Writing through Anxiety Blog Series #4
If I needed to borrow a tool, would you lend it to me? Some people will say sure, while others will not. People are very protective of their tools. Some have good reasons, like their tools never being returned or returned too many years too late. Hopefully, the tools I’m giving you today will help you build a toolbox you can use and give to someone else in need. I wish I could fix anxiety with panic disorder with just one tool, but thankfully, we are in an age where we have so many tools at our fingertips and so many good neighbors willing to share their tools 🙂
Over these last few weeks, I’ve been writing about my recent anxiety and panic disorder that led me to go out on FMLA status from teaching. Today, we are discussing ways we can move through anxiety with the purpose of building a toolbox.
To start, I want you to declare that your anxiety will no longer have power over you and the things you want to enjoy in life. This declaration can be a simple whisper to yourself, a written statement, or shouted (literally shouted from your gut) outside in nature. A positive, powerful mentality is essential.
As a reminder, I’ve encouraged you since Blog 1 in this series to find your support people. Having a circle of support around you is crucial during this time. This community should surround you with love, understanding, and patience. Remember, healing never takes place in isolation.
Now let’s talk about a toolbox. Remember Bob the Builder? “Can we fix it? Yes, we can!” Bob the Builder was a popular tv series whereby Bob and his pals (aka his community) solved problems with a positive attitude (mindset) and used all sorts of tools to fix things. Note: I am fully aware this is an animated, imaginary world full of positivity for children. However, that doesn’t mean we should discredit it and not apply it to our anxiety and debilitating panic. And I’m not downplaying the severity of anxiety or panic disorder. I know what it’s like to be in the ER for panic attacks.
First, healing anxiety relies on all the tools we have to assist us through the pain. What tools do I have in my arsenal? Prayer, Bible reading, meditation, breathing exercises, body tapping, walking, hypnotherapy, writing, and many conversations with my support circle. And as of last week, I mentioned using medications. Due to the severity of the side effects and being in a consistent state of feeling simultaneously drunk and hungover, I recently decided to stop the meds. I’m trying everything I can to stay holistic because that works best for my body. There is no judgment here, and you should NEVER feel ashamed if you include medications in your toolbox.
Building a toolbox requires understanding how and why anxiety happens in the body. For me, it’s rarely thought-provoking anxiety, but I do have some thoughts that can trigger anxiety; however, not many. It’s a physical response to the stress in my world. So I recently learned about “leaning” into the pain and accepting that my body is sounding an alarm. It’s crying for attention. All the old habits and the physical pain stored deep in our cells comes to the surface in the form of anxiety and panic. When I feel heart palpitations or tension in my chest or shoulders, I stop what I am doing and place my hand on the part of my body where I feel the reaction happening. So if it’s that choking feeling, I gently put my hand on my throat area, take a 2- or 3-second breath and exhale twice the amount while quietly telling myself, “I am safe, or just simply ask my anxiety what it needs.” If I have to do this sitting down, walking around, or swaying side to side, that’s what I do. It doesn’t take it away, but it lessens the intensity. If you are interested in more of this type of technique, search “somatic therapy.”
I also walk every day. Even on rainy days, I somehow manage to walk at least 2 miles outside. I invested in base layers of clothing to have zero excuses for not getting outdoors as the temperatures drop. It’s fall in Virginia which means it’s cold in the mornings and warmer in the afternoons. During my FMLA time, I have taken to doing sunrise walks. I love watching the sunrise at 7:20 every morning. There is something so peaceful about the rising sun and the colors of the leaves. I even found a rock to sit on under a canopy of yellow maple trees. The leaves are truly spectacular this time of the year. As a side note, I am not a runner, but on some mornings, when I feel a lot of built-up tension or vibrations in my chest, I do a slow run for a mile. I did two miles the other day because my body needed to move quickly, and it helped me release some deep breathing.
Meditation. Most people believe you must empty your mind to meditate effectively. I beg to differ. Our minds inherently think. By nature, this is how they are wired. So why do we expect them to stop thinking while meditating or going into a state of quiet rest? Years ago, I learned to hear the thought but not follow it. So I often say, “don’t go down the rabbit hole.” If you are trying to quiet your mind and suddenly remember that you need to buy frozen peas and carrots, thank your brain for the reminder but don’t start building a grocery list. Return to your quiet mind and visualize where your breath is needed in your body to heal. For example, I imagine the inhale filling up my chest with clean air and the exhale expels the stress from my body. After a few clean breaths, I move on to another body part. I do this for about 3-5 minutes. That’s it.
Body tapping is a fantastic exercise. I learned body tapping almost 20 years ago! I recently appreciated the benefits of knowing how to do body tapping during this latest episode of panic. I’ve recommitted to ensuring I go with some form of tapping during the day. As shown in the video listed below, you don’t have to tap your entire body; you can focus on the upper body to help relieve anxiety’s stagnant energy. I like doing whole-body tapping at the end of a long and stressful day. It’s like beating the dust off an area rug.
I’m new to hypnotherapy. Listening to it right before bed is exceptionally relaxing. There is something about consciously melting into your mattress while unconsciously being told affirmations that I find comforting and helpful. Below is the link to the audio ones that I listen to and the books that has really helped me understand the physical storing of anxiety.
As for bible reading and praying, I’ve always done this. Having that quiet time at the beginning of my day while reading the Bible is a habit I will never abandon. In the mornings, if my mind is racing or my body is tense, I begin reciting the Lord’s Prayer over and over. Repeating this prayer or a verse from the Bible helps ground me and makes me feel truly connected to God, and reminds me that I am never alone. My favorite Bible verse that I’m ready to tattoo on my body is Romans 12:2 – “Do not conform to the ways of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. ”
Finally, make sure you have a support circle. My support comes from family and friends, who don’t judge me, and they can be called/texted at any time of the day. I also have a therapist who gives me tools and is a prayer warrior. Here in Virginia, and I’m sure in other states, after COVID, it is challenging to find a therapist with an opening that isn’t six-eight months out. I turned to Better Help, an online therapy platform. All it took was filling out a questionnaire, and they matched med immediately to someone. We now meet online weekly, and I can join small group therapy. It’s been a great tool! If you are trying to find a therapist and cannot get in to see one, please consider Better Help. They are affordable and convenient; you can choose a video or phone call, all in the comfort of your home. And I know what it feels like to have agoraphobia during anxiety and panic, so having the comfort of not leaving your home is essential. My work family is also a part of my support circle. They check in with me, give me space, and ask permission to chat about work. On the days when I said, “no, I can’t talk about work right now because I have too much anxiety,” they understood and still reached out to say hi or send cute cat memes or pictures of their pets.
I hope that giving you a glimpse and a list of resources in my toolbox is helpful. I know how living with anxiety and panic disorder can be debilitating at times. I am returning to work tomorrow, and it has taken me close to six weeks to say this without panicking. I have a “panic buddy” ready at work to help me when my body wants to freeze or run away. I don’t know if I will openly discuss this with my students. Some may find this blog and read it anyways, and if they have questions, I will be honest. My journey is not over; just my medical leave is over. And without ruminating about what “might be” or “could be” in the future, which is not real because it hasn’t happened yet, I am learning to be present, and I’m learning to be a defender of my mental and physical health, even if it means redefining my life.
If you don’t want to read this exceptionally long narrative, here is a quick list of resources that make up my toolbox (these are not affiliate links):
Body Tapping – there are many other videos but this is how I learned to body tap almost 20 years ago
Understanding Anxiety and Hypnotherapy – book and audio downloads
My favorite pens and pencils for writing
Columbia Sports (base layers for colder weather)
Let’s keep the dialogue going. If you are comfortable, please leave me your story and experience with anxiety/panic attacks. Remember, we heal in community, not in isolation. My mission is to help others openly discuss their anxiety/panic and talking openly and honestly is the first step. If you have tools that have helped you, please share. Like my motto, “writing is a life-long journey meant to be shared,” I can now confidently say the same about healing my anxiety ~ it may be a life-long journey, but I’m grateful I can share it with you and those around me.