We can all experience a measure of anxiety at times in our lives – a sense of worry, unease, nervousness, or apprehension. Sometimes this is tied to a particular and definable circumstance – waiting on a medical diagnosis, experiencing loss of a job or loved one, or preparing for an important exam, as examples. But many people, young and old, live with chronic anxiety – an underlying sense of fear or concern for their safety, a sense of impending doom, persistent or excessive worry over daily situations.
This anxiety can take over one’s life.
Many people are diagnosed with one or more anxiety disorders; mood and/or anxiety disorders affect about 12% of Canadians, in fact. If anxiety or panic attacks are robbing you of joy or the ability to lead a normal, healthy life, I strongly encourage you to seek help. But listen, a chemical fix is not necessarily the answer – or not, perhaps, the whole answer. You could have thyroid imbalance or autoimmune thyroid disease, you may have an unhealthy gut leading to imbalance of neurotransmitters or bacteria and/or chronic inflammation, or you may have an acute deficiency of B12 or iron at the root of your intense anxiety. It really is worth getting things checked out. Help may come in the form of a combination of medication, supplementation of nutrients or amino acids, nutrition and lifestyle modifications, mindfulness education, or talk therapy and counselling. You may end up building a care team and working with a doctor, holistic nutritionist and counsellor for a season. Asking for help is an important part of loving yourself.
But even if you do not ‘qualify for a diagnosis’, yet struggle with chronic anxiety, please hear me: you CAN take action to care for yourself well by learning new ways of being and doing (mindsets and habits) that will support you in living with greater purpose, health & JOY. There is hope.
No two people experience anxiety in precisely the same way. Over the next few weeks I will be exploring this topic and offering some generalized suggestions to support mood balance and wellness (which are not to be interpreted as treatment for any medical condition*) based on my personal experience and from my time of digging into the research both during my studies as a Holistic Nutritionist and after (stress, anxiety and depression are areas of particular interest to me). I will also be linking up with my beautiful and courageous friend, Renée Tougas, as she shares her own intense struggle and the steps she has/is taking to love herself through it all. But this will still just be a simplistic overview.
Perhaps, like me, you love to hear people’s stories and to glean from books and research articles. But you ultimately need to learn to listen to your own body, mind, and spirit. What do you need right now in your life? What or whom do you need to let go of? What are the thoughts or conditions that underlie your chronic fear or anxiety? What habits in your life perpetuate or feed anxiety? What kind of support does your intuition or ‘gut’ tell you that you need to help lift you out of the dark and scary place in which you currently reside?
I am prone to anxiety. When my TSH is off my anxiety and heart palpitations spike. But long before a diagnosis of Hashimoto’s I struggled with chronic anxiety and depression. And when my mom was dying, about 13 years ago, I began having panic attacks. The room would swirl and I felt my heart was beating so hard and fast that I was surely having a heart attack. But when I took my pulse it actually was in a normal range. I was not functioning well in any area of life. I took myself to the emergency room one evening where I was hooked up to monitors and observed for a time. Then the attending physician came in and gently asked such a simple question but one which nearly unravelled me completely: “Is there anything stressful in your life right now?”
It felt like he validated my pain. But he also educated me because honestly I had no knowledge of or experience with panic attacks before then nor a clear awareness of just how much, stress had been impacting my life from childhood. I had never made those connections before and yet now they seem so incredibly obvious. But things just worsened anyways, for a time, after my beautiful mama died. I very purposefully returned to binge-eating because I didn’t know what else to do. The pain was excruciating. I was devastated and afraid and felt like my one safe space in the world had been ripped from my life. And I did ask for help yet did not find any, except from a certain very knowledgeable friend who loved me without judgement and quietly taught me that I could begin to take simple steps to care for myself and to love myself into healing.
My journey from that place, and every single one of my struggles along the way, have led me to my current work – offering hope and encouragement to others. Helping women learn to love and care for themselves well – body, mind and soul. Helping them understand they are enough. They have a beautiful purpose. They are worth fighting for. I want others – YOU – to see that too, that every part of who you are and every one your struggles are part of your story and your beautiful make-up (not the whole story, but part of it). And they can be used for good and not harm.
I will end here for today but on Wednesday will continue the discussion (part 2, part 3, part 4)) by sharing a framework that has helped me move from anxious to calm. At least more so. In the beginning, it is not as though I was consciously following any kind of framework but now (and over the past four years, in particular) I can look back and see that the elements I will share with you were and are necessary to my healing and wholeness.
*I am not a doctor! I encourage people to advocate for themselves and seek appropriate support. If you have a medical diagnosis or condition, do not play around with things on your own; check in with your prescribing doctor – certain supplemental amino acids can interact with SSRI’s and you never want to just stop taking a prescribed medication without medical supervision, for instance. But also, if your current care team is not interested in digging in deeper with you or you find your voice is being ignored, it may be time to seek out new health providers.