Anxiety: 5 ways your senses can help manage it!
Ever feel that your life is out of balance? Perhaps you are losing sight of what is really important; finding it hard to breathe; or having difficulty seeing past the negative things going on in your life. The good news is that you are not alone! The bad news is that if left untreated it could lead to certain mental illnesses, like anxiety or even depression.
Why should you care about anxiety?
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, 18% of the population, or 40 million adults in the United States age 18 and older, suffer from anxiety disorders, making it the most common mental illness in the U.S.! And women are 60% more likely than men to experience an anxiety disorder in their lifetime.
What is more alarming is that according to Anxiety and Depressions Association of America (ADAA) anxiety disorders can cost the U.S. more than $42 billion a year, almost one-third of the country’s $148 billion total mental health bill. More than $22.84 billion of those costs are associated with repeated use of health care services; people with anxiety disorders seek relief for symptoms that mimic physical illnesses.
Finally, ADAA also sites that anxiety disorders affect one in eight children. Research shows that if untreated, children with anxiety disorders are at a higher risk to perform poorly in school, miss out on important school experiences, and engage in substance abuse.
Why do I care?
Not only do the statistics cause me alarm but I am no stranger to anxiety and panic attacks. This is why I felt compelled to share my experiences. If you, or anyone you know, is going through something like anxiety, I hope these thoughts and experiences can help!
How did my anxiety begin?
I remember my very first panic attack like it was yesterday. I was standing on a crowded NYC subway headed to work during rush hour. Out of nowhere my heart started racing, I found it difficult to breathe, my head became dizzy and I had this overwhelming feeling that I was going to die. Maybe this sounds extreme but I can assure you at that moment it was real and scary as hell!
What did I do? At the next stop I got off the subway and raced to the nearest exit. Once I was above ground I found myself gasping for air. I took a few deep breaths, tried to reassure myself that I was okay and walked the rest of the way to work.
What did I do?
Although this episode should have been a signal for me to get help, I was too proud and felt that asking for help would be a sign of weaknesses so I continued going on with my life like nothing had happened.
But this was only masking a deeper issue that would eventually erupt, making it even harder to address and overcome.
When did I realize it was a problem?
As these moments of anxiety got stronger and more frequent I started avoiding loud places, groups of people, and even the subway! Can you imagine living in NYC and not ever taking the subway and trying to avoid places with lots of people? Not easy!
And what was even more difficult? My job was facilitating leadership training for retail executives in large group sessions. I remember having anxiety before every session! At one point I even contemplated calling in sick before a three day seminar I was scheduled to lead.
All of these moments were troubling me but the day that put me over the edge was almost two years after my first panic attack!
On this day, I received difficult news which would require me to make one of the toughest decisions in my life! Although I won’t go through the details of this news or the decision (at least not in this blog post) I can assure you that it caused me to hit rock bottom and spin out of control into a serious state of depression!
Why did I finally address the anxiety and how?
If you have read “Eat, Pray, Love” by Elizabeth Gilbert, you may recall the part of the story where she finds herself laying on the bathroom floor crying out of control and praying for something to change in her life? That is very similar to what happened to me which caused me to finally realize I needed help!
Something needed to change if I was ever going to feel happy again! So I decided the first critical step was to go to therapy. The wounds were deep and I needed to address the root causes. Of course this was not easy and it has taken several years and I am still working on addressing a few of these inner demons.
Luckily, as part of the therapy I have done over the years, I have identified a few coping methods that involve strengthening our senses to manage stress and anxiety. These methods have really helped me so I would like to share them with you. However, please note I am not a Doctor and am not prescribing any particular method for you. If you suffer from anxiety and or depression, please don’t wait as long as I did to ask for help.
TASTE: Cleaning the body is as important as cleaning the mind
Over the last few years, I have worked hard on implementing a healthy lifestyle which is fueling my body with good nutrition and can help me perform at an optimal level.
Although the recipe for success is different for everyone, it is important to take time to listen to your body in order to understand what types of food gives you energy and makes you feel good.
For me, I’ve learned a plant based diet with lots of healthy grains (quinoa, brown rice, etc.), veggies and fruits is best. Also, I have reduced the amount of alcohol and animal based protein in my diet. Finally, I have added essential vitamins (like omegas and the Bs) to help my body feel balanced and healthy.
You may be wondering if there is really a link between your diet and mental health! According to Felice Jacka, president of the International Society for Nutritional Psychiatry Research, "A very large body of evidence now exists that suggests diet is as important to mental health as it is to physical health. A healthy diet is protective and an unhealthy diet is a risk factor for depression and anxiety.” There are even studies being done which show that certain supplements (like omega-3 fatty acids) might balance mood.
If you still don’t believe the studies, try it yourself! Think about removing certain foods and then start a food journal and see what foods trigger different moods or feelings. You may be surprised with what you find. I certainly was!
SEE: Get clear in your mind
Your mindset is powerful. What you believe you see and vice versa. It is very simple: if your mind is cluttered you will not be able to see clearly. This means you may believe something that isn’t true which can results in a downward spiral of anxiety or depression. It did for me!
A great tool for clearing the mind is meditation. If you are wondering if this will actually help you, you should read a great article by Huffington Post “8 ways meditation can improve your life,” by Kristine Cane.
I am still working on this one. Ironically, I haven’t made it a priority over the last few months and have noticed some anxiety returning so I am going to find time to meditate right away!
FEEL: Don’t ignore your intuition
Often we try to convince ourselves that what we are feeling is wrong. However, our instincts were created for a reason. Finding the balance of how much to listen to our mind vs. feel what is in our body is tough. Especially for women, since research has shown we were created with higher levels of intuition than our male counterparts in order to protect our family. This can be overwhelming and what I have discovered is that the longer I try to ignore my inner feelings, the stronger they will become.
How do I find balance? I try to ask myself a few questions when something is feeling off or my stomach is overpowering my mind. “What is bothering me about this? What data exists that would put me at ease? Is it something about me or the situation? Who can help give me different perspective?”
In the end, even if I don’t go with my gut I will explore what is going on and be clear with what needs to be addressed before moving forward. This has helped a lot.
Of course there are situations which I believe you should try to listen to your gut and the article “5 Gut Instincts you shouldn’t ignore,” is a good resource for what to consider when making these types of calls.
SMELL: Breathe deeper and use aromatherapy to relax you
If I asked you to think of a time when you walked into a room and you were instantly energized what would come to your mind? How did it smell? Our nose has been found to be the most sensitive of all our senses and can really have an impact on our mood.
What scents work best? If you are looking for a few ideas, read this article from Mental Health Daily, “Aromatherapy: 9 best essential oils for anxiety and stress.”
I happen to love lavender and like to find beauty products that have this ingredient to help me keep calm throughout the day; like Meow Meow Tweet’s Deodorant stick in Lavender Bergamot.
What smells calm you and how can you incorporate them in your life?
HEAR: Find the sounds that bring you balance and create calm energy
Music is a big part of my life! I listen to music when I am showering, working out, commuting to work, doing the laundry, cooking, etc. And music can really alter my mood! Funny enough, when I am experiencing heartache or sadness I often turn to sad songs!
So, how does this impact my mental health? According to the article “Music Thearapy for Health and Wellness”, Dr. Catherine Ulbricht writes that “In Chinese medical theory, the five internal organ and meridian systems are believed to have corresponding musical tones, which are used to encourage healing.”
Do you know what sounds help you feel calm? There are a lot of music apps, like soundcloud, which have playlists that can help set the right mood.
What other ideas to you have to help manage stress and anxiety? I would love to hear from you!