did get worked up very easily. Growing up, I do believe children learn to respond to things in life in ways that their family did. If your mom typically freaked out about small things, you learned to freak out about small things too. Seeing your mom or dad get upset over things makes you LEARN and think that when things go wrong (even small), you should get upset too. We don’t realize that we have a CHOICE in how we respond to life. And we start we creating these habits and reactions from a young age and carry them into adulthood. Our actions and thoughts are our own, but until we learn how to learn our way OUT of anxiety through our thoughts, those are the exact things that will hurt us in moment: our thoughts. And I really do believe that our environment and upbringing can greatly influence how we react. Anxiety can be a chemical imbalance, but that chemical imbalance happened from a chronic state of anxiety overtime, not just over night.
Anxiety is also circumstantial. Many people go through traumatic events and things in life that are truly out of their control. Sometimes someone may not have struggled greatly with anxiety before, but maybe a bad breakup, a divorce, or a death of a loved one can trigger fear. That fear turns into anxiety and puts your body in a constant state of angst. That constant state of anxiety puts a lot of stress on your body. It can affect your sleep, you relationships, your work, your happiness, and even your health. All of that stress can literally make you sick.
As a Registered Nurse, I’ve seen up close and personal how we treat anxiety in the hospital. We love to give highly addictive benzo’s (especially in the ER). In an outpatient setting at the doctors office, physicians love to prescribe SSRI’s. The two that I was given were Celexa and Lexpro. I was told if the first made me feel “funny”, switch to the other. Guys, let me just tell you….anxious people don’t do well taking meds. We get anxious about how the med will make us feel….and we are HIGHLY in tune with how the drug makes us feel as it’s kicking in which makes us more anxious! Maybe I’m alone on that one, but I made my roommate sleep with me when I took my first SSRI and sleeping pill! I was afraid I was going to attempt to operate a vehicle in my sleep like the commercial said. True story. But anyways….I didn’t want to be taking medication, but I didn’t know anything else. Doctors know best, and this would help “fix” my anxiety….so I did it.
Heres the deal. I took these prescriptions for 2 years. The dosage wet up and up as my anxiety did too. Every time I went back to the doc, she upped my dose, listened to my heart, and collected my co-pay. After coming back 6 months later (it’s been about a year and a half by now), she told me that maybe I needed to see a psychiatrist so I can be put on something stronger. Yes. This 24 year old girl was referred to a psychiatrist because I clearly needed more drugs. That was the answer.
I go see a psychiatrist. MORE drugs. This lady thinks my depression is interfering with my healing from anxiety so she puts me on Wellbutrin. So now I’m on Lexpro, Wellbutrin, a PRN Xanax, and a Sleeping pill. I found myself in such a deep dark hole because nothing was helping. The initial visit to my PCP and getting on Lexapro helped me put my feet on the ground and function, but the “fearing the worst” thinking was still there.I just couldn’t “feel it” because the drugs didn’t allow my nervous system to react. But did you guys catch that? The thoughts were still there, I just didn’t react.
This is where we go SO wrong with conventional anxiety treatment. We give people pills and RARELY refer them to a counselor. It’s SO important that people struggling with anything in life TALK about what’s going on. It’s important to get those thoughts out and seek help in how to deal with those thoughts and CHANGE them. Just like many of us THOUGHT our way into our anxious state, you truly can THINK your way out of it, alongside other natural support. Our thoughts are what throw our body into that constant anxious state. Our thoughts are not like bugs that will die with pesticide sprayed on them. Anxiety is a result of SO many different thoughts and factors that a pill doesn’t fix whats going on. It simply masks the response the body has as a result of those thoughts.
I do believe there is a time and a place for medication in the treatment of anxiety, as sometimes people are in their WORST state ever and can’t even function or take the beginning steps to get better. However, I don’t believe that anxiety medication should be a long-term treatment. I was someone who HATED the side effects of these pills. I was switched on and off so many different brands, and they all did the same thing. They left me numb, with frequent headaches, weight gain, and forgetfulness. What doctors and psychiatrist NEVER shared with me was the power of FOOD and natural intervention when it came to anxiety and my emotions.They also never told me that these shouldn’t be longterm and how important it is to safely taper off. And here’s the deal….it’s because it’s not what they’re taught, and it’s not what most believe. But I’m here as living proof that FOOD IS MEDICINE and that you CAN manage your anxiety naturally.
The Natural Route
The Power of Thought and Self-Talk
Just like we can think and talk our way into anxiety, we can think our way out. Believe it or not, every negative thought or fear that you think in your mind about something that HASN’T happened, you are reinforcing a bad habit. I would find myself at the gym or in nursing school, fearing the worst.
“I’m going to have an anxiety attack in public and everyone is going to see me. I can feel it coming on, here it comes…..”
-All if that above is literally thinking my way into a panic. After seeking out an incredible counselor and reading self help books (I listened to this lady Lucinda Bassett), I was able to change my thoughts.
“It’s just anxiety. It’s not reality. It’s going to pass. I’m safe. People are around me. Nothing is going to hurt me. I’m hear to make my body strong and healthy. It’s just a feeling and it will pass…”
As CRAZY as that sounds, I would practice rebuking my anxious thoughts JUST LIKE THAT! I would take deep breaths and keep essential oils on me at ALL times during my day to use when I would deescalate those feelings. The breathing and the thinking combined brought me back to reality. I wasn’t perfect at this at first, and I still experienced anxiety in the beginning, but got better and more successful the more I committed to the process.
When I was at clinical for nursing school, these were my thoughts:
“I’m so depressed. I’ll never be happy. I can’t get sleep and think straight. I’m going to end up hurting someone because I can’t concentrate. All of these nursing students are so much better than I am….”
-Yup….totally thoughts that I had! So negative and destructive, but they CONSUMED me. What I learned to say was things like this:
“I am smart and capable. I am working on getting better sleep. I am a passionate and loving nurse, and I am here because I earned it. Anxious feelings are okay and they will pass. Just let them pass…they will. And it’s going to be a good day. Little steps.”
The whole idea of practicing these cheesy positive thoughts was that they really did work. As time went by, all of my negative thoughts that came to mind, I knew I was going to have to rebuke them because rebuking them became habit. So eventually, I stopped having those fearful and negative thoughts and my new positive and empowering mindset become the norm.
Do I still have negative thoughts today? Sure….it’s natural. But I FEEL the physical effect on my body and how they make me feel. I know for a fact those negative thoughts in the past were felt all day long and it was like someone tied a 50 lb ball and chain around me. The thoughts just held me back. Now I’m used to that light and positive thinking….that when the negative ones creep in, I don’t like how it feels so it’s easier to resist. Our thinking is completely our choice and totally learned!
Eating for Anxiety
This is a HUGEEEEEE Topic that isn’t addressed or discussed. It really bothers me because this was a HUGE part of me successfully getting off of my anxiety medication and managing it afterwards. What people don’t realize is how much of a factor our diet is with our emotions. Do you ever hear mom’s tell their kids, “You’re crazy because you ate all of that sugar!” Well that’s because it’s true. Sugar doesn’t necessarily MAKE you anxious, but it can mess with your hormones within your body, and cause you to be shaky and also tired from the “crash”. If you are struggling with anxiety, why would you want to feed your body anything that can trigger jitters or feelings of tiredness? It can exacerbate your response to things and make your current anxiety symptoms worse, impairing your coping and recovery. You’re already shaky from your chronic “on” feeling and tired from lack of sleep and exhaustion. The LAST thing you want to be consuming is consuming sugar, ESPECIALLY in the processed form (soda, cookies, candy bars, ice cream, sports drinks etc…).
Eat Clean Foods
Eating a clean diet can be EXTREMELY supportive for someone who struggles with anxiety. People don’t realize all of the harmful and caustic chemicals that are found in food, especially processed food. Many of our “on the shelf” products have labels on them that say “natural, pure, etc…” but are packed full of harmful preservatives, fillers, dyes, Omega 6 oils, and fake flavors. All in which cause inflammation throughout our bodies. Many cows and chickens today are treated with chemicals and antibiotics to help them survive. Produce are sprayed with pesticides to keep the bugs away, and our livestock is fed GMO-d corn, antibiotics are injected to keep with free of disease, and vaccines are given for the same reason. Guess what? ALL of the meat, eggs, dairy, and produce that you receive from non-organic sources are most likely being delivered to you fresh with antibiotics, pesticides, gmo’s, and other random chemicals that you are EATING! Do you think your body was made to handle all of that? Nope! All of that inflammation from these processed foods and in-organics can take a toll on the hormonal regulation in your body which can affect your sleep and emotions. All of this inflammation and hormonal imbalances can impact how we feel, our emotions, and how we respond to stress in life.
I find that a high plant based diet, rich with anti-oxidants and phytonutrients is very supportive for my emotional health. I limit myself to ONE cup of coffee a day and meat about 3 times a week. I no longer drink alcohol. I avoid all grain and dairy, as they were the most problematic for me after going through a Whole30. I have greatly decreased my intake of sugar both in processed and natural forms. Water is my saving grace! I always tell people if there is one place to start with healthy habits, it’s just drinking water! Eliminate the sugary drinks (including anything artificially sweet) and JUST drink water! The book that changed my life is called “It Starts With Food” by Melissa and Dallas Hartwig!
I think it’s REALLY important to be consuming a multivitamin, probiotic, and a good fish oil when dealing with anxiety. And to be honest, I think it’s a good idea to consume even if you DON’T have anxiety. Whole Food Supplements and Fish Oil both have anti-inflammatory effects and support brain health. Even with a clean diet, I know I don’t get all of the daily recommended nutrition that I need! Consuming whole food supplements, fish oil, and a probiotic (whether in pill form or natural) just seems to be a good idea for anyone because all ALL of the benefits.
As there are no PROVEN studies that these things cure anxiety (and just FYI, Rx don’t either), I personally noticed a difference in the process. While I was tapering off of my mediations, supplementation was part of my protocol. I took a multivitamin and fish oil daily and still do. I did my own research on probiotics and started consuming natural forms through kimchi, sauerkraut, and kombucha! Science has shown that consuming probiotics does indeed support mental health and specifically anxiety.
The Other Game Changers
I thought to put breathing and mindfulness in the same category, but they truly are two different things that need their own platform. Breathing is SO SO SO important when it comes to anxiety. A combination of self talk and breathing exercises can de-escalate a panic in seconds. Breathing Exercises were something I used to roll my eyes to, because I was too anxious and impatient to try. Breathing helps naturally halt that “fight or flight response, lowers the heart rate, and keeps you from going full-fledge into panic mode. No lie, I used to carry around my essential oil roller, and when the panic would creep in, I’d rub some on my hands, put it up to my face and made a little tent against my nose and would close my eyes and take 4 slow deeps breaths. I’d reassure myself that it was just anxiety and it would pass. I haven’t had a single panic attack in years, and breathing exercises are the reason why. They are quick deescalation.
Mindfulness is simply being present and accepting your WHOLE self. We are called human BEINGS for a reason. We aren’t human do-ers. We are simply being, but we get wrapped up in a world of doing. And that’s just part of life. But we can’t forget to just “be” at times. And that’s what mindfulness helps us do. Taking 10 minutes out of your day to put aside and be present in the moment. I was SO guilty of just always moving and going. Sometimes that in itself was an anxious coping mechanism. Mindfulness looks different for everyone. For me, it was sitting with my cup of coffee in the morning and putting on Frankincense in my diffuser. I would sit, close my eyes, and just be. I would hold that warm cup of coffee and thank God for my life. I would feel my fingers, wiggle my toes, and just acknowledge myself and the progress I was making. I would focus on the positive steps I’ve made in my journey to healing, and that I was becoming more whole every day. It was simply finding peace for 10 minutes in a frantic world, and it was healing. Practicing this daily resets and calms your system.
Essential Oils have been used for thousands of years, and they seemed to take the back burner when this fancy industry called pharmaceuticals came around. Essential Oils have been scientifically proven to support our emotions and have a positive effect on our limbic system. When ever I experience panic or really tense anxiety, I start my breathing exercises wherever I am at. I’m sure people have seen me at a stop light doing this in my car and thought I was crazy, but this is what has helped me! I always carry Frankincense, Lavender, and Balance with me. I will put 1-2 drops in my hand of whichever oil I can feel my body needs, and I start my exercises. The cool thing about essential oils is that they work with your body’s needs. You start to know and understand what oils you need in certain moments, the more you use them. At home, I will diffuse in the morning to start my journaling and at night to settle in. They are a HUGE comfort to have something safe and natural when the restless feelings set in. My favorite roller blend is a combo of Lavender, Frankincense, Wild Orange, and Peppermint.
Find a good counselor who you can talk to. Seriously though. I am SUCH a fan of counseling! Both my anxiety and my marriage have been saved by amazing counselors! Sometimes you have to “shop around” for a good one. It’s important to connect with someone who can support you in the right way and can help talk and walk you through your healing while honoring your wishes in how you want to do it. I went through 2 before I found one who “got me” She helped me process through my thoughts and feelings, without trying to give me answers. I didn’t want answers. I just wanted someone to listen and hear me out. She supported me by suggesting positive actions to take in my life. When you are feeling so crappy and down, simply doing positive things can just naturally make you feel better. One of the exercises she gave me was to simply drink my coffee in the morning and speak out loud or journal the things I was thankful for. Until this day, drinking my coffee in the morning is such a special ritual and a reflection of the good in my life! Just simply having some to talk to and listen who is professionally trained to respond in therapeutic ways is absolutely healing. And most of them truly love what they do.
The last natural remedy for managing anxiety is exercising! This one is HUGE! I’m not a huge gym rat, nor do I spend hours in my day working out. I do, however, make a point everyday to get out and move OUTSIDE! Whether it be walking the river, hiking trails, bike riding, or doing a workout video on a rainy day, exercise ALWAYS helps deescalate any tension or anxiety that I feel! If you are suffering severely, I know it may be hard to get out and move, but you HAVE to help yourself even when you don’t feel like it. Exercise allows you to take all of that energy going into your anxiety and push it out through your movement. Mother nature and the sun are SO healing! Get outside and move! Even if just 10-20 minutes a day to start. Baby steps!
Anxiety Does NOT Control You,
You Control IT!
These are a handful of amazing ways that you can help better support your emotions and anxiety more naturally! The best thing that worked for me while tapering off of my medications was having a plan. I made a meal schedule, an exercise schedule, a study schedule, and added structure to my life. I think when you are anxious and depressed, life just feels chaotic and too hard to figure out a plan on your own. Find someone who can help you, whether it be your counselor, friend, or a family member. Have them help you make a schedule, and stick to it. Being productive and checking off tasks can sometimes make you feel more human and alive. Those tasks also will be taking positive steps!
This blog is not intended to make you feel like medication is wrong or that you shouldn’t take it. I took it for sometime and knew when it was right for me to start tapering off. I was not successful in doing so until I started implementing all of these things above at the same time I was tapering. There is 100% a time and place for medical intervention. I just believe that some people, like myself, and many others wished they better understood how to manage anxiety more naturally. Sometimes we’re so desperate that we just take whatever is prescribed without thinking. Anxiety is bigger and deeper than a chemical imbalance. Giving a just pill and nothing else is simply neglecting the root cause and disregarding the real WHOLE healing that needs to take place. Our bodies and situations are all different, so you need to do what is BEST for you. I do believe, however, that implementing all of these practices above will support your anxiety whether you take medication or not. Food heals. Nature Heals. Plants heal. YOU ARE STRONG, CAPABLE, and BEAUTIFUL. And if you are reading this and struggle with anxiety, know that you are not alone and that you WILL get better. Have grace for yourself, your feelings, and the time it takes to heal. Anxiety does NOT control you. YOU control it, and you CAN!