It is believed that over 30% of the North American population suffers from anxiety. Of this 30%, only 10% of people actually receive effective treatment.1 I know first hand how much anxiety sucks as I personally, have had a long journey with anxiety related conditions. I understand just how debilitating, confusing, terrifying, and frustrating it can feel. I’ve spent the past 12 years learning how to manage my anxiety through various trials and treatments and so I wanted to share about some of my experiences through it all.
My intention in writing this article is to spread awareness about mental health in order to continue breaking the stigma surrounding it. I also want to remind all people that none of us have to be a victims to our minds and challenging thoughts! One thing to keep in mind while reading this article is that all mental health and associated conditions are on a spectrum – even if you aren’t clinically diagnosed with a mental health condition, it is more than okay to relate to having challenging thought patterns and a desire to liberate yourself from them. There’s so much we can do to help with this and so I’m excited to share what has worked for me.
My Journey with Anxiety
- I was diagnosed with my first official anxiety disorder at age 14. It manifested as an eating disorder which I later learned was rooted primarily in an inability to manage my anxiety levels along with both self induced and societal pressures. I spent approximately 7 years battling the disorder. This consisted of numerous doctor trips, “weigh ins”, an attempt at focused weight gain, talk therapy, and eventually anxiety medication. I decided to go off my anxiety medication after 4 years of taking it however I continuted to feel many ebs and flows throughout the 7 years I battled the condition. It wasn’t until around the age of 21 that I truly felt like my eating disorder was no longer a major issue in my life. I attribute a lot of this to finding a spiritual practice that worked well for me, learning how to dissociate my self worth from my size, and becoming empowered to study about what proper nutrition actually meant (hence why I went on to become a nutritionist). After overcoming the eating disorder my next anxiety disorder set in…
- At the age of 21 I was diagnosed with a form of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), which is technically classified as another anxiety disorder. During this time I was severely paralyzed by my “obsessive and intrusive” thoughts. There was a period in time when I didn’t even want to leave the house because I wasn’t sure what sort of thoughts might appear. I suffered from a lot of sleepless nights, minor panic attacks, tears, and a general sense of fear with almost everything I did. To help with the treatment of the OCD I attended Cognitive Behavioural Therapy which happened to be the BEST thing that I ever did to help me understand and manage my anxiety (I talk about this more below).
- I have since gone on to have many ups and downs with general feelings of anxiety. I especially notice my anxiety flare up during major life transitions. This is something I’ve had to really work hard on as I’ve come to realize life is essentially a giant transition from one thing to the next – especially when you welcome change with open arms in order to pursuit what you truly want for your life 🙂
- Today at the age of 26, I can say whole heartedly that although bouts of anxiety still come and go, I feel less anxious and more in “flow” than ever before. I can attribute this to learning different techniques to managing my anxiety, a lot of hard work, and an unwavering desire to live my best. I now try to constantly remind myself of the deep yearning I feel to fulfill my purposes on this earth. I know that listening to my anxious and doubtful thoughts will only get in the way of me doing this!
So, How do I Manage my Anxiety?
In all honesty I have tried SO many things and I think almost all of them helped in one way or another. Keeping in mind that; “this too shall pass” and “you are not your thoughts” has really helped to liberate a lot of my feelings of unease towards my anxiety. Below are some of the many other things I have found to be impactful:
- Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT): if you can find an opportunity to do this – I 100% recommend it! It is a modern day therapy strongly rooted in buddhist philosophy which helps to uncover negative core beliefs that are often at the cause of anxious thoughts. It also helps you to challenge your current fears, encourages self compassion, and helps to rewire your brain to create new more uplifting thought patterns – I truly wish everyone could do it no matter how anxious they are!!
- Journaling: this has helped me get to know my true self more than anything. Writing in a journal about whatever is on your mind can be so liberating. It can help you differentiate between your anxious thoughts and your true essence as a spiritual being
- Yoga/ Meditation: I was so blessed to have so many amazing spiritual teachers in my life during my bouts of extreme anxiety. I found a lot of peace through practicing both dharma & kundalini yoga, learning from my yoga teacher Tiaga Prem, meditating on my own, and reading books from authors such as Ram Daas, Pema Chodrun, and Eckhart Tolle.
- Acupuncture: This helped me in an incredibly subtle yet powerful way. Acupuncture helps to realign the “chi” (energy) in your body and can really work wonders for so many health conditions (not just anxiety)
- Long walks or Running: Every morning I would (and still do) go for a run or a walk outside. I find this the most beautiful way to start to the day. It helps me get in touch with the world around me, release some of the energy within my body, and really helps to create a sense of calmness within me.
- Finding my “path”: Learning that every single one of us is here for a reason and that we all have unique gifts and talents to offer the world has been one of the most important learnings to keep me centred, despite my anxious thoughts. I truly know how challenging this can be, however, trusting in your self worth for being the exact person you are is so integral for all we do in life! I’ve learned so much from Lacy Phillips who teaches people that sub conscious self worth is the most powerful way to manifest the life we want.
What Else Can We Do?
I recently saw the movie ‘The Joker’ which was such an intense reminder about how as a society, we so horribly outcast those struggling with mental health conditions. There’s a quote in it where The Joker explains, “The hardest part about mental illness is that everyone expects you to act like you don’t have it.” Whether we ourselves are struggling with a mental health condition or know someone who might be, below are a few ideas of ways to begin to change this.
- Be kind to EVERYONE! Whether you see someone on the street who might seem a little off, one of your friends is acting differently, or you’re struggling with your own challenging thoughts – remember to ALWAYS be kind to others and yourself. You never know what someone else is going through nor do you get to choose which thoughts come to your own mind.
- Learn ways you can foster positive Mental Health: for both yourself and those around you. One idea is to be very careful about the language you use surrounding mental health. Try to avoid using terms such as, “psycho”, “mental”, “crazy”, and don’t claim you have a mental health condition when you really don’t. For example, saying, “I’m so OCD about this” (when you aren’t truly struggling with this extremely challenging condition). Also always be aware of what sort of comments you are making to others by thinking about how it might make them feel! As a person who has struggled with an eating disorder, I know how important it is to avoid commenting on peoples bodies of physical appearance as best you can. There are so many other things about people that are worthy of compliments – why waste our time only focusing on the exterior stuff?
- Get involved.Volunteering with different mental health organizations such as CAMH can be one of the best ways to break the stigma between people who might be struggling with mental health conditions and those who are not. I used to teach chair yoga at a home for people struggling with severe mental health conditions and it was often the best hours of my week!
Mental health can be so challenging! If you are experiencing intense bouts of anxiety, self defeating thoughts, or struggling with another mental health condition – I am sending tons of peace and love your way. Just remember it does get better and there are so many things you can do to help manage the ways you are feeling – seeking support from a trained CBT therapist is my top recommendation as it seriously saved my life.
Although I never thought I would say this, as much as I have struggled with my anxiety, it has also been one of my most awakening experiences and has lead me down the path I find myself on today. It has been such a clear indicator that we as humans are not just our bodies or our minds, nor should we let our thoughts define us. We are infinite beings who are so much more than our minds can ever comprehend.
Whether you have diagnosed anxiety or you can relate to having a lot of challenging thoughts – just remember nobody gets to choose which thoughts come, however we all do get to choose which thoughts we pursue and which ones we simply ignore. So I encourage us all to try our best to ignore those anxious and self-defeating thoughts, and pursue more of the things in life that make us truly happy- no matter what lies our minds might be telling us!
Please note: Although I am a nutritionist, I am not a medical doctor nor a psychologist. This information is based on my own experience with anxiety and what I have found to work for me. If you are experiencing anxiety or any other mental health condition, I highly recommend you reach out to a health care professional in this field.