There’s more than meets the eye when it comes to anxiety and mental health, and much of it is happening behind the scenes. As someone who’s been diagnosed with both depression and PTSD, dealing with its familiar counterpart anxiety (particularly social anxiety) is something that dominates my day-to-day decision making. Here’s 10 pointers on anxiety from someone who’s living through it.
1. My condition controls my life
Everything in my life is planned around supporting my mental health. I prefer to work alone. I emotionally insulate myself to keep stressors to a minimum. I keep only as many relationships as I need - too many relationships (friendships included) means too much stress and less focus on my own health. There’s literally nothing I do on a day-to-day basis where I don’t have to ask myself “how will this influence my mental health?” And I’m not alone - Mayo Clinic lists several different types of anxiety-related disorders all under one roof. These include generalized anxiety disorder, social anxiety disorder, separation anxiety, and specific phobias too. If you’re looking for more detailed statistics on anxiety rates across the country be sure to check out this link from the Anxiety and Depression Association of America.
2. Anxiety keeps building after stress is gone
One of the most debilitating aspects of anxiety is the way it builds behind the scenes. Stress that happens during the day snowballs into a mountain of anxiety at night, it compounds and rattles around in my brain seeking for a way to throw my life into turmoil. To make matters worse, as my anxiety becomes harder to control, there's also an increased chance of related conditions showing up. It grows and compounds into the inescapable lethargy I recognize from my worst days of depression, or the heart-racing nightmares of PTSD.
3. Some days are better than others
When I’m managing everything in my life exceptionally well - getting good sleep, lots of exercise, proper diet, taking my CBD for anxiety and getting social interactions with friends and family - I have days where I feel essentially like a normal person! On the opposite end of the spectrum, there are some days that feel very dark and lonely, where I just want to shut down the world outside and hide away. External events can often make anxiety worse. The recent situation with Covid-19 is a good example of how an existing condition becomes even more difficult to manage amid the chaos of a global health crisis.
4. I’m careful about what I eat and drink
Now in my late 30’s, the days where I could eat or drink anything I pleased are certainly behind me, especially when you take into account the impact on mental health. Keeping a very limited palette of foods I know and trust along with daily multivitamins is an extra blanket of security to make sure nothing throws me off balance. I'm also conscious of making nutritional choices that can negatively impact cognition - although I don’t think I could ever give up caffeine, I am certainly making an effort to drink less alcohol and limit my sugars.
5. Importance of a non-toxic mindset
Sometimes I can be my own worst enemy. There is nothing worse for anxiety than a toxic frame of mind. Point 2 above about anxiety building after stress is gone? The primary influencer of that thought process is me! A large part of managing my mental health is recognizing and taking responsibility for these negative thoughts and committing to turn them around. I’m training myself to always look for silver linings, even hurtful memories become easier to reconcile when I also remember what I learned afterwards (usually the hard way). Also the fact that I have a place to sleep, a roof over my head and food to eat reminds me that I must be doing something right - counting my blessings and being thankful for what I do have is another great way to focus positive energy.
6. Recognizing triggers and supports
The two big red flags that I watch for are panic attacks and emotional outbursts. Either of these two events will lead me to investigate the triggers leading up to the episode. Finding a singular culprit can be harder than you think, I’ve found anxiety is most often caused by a culmination of issues originating from many different places in my life. The flipside to triggers are supports - these are the things in your life that bring you back to normal. My supports include loved ones, counselling, exercise, humor, music and even video games have offered a safe place for me to escape.
7. Movement and the joy of exercise
There are some moments where words aren't enough, when you just feel like screaming or crying or strangling somebody, and in those moments there is no better release than exercise. I like running - I don’t need a gym membership or fancy equipment, and the impact makes me feel truly alive. Longer runs can turn into serious meditation sessions for me, clarity of thought as my legs whisk me briskly across the landscape. You don’t have to run though, movement of any kind is essential in getting your heart rate up and allowing your feel-good endorphins to flow properly.
8. Find a routine that works for you
Your mind is a tool like any other, and tools need to be maintained. Keeping a consistent routine is a surefire way to keep your mind sharp and root healthy habits into long lasting change. One thing my condition has left me with, for better or worse, is lots of emotional energy - so finding a routine to leverage this energy has been an essential piece of managing my mental health. Letting this energy lie dormant can cause it to fester into negative thoughts or feelings of restlessness, while focusing this energy into activities such as artistic expression is a much more healthy outlet.
9. Normal situations become harder to manage
Like any other illness, my condition causes me to miss out on some really good parts of life. There are also many parts of regular life you consider simple that I find challenging and exhausting. For example I’ll almost never go out to see live music - not because I don’t like music - but because the emotional toll it takes to navigate that environment is too high for me. The emotional toll stacks up in other ways as well. I’ll stop doing things like cleaning the house or paying bills on time because I’m feeling too overwhelmed with what I’m struggling with in my own mind.
10. Beware pharmaceuticals
I have to start this section by saying that pharmaceuticals for mental health work well for many people, I’m just bitter about how long it took to find one that worked well for me. The rollercoaster of jumping from one medication to the next and reeling from the side effects was exhausting and took away many good years of my life. Even when I did find a good match, effects would wear off after a few weeks leaving me right back where I started. If this sounds familiar and you’re looking for a more natural solution, the best option I’ve found is CBD. As a non-impairing compound I’m able to manage my condition naturally without the backlash of pharmaceuticals, plus the effectiveness has remained consistent over my past 3 years. As one of the safest medications I’ve ever used for anxiety, it is truly my hope that in the future CBD will be looked to as a frontline treatment and not a last resort for those in need. Looking for CBD designed specifically for mental health? I’ve had success with the Balance collection from Dr Love CBD, they also offer support material and daily journals to make sure you stay on track!
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