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!