Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Taking Charge of Anxiety and Stress

I admit that, when I last wrote, I was still knee deep in fight-or-flight mode. My sentences were run-ons and manically distributed. The words I used were emotionally driven and hectic. My stories were jumbled together and I had just started the process of coming down to Earth from a lifetime of stress and anxiety. A chill pill would have worked wonders during those two weeks of uncertainty, followed by a hot cup of herbal tea and warm milk.


Whenever I talk about taking medication - in this case I mean the antibiotic and the antispasmodic - I worry about perceiving myself as a hypocrite. After all, I often write how I am all for using natural means for healing. Be it with the food/supplements I eat, the thoughts I think, and the actions I do, I exhaust every option I can think of before even considering the idea of taking a pharmaceutical drug. Getting an artificially dyed pill from a doctor in a lab coat is a last resort thing for me. And I was definitely in the “last resort” category not too long ago.

So I took the medicine and I am gradually healing from the inside out. I am feeling better than I have in years, and I celebrate the changes: I can discern hunger, and I’m not as hungry as I once was; my activity level has skyrocketed while my fatigue has decreased; my mood is level and I’m not overexerting the good mood image (I am simply in a good mood); my skin is clearing up and my organs are starting to function properly; I'm sleeping (a big factor in all this); and I do not feel rushed or overwhelmed.

“The truth is somewhere in the middle.”  When I said this, I originally meant this as a way to balance the various practices and professionals I’ve gone to for healing purposes. This statement is also true for the concept of healing in general, and this post is dedicated to how I'm working on making this happen.

Along with the prescribed medicine I’ll be taking temporarily, I wanted to find ways of healing that I would feel empowered doing in the long run. I considered the gastroenterologist’s diagnosis of ASD, and how once upon a time another gastroenterologist tried curing my supposed “depression” with an antidepressant. I didn’t want to take a pill that altered my brain chemistry and played ping-pong with my emotions. I wanted to learn how to bring myself back to a peaceful baseline and essentially change how I handled stress in a positive and loving way.

(Note: What I’m about to share is in no way a formal treatment to ASD, IBS, or any other health concerns you may have. These statements are personal opinions and things I’ve tried that are working for me. Please consider this as you read on.)

I had received wonderful suggestions when I’d asked for advice last time. Emails, social media comments, and words face-to-face offered support and food essentials for tummy troubles and antibiotics. Oddly enough, no one really touched on the ASD aspect, and I think I know why.

We are part of a global paradigm where stress means productivity. At least in my interpretation of Western culture, we have to be “on” all the time to feel like we’re doing something meaningful with our lives. In many cases, and this resonates with me also, we have been in “fight or flight” mode for so long we don’t even remember what being at peace is. We become bored with inaction, and worried that we are stagnating progression. We lose our self-awareness with constant pressure from our inner dialogue, perceived expectations, over-stimulation, and over-scheduling.

Stress and anxiety are normalized internally. When we experience the adrenaline rush and adrenal fatigue over a significant period of time, our body gets used to the highs and lows of both, and our baseline adapts to being at the height of Mount Everest rather than sea level. A bit extreme, I know, but I want you to understand how crucial it is to nip chronic stress and anxiety in the bud and how small changes can leave a big impact on your health.

The first steps I started working with were self-awareness and acceptance. I asked myself questions like: How are you feeling? What are you feeling and what caused that feeling to occur? Is your mind racing and heart pounding when you’re trying to sleep/meditate/calm down? What external factors are affecting you internally, for good or ill? Acceptance is a hard thing indeed, for we are our toughest critics. Thoughts like “What do I have to be stressed about?” and “Come on, Dummy, this isn't hard!  Why can’t I do this?” can plague the chronically stressed and anxious. When we are in this state, it is extremely hard to see the big picture because we are so hyper-focused on the mini crises all the time.   

I learned that by being in a constant state of distress, I was hungry all the time. When I was stressed and anxious, I snacked on nut butters, rice crackers, and smoothies. Add that to my tummy troubles and my habit of not getting enough sleep, I was too fatigued and in too much pain to be active in my daily life. I used the medication prescribed to me as a tool to remove my body woes from the equation to turn my focus then on what was going on upstairs behind my pretty face.

The second step for me was analyzing the life I live with love and compassion. What are the things most important to me? What can I place on a shelf to work on later? What do I keep? What do I let go or change? These questions led me to the journey of finding an inner calm and adjusting the structures of my life to suit me.

There are certain ways to calm yourself, and you do not have to do it alone or by your own design to get positive results. To increase my own ability at achieving a steady baseline, I looked to meditation. I was advised to do fifteen minutes a day, but my mind tends to wander and think of all the things I need to/have to/should be doing. So I became even more frustrated when I was unable to return to mindfulness and stressed by those precious minutes wasted on trying.

The answer for me was guided meditation, and there are many sources out there varying in length, type, and technique.

“But I don’t have time to meditate and sit still”, you say. “I have all these obligations to do…”

Stop. right. there. When you are in this mindset, of course you won’t have time. And my answer to that can be shown in this image:


As I said, guided meditation is helpful for me because I can focus on a voice and the instructions I am being given. For 10 – 20 minutes (or more), all that matters is my breathing, resetting my brain, and reveling in the possibility in how it will affect my day for the better. I find doing it in it the morning (though not necessarily right when I wake up) and/or before bed good times for me, but choose times that work for your schedule.


This leads to another crucial aspect in lowering stress and anxiety for me: routine. Now, I’m not talking about being a “slave to routine” as the comic above implies. I’m talking about having something your body can work with, a way to regulate and manage yourself and what matters most to you. Since graduation (and quite possibly before that), I was flying from one thing to the next – blind and awkward in between – doing everything I could to stay upright. Instead of planning by the hour for everything I do (as I tried to and bombed at), I’ve laid out my weekdays in morning, afternoon, and evening time-slots. I have days where I am climbing or doing other forms of exercise and completing a certain chore/task for the house. I have definitive times when I’m working or at school. I have days dedicated to studying, and an evening or two dedicated to whatever it is I may treat myself to. From doing it this way, I found that I not only have more time than I thought; I also have focus and energy without becoming overwhelmed. Work and play are becoming wonderfully balanced.

The final reflection I’d like to share is to not sacrifice taking care of yourself in order to “get things done”. I admit there are still days in the week I perceive I have a lot to do and the consequence is getting less sleep/relaxation than I’d like. For example: On Tuesdays my class gets out at 10:00 p.m., and then I am up at 5:00 Wednesday morning to climb. I know that I’ll get less than seven hours of sleep in between, so it’s just a matter of adjusting certain variables to ensure I’m doing all I can to not return to that unhealthy cycle. Be honest with yourself and others when everything in your being is telling you to chill out. And when stress and panic arises, don’t beat yourself up about it; instead, take pride knowing you realized what’s going on and take as long as you need to bring yourself out of survival mode. 

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