Wednesday, May 7, 2014

What does anxiety feel like?

I can’t breathe. I start hyperventilating. I feel a knot in my throat and I just want to cry. My whole world seems to come crushing down, and suddenly I feel like I’m locked up in a bubble of my own fears. My heart starts beating even faster because I’m getting even more scared, and every beat of my heart is just a sad reminder of this uncontrollable fear that has taken possession of me.

Anxiety feels like your heart will jump out of your chest.
It makes you want to cry. It makes you want to bawl.
I breathe deeply just as I have been told to do. I can’t even breathe that deep because my mind won’t allow it. I close my eyes, and try to calm myself, but as soon as I close my eyes, horrible pictures of catastrophes make their appearance. Sometimes, just like the little kid scared of the monster in the closet, I see grotesque figures as soon as I close my eyes. So I keep them open.

I cry. I bawl. And I want to kick myself for feeling this way, and I envy those who can live life without worrying about anything.

Once the tears come rushing down my face, I start feeling better. The pressure in my chest is being slowly released. I am calmer, but still scared. My phone rings and I have to pretend I’m normal once again.

What was that? 
What I just described was anxiety at its peak: it was an anxiety attack. I experienced this months ago and it lasted about 15 minutes. But anxiety doesn’t last 15 minutes. Anxiety is a chronic disorder that lives with you day in and day out. You leave your house feeling anxious and you come back feeling anxious.

Many people don’t understand what this feels like. They just think anxious people are nothing but “scaredy cats” who are too scared to live. And to some extent that may be true. However, the part that I want non-anxious people to understand about us is our constant struggle to be normal, to be like the rest of the people that are not paralyzed by fear.

No, it’s not just a matter of forget your fears and do it anyway.  It’s not just a matter of : “look, she’s doing it and nothing has happened to her.”
Even if statistics show that our fears may be unreasonable, they feel totally viable in our minds.

So please try to understand us. It is especially important for those who are close to an anxious person to be patient and to understand that we are struggling and that we are trying to think like you do. Please understand that we also want out of this cage, but can’t find the key. Please be patient and don’t try to push us into anything we are not ready to do. Please don’t stop loving us because we seem to make your life a little harder.

How can you, the non-anxious person, help? 
When we go into an anxiety episode, be gentle. Don’t yell or scream, or dictate that we are being unreasonable. Instead, asks us questions. Sometimes we don’t even know what we’re anxious about. Play the role of a therapist. Ask us question such as:

  • Why are you feeling so scared?
  • What is it that you are picturing in your mind? 
  • How likely do you think that is to happen? 
  • What’s the worst that could happen? 
  • If you don’t do [insert activity causing anxiety]  what could be the consequence of it? 

Never ask these questions with a judgmental tone. Be caring and nurturing. Empathize and sympathize with your anxious loved one.

Normally, asking questions helps the person in fear to release some of the pressure being kept inside. Knowing that we have someone that is willing to understand us is also a great source of relief.

Friday, May 2, 2014

Breathing Techniques for Anxiety

Breathing is essential to living. We all know that, so it’s even silly that I would have to write it out. But sometimes, because it is so essential and because our wonderful body does it without requiring any conscious thought, we take it for granted.
Breathing techniques are super useful in case of

Our breathing styles or patterns can alter our moods. Our brain gets some signals as to how it should be feeling according to how we are breathing, and viceversa, the brain tell the body how it should be breathing according to how it is feeling. So we have two options, we can either control our brain or control our breathing, so that it in turn can control our brain.

I don’t know about you, but I still have a LOT of problems controlling what my brain thinks. On a good day, I can control what my mouth says, but rarely can I control what my brain thinks. If you have absolute control over your brain then I should be reading something you write because I want to learn.

Learning to control our breathing is way easier than learning to control our brain. If you’re anxious, controlling your breathing takes on an even more important role. So here are a few techniques you can use on those days when anxiety seems to take a hold of you.

Alternating nostrils
This is one of my favorite ones. I feel so deeply cleansed after finishing this technique, and it is kind of fun at the same time. Here’s how you do it:

  1. Place your right index and middle finger in between your eyebrows. 
  2. With your thumb cover your right nostril
  3. Inhale deeply through your left nostril
  4. Use your ring finger to cover your left nostril
  5. Exhale through your right nostril

Basically all you will be doing is inhaling through one nostril and exhaling through the other. At the beginning it will feel kind of silly and maybe even difficult while your fingers adjust to where they should be. If you’re having trouble with the hand placement, simply cover the nostril however it comes natural to you.

Repeat this exercise until you feel more relaxed. It usually doesn’t take too long.

Intense breathing

This one takes a little more effort and may even help you strengthen those abs.

  1. Place your hand on your tummy and exhale as much as you can. Feel your stomach go down. 
  2. Inhale right away. 
  3. Exhale with force
  4. Inhale right away
  5. Exhale with force

You get the point...

You should feel your stomach going up and down like a prairie dog. This type of breathing is excellent for letting out all the built up energy that anxiety creates in your body. Let it all out and picture a black cloud of anxiety exiting your body with every exhale.

Calm, Relaxed breathing

Sit in a quiet room. Before you start doing the calm, relaxed breathing, notice how you are breathing at the moment. Are you breathing heavily and quickly? Is your breathing shallow and rapid?

Take a moment to notice how your anxiety tends to change your breathing patterns and take note of it. Next time you feel anxious, your breathing will alert you.

Once you have determined that your breathing is nowhere near ideal, concentrate on getting it there.

  1. Take a deep, long breath of about 7 seconds. 
  2. Hold it in for 3-4 seconds
  3. Exhale for 10 seconds. 
  4. The exhaling time should always be longer than the inhaling time.   
  5. Repeat as long as you wish. 

Once your body gets the rhythm of it, you will no longer need to count.

Anxiety sucks so never give up on trying to get rid of it. Try these and other breathing techniques and Live happy!

Anxiety and Nighttime: 5 Tips to Sleeping Better Even if You're Anxious

So it's night time and you can't sleep again, huh?
Follow these tips for a better night sleep. 

If you’re an anxious person you know how scary night time can be. As soon as the sun starts setting, at the same time the darkness falls on the day, it also starts falling on your whole being. I don’t know why but it seems that darkness brings a whole new set of fears, and not because I’m scared of the dark. Rather, it seems like all my fears seem to rejoice and party at night when everyone else is quiet. Or maybe they seem louder because everything else is quiet.

Whatever the reason is, all I know is that anxiety tends to worsen at night time. Many anxious people can’t sleep because their head goes 100 miles per second, with racing thoughts about how scary life is and about the many, many things that can go wrong.

So, what can we, my anxious siblings, do to get some shut eye?

I’ve come up with a few suggestions....

Have a routine
One of the best things you can do to trick your brain into quieting down is develop a night time routine. It may take a while before your brain makes the relationship between the routine and  quieting down, but with time you will see the results. The tricky part is doing the same thing EVERY night. Let me give you an idea of what this looks like by using my routine:

  1. Put on PJ’s.
  2. Wash face and apply moisturizer
  3. Drink some kind of relaxing tea (chamomile and seven blossoms are among my favorites) while reading one of my favorite books. Don’t read anything too stressful or it may counteract the relaxing action of the tea. 
  4. Brush my teeth. 
  5. Get in bed. 
  6. Look at funny pictures in reddit for about 10-20 minutes (depending on how funny they are, and they’re usually hilarious...) *I know it’s recommended not to use any electronic devices 30 minutes prior to sleeping as this could actually make you be more alert and awake. That’s not my case. In fact, if I don’t look at reddit pictures on my iPad before lights off, I just can’t seem to fall asleep. I guess it all depends on the person. 
  7. Lights off. 

By this time my eyes feel so heavy that I have no choice but to fall asleep.

It took a while, but after many months of the same routine, my brain finally got the message.

Don’t read or watch news before going to sleep

This is one of the worst things you can do before going to bed. As an anxious person, you’re already a pro at imagining the worst case scenario, you don’t need any PROOF that the worst case scenario can actually happen.

News can actually stress you more and add speed to your already racing thoughts.

Simple steps for a good night sleep

Clean the slate

Before going to bed, it’s nice to clean the slate. During the day we collect “dirt” in the form of worries, stress and just overall craziness. Make sure you clean  your mind before going to sleep by reflecting on your thoughts, ideas and worries you had during the day. There’s different ways you can do this.

  • Writing on a journal
  • Praying
  • Sitting down, focusing on your breath and meditating on the day’s events. 
  • Talking about the day’s event with someone. 

My two choices of preference are writing and praying. You might have a different way to unwind. Put it to practice before going to sleep.

Breathe easy

Pay attention to your breathing, especially on the nights that you can’t sleep. Sometimes I catch my breathing a bit agitated for no reason other than the anxious thoughts my head is producing. Calm body, calm mind. If you learn to quiet down your body, your mind will follow. The best way to quiet down your body is by controlling your breathing.

Breathing is so natural that most of the time we don’t even notice we are doing it. But it you’re an anxious person it is super important that you catch yourself when breathing hard or agitated.

Stop and take long, deep breaths through your nose. Exhale through your mouth. The exhaling time should be longer than the inhaling time. Concentrate on your breath, just feel the air coming in and going out. This not only helps you relax your body and mind, but it also helps to distract you from all those harassing, anxious thoughts.

Here’s another post I wrote on breathing techniques to help you relax.

Sleep helpers

Sometimes, regardless of what we do, sleep just won’t come. Don’t be afraid to use some help. I particularly like to drink tea, and there’s a huge variety of relaxing teas that will help you catch some zzzz’s. These are my favorites, in order from most helpful to least helpful. However, even the least helpful of this list will help you fall asleep:

  • Serene slumber tea by Lifestyle Awareness
  • Valerian root 
  • Seven Blossoms 
  • Passion flower
  • Chamomile

If teas are not doing it for you, you can always buy some Melatonin. Melatonin is the sleep hormone that your brain produces naturally. However, sometimes your brain may need some help. Head to the closest pharmacy and buy some melatonin. You don’t need any prescription and you can’t get addicted to it.

Zzzquil and others like it
There was a night in which I just couldn’t sleep. I kept thinking the worst things about everything and I just didn’t seem to be tired. I got up and drank some zzzquil. In less than 10 minutes I was so sleepy and drowsy that I didn’t care about my worries anymore. I just wanted to sleep! I slept the whole night, but my morning wasn’t easy. I was still so drowsy and getting out of bed seemed as impossible as not getting a pimple on prom night.

Only reach for the zzzquil (or others like it) if you’re completely out of ideas as to what else to do to fall asleep. Only use if desperate, and expect a groggy morning. Don’t use it every night! If you feel that you may need something strong to make you fall asleep, don’t self medicate. Go to a doctor so that you can get something prescribed especially for you.

I hope at least one of these ideas was of help to you.
Happy Living!

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Anxiety and Childhood

I guess there really isn’t a time in which you formally become a citizen of the great anxiety city. There isn’t a ceremony to welcome you and there isn’t a memorable date that you can mark in your calendar. It just happens. Little by little, anxiety starts creeping up on you, and when you least expect it you become afraid of your own shadow.

At least that’s what happened to me.

I don’t ever remember being a carefree child. I remember my classmates being afraid of nothing. Their world was a world free of consequences. They didn’t see what was wrong with jumping down from the bleachers, they didn’t see the problem with letting go of their parents’ hand while in the store. Imagine this, they didn’t even think about cavities! That was just nonsense to me.

I was only 4 years old when I started noticing that I was different from all the children I knew. I don’t mean than in presumptuous way. If anything, I wished I could be more like them. But I wasn’t and I had to learn to live with it.

My classmates seemed to like me, and my classmates’ parents seemed to LOVE me. I was their children’s conscience that helped to keep them out of trouble.

I was a bossy child telling all the kids what they
could and could not do...
“Hector, you can’t do that. You know the teacher will get mad at you if she finds out you copied Alex’s homework.”

“Alex! Don’t jump from there. You’re going to hurt yourself!!”

“Abraham, you really need to start brushing your teeth at night and eating less candy. That’s why you have to go to the dentist so often.” 

I was only 4 and I had already become an anxious mother to a bunch of first graders.

I got used to carrying, not only my own problems, but those of others as well.
I worried immensely when someone in my family did something that I considered wrong, such as eating without properly washing their hands. And little by little, my horrible, nasty, no good OCD crept in my life....

Saturday, April 5, 2014

OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Behavior) according to an OCD sufferer

Washing hands can be one of the many rituals
of the person with OCD.

I was anxious since I was born. But that anxiety didn’t turn into full blown OCD until I was about 8 years old. Boy, was that a difficult time!

So you’ve probably heard about OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Behavior), right? Those three letters seem to be everywhere! But I also think there is a lot of misinformation about that disorder. Let’s get a few things cleared up before I go on to bore you with my story and how it affected my childhood and life in general:

  • A perfectionist does not necessarily have OCD
  • Just because you like to be clean and are meticulous about it, doesn’t mean you have OCD
  • Being anal doesn’t mean you have OCD. That just means you’re a jerk. 
  • Being picky and particular about somethings doesn’t mean you have OCD. 

I feel the need to clarify these things because, nowadays, I hear tons of people saying: “Oh my gosh! He’s sooo OCD!”, when in reality that person is just being a jerk or is a very clean person, who knows? There’s a fine line between the two...

OCD involves something more dramatic, and excuse me for saying this, but OCD also involves a little bit - or a lot - of craziness. I don’t mean to call those with OCD crazy. Far from it! I myself went through it, and on stressful occasions I still revert to some of those behaviors.

When I say crazy, I mean that even the person with OCD knows these behaviors are wrong and off. He knows that OCD looks crazy, and that the thoughts going on in his head don’t really make sense. They don’t even make sense to him! But still, like an addiction, the OCD person goes back to perform the rituals.

Let me give you an example of an OCD thought:

Makes sense? NO!! What does washing hands have to do with car accidents? Nothing, but yet the OCD mind makes a connection to it and it leads the person to wrongly believe that he can have control over the uncontrollable. 

And you know what the worst part is? The OCD person knows how stupid this sounds. They do! But we still have to go back to wash our hands just in case there’s a little bit of truth to that idiotic thought. And every time we do that, the OCD grows stronger...

Some people don’t understand why you have to do things that you know make no sense. Those don’t have OCD. The disorder becomes of your life, and you know have to listen, or else something terrible might happen.

It’s probably not a good comparison, but it could be like the child who is molested. The molester tells the child: “Don’t tell mom and dad or something bad will happen.”
So the child continues with the abuse, even though he hates and abhors it, in the hopes that nothing bad will ever happen to mom and dad. 

That’s OCD. You do the things it tells you to do because you’re afraid of what might happen if you don’t. And even though it’s all in your head, it feels just as real.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Anxiety: Controlling real and imagined fears

One of the things about anxiety Is that it comes accompanied of two sets of fears: real and imagined. However, anxiety exaggerates even the real fears, so that those fears also become imagined. Let me give you an example:

While it is possible to get sick, the possibilities of contracting a unknown disease that doctors know nothing about are very, very slim.  In fact the chances are so slim that we may even say they're impossible. But if you're an anxious person, you will think:

          "But even if chances are slim, there's still a chance, right?"

To that I will say:

"Yes, there's a chance, but the chances of that happening are even slimmer than of you marrying George Clooney or Angelina Jolie.

Now if you truly believe you will one day marry a movie star, then by all means, go ahead and believe that you will one day contract a horrible disease that no hospital will ever know how to manage.

And now, because I just said that, I feel like my possibilities of contracting that type do disease just increased because I revealed my fear. Thanks for that anxiety!

So you can see what I mean, and if you've experienced chronic anxiety you know exactly what I'm talking about.

The real trick is learning how to talk yourself out of those fears and learning how to distinguish the possible from the highly improbable.

How to distinguish fears

I'm not gonna ask you to look at statistics to find out what might and might not happen. No, instead I'm gonna ask you to use something that most of us were blessed with: common sense

Anxiety and common sense.

The first thing that goes out the window when you're feeling anxious is common sense, and that's a shame. Why? Because common sense could really protect us from all the insanity that unfolds inside our heads.

Here's a set of questions you can ask yourself to help you distinguish real from imagined fears:

What are the chances of this happening?
  • How many times have you seen it happen?
  • How many times have you heard of it happening?
  • Why do you think this will happen?

Could this be a pattern?

  • How often do you experience this sort of fear?

These questions help me because it helps me realize that my fears come from within me and not because there is an actual, factual reason to believe they will happen. Detecting patterns helps me see that anxiety is playing tricks on me.

Of course, I haven't learned how to completely control it, but I'm always trying new techniques. I hope this one has helped you!

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Why Anxious Silly Monkey?

I’ve always been an anxious person. I was born anxious, and I grew up being a anxious silly kid. My mother would call me anxious silly monkey and I guess I never really outgrew the name. 

There’s a couple of reasons for this blog. I started writing my fears and my experiences in anxiety land since a very young age. Back then when I was a kid there was no way to share my experiences with the world or with someone who could remotely understand what I was going through, so pen and paper became my best of friends. My mother is a very caring person, and she tried hard to understand what I was going through. She helped me a lot, I don’t think I could have outgrown my OCD if it hadn’t been for her. But she was still a foreigner to anxiety land. 

Now, with the internet at our fingertips, I hope to find those like me so that we know that we all go through very similar situations as long as our main citizenship remains here in the land of anxiety.

I also hope to help those who are foreigners to anxiety land to understand what it is like to live here so that they, in turn, can help or simply sympathize with anxious loved ones. 

I hope you don’t get bored of my stories!