Coping with anxiety: taking care of yourself is the key

A crisis counsellor shares a holistic approach to dealing with anxiety

Silhouette of an anxious woman; anxiety concept

I’ve lived with anxiety; I have had panic attacks. I understand the helplessness, the frustration, the feeling of being out of control, not to mention the numb face, the blurred vision, and confused thinking. As a crisis counsellor and author of two self-help books, I help many clients with anxiety. What I know for sure is that you can get better. I’ve seen it, experienced it. You won’t be trapped in this state forever… but you DO need to seek help.

What anxiety feels like

Your heart races; you get the sweats; your mind is uncontrollable, racing or forgetful; it’s difficult to concentrate. Your adrenal glands work overtime and you frequently have a “fight and flight” reaction. You feel as if at any moment you could malfunction or explode, so you avoid situations and people. Your emotions are out of control; the panic overcomes you and you may feel disconnected from your surroundings, dizzy, sick in the stomach, or have chest pains. Your sleep and appetite are disrupted, leaving you feeling unwell and exhausted. You get the drift...

How anxiety affects your life

Anxiety may impact your work, your relationships, your belief in yourself, and your trust in life. Many people with anxiety self-medicate or attempt to escape with drugs or alcohol which, in turn, lead to neurotransmitter imbalances in the brain. You feel mental, but you are not! You are a victim of circumstances; you are only suffering because an intolerable situation in your past has become deeply ingrained in your subconscious.

What causes anxiety

At the heart of most anxiety is trauma, sometimes from as long as 10 or 20 years ago. But the impact of the trauma is deeply ingrained in your subconscious, causing a fear-based belief system that has changed your perception of life while affecting your speech, behaviour, and reality.

Some possible reasons for your anxiety could be

  1. Childhood abuse [physical, verbal or sexual]
  2. Witnessing a traumatic incident
  3. Being involved in a car accident
  4. Negative thinking [habitual]
  5. Abusive relationship [past or current]
  6. Diagnosed conditions: Depression, OCD, PTSD, Personality Disorders, Bi-Polar, etc.,
  7. Acquired brain injury or large blow to head
  8. Past heavy drug or alcohol abuse
  9. Past bullying
  10. Past trauma when you felt powerless – Event or natural disaster

Impact of trauma

When traumatised, you will often have flashbacks, sleep disruption, nightmares; you will avoid people and places; you will feel anger, guilt, shame, low self-esteem, hopelessness, and maybe even get thoughts of committing suicide.

When you have significant trauma, your body replays the traumas like a record player that is stuck – your trauma plays over and over. As a consequence, your body gets trapped in the world of triggers. You may find yourself becoming hyper-vigilant, fearful, jumpy, on edge, and of course, angry. It doesn’t take much, and you are like a volcano erupting. Standard counselling techniques may not be enough to end this torment. Your anxiety may be the result of years of trauma, or it could be a part of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder [PTSD], where you have been in a life/death situation. Maybe you didn’t view an event as serious, but your mind/body are still having trouble resolving and processing this. You need an expert in trauma; someone who is trained in treating PTSD, or someone who works on three levels: Mind, Subconscious Mind and Body.

What can you do to help yourself right now?

Listen to and challenge your thoughts

With over 70,000 thoughts per day, this is going to be a challenge. You have been programmed by friends, family, teachers, and the media, to see yourself and life a certain way—either negative or positive. You are also programming yourself every day. It’s vital to listen to your thoughts, to ensure you are not criticising yourself or making incorrect assumptions about circumstances. You may need help, using CBT [Cognitive Behaviour Therapy] with a counsellor or psychologist, to improve your thoughts, to ensure you don’t get into the habit of ‘black and white’ thinking, etc., which inflames anxiety further.

Walk

Aim for at least three 30-minute brisk walks per week to improve the balance of serotonin and dopamine in your brain—these are essential for improving your sense of wellbeing. Also, when you exercise, you are actively reducing cortisol, which is a stress hormone that makes anxiety worse. In addition, exercise creates endorphins, which is nature’s way of making you feel great and make you emotionally more resilient.

Give your body rest

Anxiety causes an overload on many of your organs, your nervous system, and your adrenal glands. Try listening to music or using meditation to slow down or distract yourself from erratic thoughts. Take time out daily—just for you—to focus on relaxation, your hobbies and rejuvenating. Support your overwhelmed body to stay well and avoid illness, common in anxiety. Rest the body, and the mind will follow.

Eat healthy and regular meals

Quality carbohydrates and proteins improve your serotonin levels, ensuring that you have continued strength and your blood sugar levels are more consistent. Many people with anxiety skip meals, and don’t eat well, adding to the overload on the body. Never do that.

Sit in the sun

Aim for 15 minutes in the sun daily. This is great to help you absorb vitamin D, and make you more relaxed. Being kind to yourself is key to changing your life. Start with small steps, and these will soon become big steps.

Live for you

Constantly ask yourself, “What do I feel like doing right now?” Too many people live for others, leaving them feeling controlled or overwhelmed. When you feel unheard, disrespected or manipulated, this sense of powerlessness only adds to your fatigue, and contributes to anxiety. Take your power back.

Ask for help

Healthy emotional boundaries are important in improving our emotions. If you need help, reach out for help. Anxiety is exhausting, and you may need help in many areas of your life, while you are transitioning.

Stop being so hard on yourself

You didn’t ask to be traumatised, did you? No one asks for anxiety. This happened to you. It’s not your fault, but you can get help. You are not inadequate; you are suffering. You usually can’t fix this alone. Reach out for help.

See your doctor

See your doctor and ask for the Mental Health Plan [where available], so that you may get FREE [or subsidised] 6-10 sessions with a psychologist who specialises in trauma and anxiety. The doctor may recommend medication to improve an imbalance of neurotransmitters in your brain, such as Serotonin or Dopamine.

Go deep—get professional help for your trauma with a specialist

Following are three techniques that can help reduce trauma, by working not just with thoughts…but working with the mind, the Subconscious mind and the body. These ‘deep’ methods have caused many [including myself] to experience profound healing and change. Feel free to Google or YouTube these techniques, to learn more and find the psychologist/therapist in your area that specialises in one of these three techniques:

  1. Somatic Therapy [Founder Peter Levine]: Learn to heal trauma by working with a somatic trained therapist to regulate emotions and body, in the here and now.
  2. EMDR Eye Movement De-sensitisation [Founder Dr Shapiro]: Learn to heal trauma by re-processing the memories in the subconscious, by working with a therapist trained in EMDR.
  3. Brainspotting [Founder David Grand]: Learn how the eyes and subconscious work together to find the spots of trauma in the subconscious, then release and re-process these emotions and trauma by working with a therapist trained in Brainspotting.

Healing the past

20 years ago, I was in crisis, so I know how it feels. I want you to really enjoy your life and experience more peace, control and happiness without experiencing daily panic and anxiety. My second book Are You Listening? Life is Talking to You has helped many feel re-connected to life again. It all starts with you… I want you to have the best life possible, and for that reason, I spent five years writing this book – for those in crisis. With these tools, and with a little help from a trauma expert, healing is possible. May your love for yourself and your life deepen more daily.

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