Finding Real Solutions for AnxietySep 12, 2022
I would bet that nearly everyone reading this post has dealt with uncomfortably high anxiety at one time or another—either before medications, on them, or in withdrawal. I know that my “uncomfortably high anxiety experience” would include all three of those time periods.
Before I began medications (Paxil and Xanax) I was having panic attacks. As many of you might know from my videos, this was happening in summer school at UW-Madison. I was near the very top of my class and getting ready to head into my final year of college. But for some reason, every time I sat down in this one classroom I began having those uncomfortable sensations of panic: sweating, head pressure, flushed face, difficulty breathing, and a feeling of being trapped. As many have said about such instances, “it felt like I would die.”
Then, while medications brought some initial relief from panic and my constant worry about the panic, eventually my anxiety situation just got worse and worse. Over the years, I become super dependent on benzo medications, and I never really learned much about anxiety management or improvement. I just got by and got worn down.
And finally, as the familiar story goes, when I tapered and stopped the medications, what I experienced could no longer be classified as “anxiety.” It was instead terror, a physical and mental hijacking. At times, I surely wondered if I’d ever feel calm again in my life.
But I did feel calm again, and as I worked through my healing process I was forced to learn how to actually manage and meaningfully reduce anxiety. I was forced to find actual solutions for it. And now, after having been totally off those medications since early 2014, I hope that I can help others to find coping and solutions for anxiety as well.
In today’s post, I’ll go through a little of what I learned, and hopefully and other pointers I’ll share in the future might help you to begin finding anxiety solutions as well.
- Some anxiety is normal. It is a part of life. The quicker a person accepts this, the quicker a person can stop fearing anxious feelings and thus contributing to a frustrating cycle of increasing them. Don’t panic when stressful circumstances or illness give you anxious feelings. Accept that it is normal, remember that it will pass. Find management and coping mechanisms to navigate those feelings, and then get on with life. The goal is not to never feel anxious (that isn’t human, and that is something that only a pharmaceutical rep would promise); the goal is to have anxiety become an afterthought—to not have anxiety be a large or overwhelming part of your life. If you can get to that point, that is cured.
- Physical health spills over into mental and emotional health. Good physical health means better emotional and mental health, and less anxiety. When I was in college and having panic attacks, I wasn’t exercising enough, I was smoking cigarettes and marijuana, I was eating like crap, and in general I was thinking that my youth was enough to “feel good without trying.” We must try at physical, mental, and emotional health. Begin thinking about improvements you can make to exercise, diet, or other parts of your physical health situation. These will reduce anxiety over time!
- Regular exercise is one of the most “fool-proof” ways to bring down baseline anxiety, and a quick workout can also be used for “acute relief,” in much the same way as a benzo might be in times of high anxiety or stress. At times when I was in the throes of crazy “withdrawal anxiety” I would try to get on the treadmill for five minutes. That didn’t make anxiety disappear forever (just like a benzo doesn’t either), but it helped me to get through the next half hour, and that was better than nothing.
And nowadays, if the situations in a day seem overwhelming, that is often a signal that a quick workout is needed. And it is amazing how much better I feel and how much better the world looks after that workout.
If you are currently exercising most days in some form or fashion, great! If not, then begin to see it as “medicine you must take” to reduce anxiety. Trust me, over time this will GREATLY reduce your baseline anxiety levels and become a trusted tool to manage stress or anxious feelings in the moment, too.
Anxiety isn’t comfortable, but it can’t harm us and it can be improved to the point where it is a footnote in your life’s story. It is manageable, it is beatable. I hope that this is good news to any of you who might still be struggling with anxiety. Keep at it, and have a good week!
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