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Three Tips to Reduce Anxiety

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Anxiety attacks are more than just emotional. The physical aspects of a panic attack–heart palpitations, shortness of breath, chest pains, and sweating–can be so severe and overwhelming, it can cause you to believe you’re having a heart attack.

But even though an anxiety attack can make you feel like the world is crashing down around you, it’s important to remember–no matter how hard it is to do so–that there are ways to reduce anxiety. Here are a few ideas to stop a panic attack or to simply reduce the symptoms of anxiety.

Take Slow, Deep Breaths

The first step to stopping an anxiety attack is remembering to breathe. When you’re anxious, you may not realize that they’re taking short, shallow breaths, which will trigger the stress response and cause even more anxiety. So, it’s very important to control your breathing if you want to keep anxiety under control.

At the first signs of a panic attack, you should remember to inhale deeply through your nose, and then exhale slowly through the mouth. When doing so, be sure that the stomach expands when you inhale and contracts when you exhale. This deep breathing exercise is called abdominal breathing, and it sends signals to the brain that everything is safe, thereby activating the parasympathetic nervous system (“rest and digest”) and reducing the physical symptoms of anxiety.

Avoid Alcohol

Have you ever grabbed a beer or poured a glass of wine to numb those overwhelming feelings of anxiety? It makes sense; people commonly use alcohol to wind down after a stressful day or as a social lubricant when they’re feeling nervous at parties. Alcohol can be relaxing, so it must be a good solution for combating those uncomfortable feelings–right?

Actually, wrong. While you may initially feel more relaxed after a drink, you might notice your anxiety getting worse once the effects of alcohol wears off. That’s because alcohol changes the serotonin levels in the brain, which can make anxiety symptoms worse.

Also, it’s possible to become mentally and physically dependent on alcohol as a quick “fix” for anxiety, which can lead to substance abuse and addiction. With that being said, it’s best to leave alcohol on the shelf, and consider more effective ways of coping with anxiety.

Practice Muscles Relaxation Techniques

You’ve probably noticed that your muscles tense up when you’re anxious. This is part of the body’s flight-or-fight response, in which the body is gearing up for a real or imagined life-or-death situation.

Fortunately, there is a way to reverse muscle tension and reclaim the body during an anxiety attack. Like abdominal breathing, Progressive Muscle Relaxation (PMR) works by signaling the brain to calm down, which in turn causes the body to relax and the heart rate to decrease. Additionally, PMR also helps an anxious person become more aware of their body, and helps them to understand what a relaxed and tense body feels like.

You can practice PMR during a time when you’re relaxed in order to be prepared for when you experience another anxiety episode. When you’re comfortable, start with abdominal breathing exercises. After repeating this several times, start by tightening and releasing the muscles in your feet. Become aware of how the feet and toes feel like when you contract and relax the muscles. Then, work your way up by tightening and releasing the muscles in your legs, knees, thighs, hips, abdomen, chests, arms, shoulders, neck and face. Repeat this exercise in places that are particularly tense. Finally, end the session with more abdominal breathing exercises. By the end of exercise, you should notice less anxiety and tension relief.

Anxiety and anxiety attacks can be an overwhelming experience–but it’s not the end of the world (even if your body is telling you otherwise) and you don’t have to suffer alone. Remember that it’s okay to seek treatment or therapy for anxiety, and that you have more control of the situation than you think.TThr

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Three Unique Techniques I’ve Used to Cope with Anxiety (That Worked)

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When you have a mental illness, resourcefulness can be your best company. We can be known for our creativity and innovation because we couldn’t possibly survive a day or overcome hurdles without those traits.

I started seeking therapy for my anxiety in 2012. In therapy, I learned the conventional ways to deal with my anxiety attacks and social anxiety–Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and abdominal breathing exercises to name a few. But I soon realized that to conquer my mental illness, I needed to take some matters into my own hands by finding my own personal DIY therapies. This resulted in finding several non-traditional yet effective ways of overcoming my anxiety disorders. With these stories, you may also consider these ideas to help you conquer your own personal issues.

Rock music helped me to conquer my fear of bridges

It all started with an intense fear of driving.

Learning to drive was what caused me to seek help for my anxiety in the first place. Even though I had passed my driving test, obtained a license, and eventually drove home in my first new (used) car, I was still plagued with obsessive thoughts about having an accident. I would have dreams about it. I would sit at my cubicle at work, thinking of every possible disaster that could happen while driving home from work. At first, I just brushed it off (I was so used to anxiety that I couldn’t notice the fact that it was pathological). And then the panic attacks started.

I remember the first panic attack. It was 5 pm and my workday ended at 5:30. So that meant I would be driving home in thirty minutes. I started to obsess over the thought of getting into an accident. And that’s when I started to have heart palpitations. And trouble breathing. And a sudden headache. And hands that trembled so bad that I could no longer write or type. I remember running to the bathroom and crying in the bathroom stall, waiting for the time, or waiting for a future disaster. It took several minutes to realize what was happening and it took as much time to calm down enough in order to drive home (slowly, but surely).

That was only the first. I had another one the next day. And the next day. And the day after that, all happening around 5 pm. It was as if I had tricked my body into thinking that this was what it was supposed to do, and I was trapped.

This was how I finally gave in and went to see a psychiatrist and a therapist. After my diagnosis and several months of medication and therapy, I was able to drive home or to the grocery store without trembling hands on the steering wheel. However, I still had a long way to go. I was still afraid to drive over a bridge (a sudden phobia–I was able to drive over a bridge before the panic attacks started). No matter how many times I drove over the bridge that lead me to work, I still suffered from heart palpitations and tension headaches during the ordeal.

And then, salvation came. In the form of AC/DC. No, I’m being serious here.

One morning, I was driving to work and practicing my breathing exercises as my body prepared for an anxiety attack at the sight of the approaching bridge. And just before the bridge, while struggling to keep my breathing steady, AC/DC’s “Highway to Hell” started playing on the Classic Rock radio station. What better song to describe the current situation.

And that’s when I noticed something. My fear turned into excitement. The symptoms of an anxiety attack washed away as I sped along the elevated expressway at 60 mph, singing along to the chorus. Once I got off the bridge, I had to stop on the side of the road in order to process what had happened. That song did more for my anxiety than the Cymbalta I was being prescribed.

So I downloaded “Highway to Hell” on my phone, then played it again while driving home. And when it work a second time, I found a plan. I downloaded more AC/DC music and played it while driving over the bridge before graduating to other rock songs on a playlist.

In months I went from avoiding a small bridge to driving on the Greater New Orleans bridge while blaring “Hell’s Bells.”.

And when I told my psychiatrist about my new way of coping with anxiety, he found it amusing–and smart.

“It’s more common than you think actually,” he told me. “I think the music is hyping you up to face your fears. Music like that can do that to a person. In fact, many people in sports say that how they listen to rap or rock music to gear up for a big game.”

This may seem like anecdotal evidence that certain music will help with anxiety–but there’s more to it than that. A recent study for that, contrary to what you might think, rock music actually has a calming effect on people and has been known to be beneficial for anxiety.

So what can you conclude? Can rock music help you with anxiety? Who knows. But it never hurts to try.

Alternative make-up helped me to overcome my social anxiety

My social anxiety was caused by a grocery list of insecurities, and my appearance was just one of many insecurities. I was awkward looking (or so my social anxiety told me), and–to the disappointment of my mother–the perfect pink lipstick and mascara did not transform me into some great beauty. It was another thing to add to my list of personal failures.

I went down a “dark path” (as my mother would probably call it) by accident when I tried on a so-dark-it’s-almost-black brown lipstick. I looked in the mirror. And really liked what I saw.

And that was how it started. Despite my social anxiety, I would walk outside with heavy eyeliner and brown lipstick. Then the next day, I practiced putting on purple lipstick (my trademark). And then the next day–and I couldn’t believe it–I had progressed to wearing blue lipstick while buying green lipstick.

And for some reason, I wasn’t embarrassed or paranoid of what people thought as me as I strutted down the street or the halls at work in deep blue lipstick.

It actually took awhile to connect my fetish for alternative make-up to my anxiety. I remember coming to one major conclusion as I sat in my psychiatrist’s office one morning.

“I think I use alternative lipstick colors in order to cope with my social anxiety.”

He laughed. He said, “Yeah, I wanted to say that it’s pretty cool how your lipstick matches your shirt.” (My shirt was blue). He also mentioned that this was perfectly normal and probably more common than I thought. It made me wonder how many people who sport pink hair, or gothic make-up, or facial piercings are actually hiding behind a mask due to social anxiety.

Because a mask is how I view alternative lipstick colors. When I think of cat-eye eyeliner and purple lip, I think of my two favorite holidays: Halloween and Mardi Gras. And why? Because, as a person with social anxiety disorder, there’s liberation in hiding behind a Mardi Gras mask or a witch costume. That’s the magic of Halloween. For one night, you can abandon your awkward, socially anxious status and become someone else. And someone else was what I was while sporting black lipstick on a Monday. I’m wearing a new identity. Also, by wearing slate gray lipstick, you feel that people are focusing on your make-up rather than you social incompetence. This is one nontraditional way I use to conquer my social anxiety and it may work for you.

I used high heels to treat my social anxiety

I started wearing high heels when I was twelve (yes, twelve. My mother wanted me to be a lady.) But once I reached a certain age, when my social anxiety disorder started to develop, I stopped wearing them. Or at least avoided them unless I had to wear them at certain events.

I never really considered why I gave them up until I purchased black pumps for work. The next day, I walked on white tile to my office…and cringed at the sound of heels tapping on the floor. I was experiencing my worst nightmare: people noticing my presence. Every click-clack from my heels felt like a shout. That’s when I realized that I was avoiding heels in order to avoid attention, and started to reflect on that.

That’s how the idea formed. I could’ve stopped coming to work in heels, but instead, I kept wearing them everyday despite my paranoia caused by my anxiety. I figured I could turn this into desensitization therapy. Heels, just by the look of them alone, command attention–something I wasn’t initially comfortable with. With heels, I was forced to deal with people hearing me before seeing me, and getting used to strangers looking in my direction as I walked into a room. It wasn’t easy at first, but eventually the therapy worked. I was able to walk into a room with heels and, for once, not care what other people were thinking, or worrying that I was bothering people with my noisy shoes. What started as a form of therapy (supported by my psychiatrist), worked and helped me to conquer my fear of being the center of attention.

So what can we conclude from these stories? That AC/DC is more effective than Xanax in eliminating the symptoms of a panic attack? That high heels and make-up that would make Lady Gaga smile is the cure for social anxiety disorder? I can’t say. It’s really all up to you and the type of ways you use to cope with your fears and mental illness, weather it’s brown lipstick or making abstract art to deal with your emotions.

What quirks do you use to help you cope with your anxiety?

What to Remember When Coming Out of the Mental Illness Closet

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I’m a librarian. I enjoy baking, sewing, and reading. I’m the author of one poetry book. I have a story about the scar on my right ring finger.

Also, I take Paxil and Abilify to manage social anxiety disorder and panic disorder. There was a time when my anxiety was so bad, that I would have a panic attack everyday before driving home from work. There was a time when I was non-verbal due to my severe social anxiety. Today, with the help of medication and therapy, I’m able to speak clearly, have a conversation with you, drive on the interstate, and go an entire day without heart palpitations–things I wasn’t able to do before due to my untreated anxiety disorder.

So why am I telling you all of this? Because, whether people are comfortable with it or not, my mental health is a large part of who I am and impacted a large portion of my life and the person I am today. Because there was a time when I wasn’t able to do this with confidence due to the stigma of discussing mental illness. Because I hope to encourage people who are also considering coming out of the mental illness closet, but may be holding back due to worries of what other people will think of them.

Coming out of the mental illness closet wasn’t easy and can still have its challenges. But there are a few things to remember when you decide to open up about your mental health.

Start off by coming out to someone you trust

Coming out of the mental illness closet can be a big deal and even a scary one, especially when you consider that not everyone is understanding or accepting of mental illness. That’s why it’s important to start off with someone you can trust–a close friend, a family member, a significant other, or anyone that you know will be supportive of you and your mental health condition.

There are no rules to “coming out”; do what makes you comfortable. You can be as formal or informal as you like. You can make it a big announcement at the dinner table or you can simply mention your anxiety or depression during a casual conversation and go from there. How you decide to share information about your mental health is all up to you. Just be sure that person you open up to is non-judgmental and fully supportive of what you’re going through.

Not everyone will be accepting of your mental illness–and that’s okay

When it comes to mental health, we’ve really come a long way. More and more people are seeking help for their mental health or starting a conversation about mental illness, and both instances are due to the fact that social stigma surrounding mental illness is no longer as strong as it used to be. Slowly but surely, the days of seeking a therapist being a “shameful” secret are becoming a thing of the past.

However, we still have a long way to go. Though the stigma of mental illness is slowly eroding, there are still a lot of misconceptions surrounding it. As you become more open about your mental illness, you’re going to meet people who will not be accepting or open-minded about your condition. This person could be an acquaintance with strong opinions about “people these days” who take medications for anxiety. It could even be a close family member who suddenly changes their interactions with you after coming out.

Some people will distance themselves from you. Some people will try to tell you that mental illness is “all in your head” or an “excuse” or “made up”. Some people will be discouraging or even downright judgmental and mean when you mention that you take pharmaceutical medications to manage your symptoms. And I can tell you that everything mentioned may happen because I went through it–and survived it. And so will you.

So, how do you deal with people when they become rude over a discussion of mental health? There are a few steps to take. One step–and this is the hardest thing to do–is acceptance of the situation. Yes, there are some people that will offer their unwanted opinions on your condition and there will definitely be opinions about your choice to take medications or see a therapist. But at the end of the day, you must remember that it’s your situation and therefore, you have final say in who you are, what mental illness means to you, and how you choose to deal with your mental health. In the end, they’re opinion is just that–an opinion. And you should practice saying “You are entitled to your opinion,” to better move on from them.

The second hardest step is building a sense of self against the negativity.

Regardless of what people will tell you or think, you are not weak (gentle reminder that mental illness is a medical condition, not a character flaw). You are not a burden. You are not making it up or finding an excuse or seeking attention. On the contrary, you’re a strong individual who’s able to endure life and achieve so much despite a medical condition that’s meant to hold you back. You’re not weak-willed by opting for medication and therapy, but rather, you’re courageous for acknowledging your mental illness and seeking ways to deal with it. Tell yourself this everyday, watch your self-confidence go up, and watch as other’s people negativity become a little less relevant everyday.

Another option is to educate. When someone says something ignorant about mental illness, calmly provide them with information on what you go through and what your brain is going through. If, for instance, a parent is skeptical or just doesn’t get anxiety or depression or bipolar, you can show them articles and research to help them to better understand mental illness. With this option, you may be offering them a new perspective they never considered before.

But what happens if this option doesn’t work? The person is stubbornly holding on to their opinion that mental illness is a weakness and are even shaming you for having, say, panic attacks–now what? Well, you’ll need to ask yourself: is this someone you’d want to associate with? Is this someone you can trust to be supportive as you conquer mental illness? Is this person good for your mental health? Sometimes, coming out of the mental illness closet means learning about the toxic people you need to weed from your life. And the more you come out, the more you’ll be able to distinguish between people on your side and those who are not. Move on from those people and instead focus on those who are beneficial to your emotional well-being.

Find a community of others like you

Sometimes, discussing it with neurotypical friends is not enough. You may want to consider discussing your mental health condition with those who also suffer from the same issue. You can achieve this by joining an online forum or finding a support group in your area. By speaking with others who have the same condition, you can find those that relate to your experiences and give you the feeling that you’re not alone. Also, there’s a certain freedom to discussing your mental illness in a support group, as you’ll know you’re going talk to people who are completely supportive and non-judgmental.

Coming out of the mental illness closet may be the hardest and the most courageous thing you’ll ever have to do. As for me, the journey was a challenge, the people weren’t always nice, but I’m happier, more authentic, and I finally found a sense of freedom and strength I never imagined. In other words, the journey will be difficult as you encounter people of all perspectives about mental health, but the end result will be worth it.

What We Had to Do

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Sometimes (often)
he was mean. But
Mamma had a bottle 
of SleepRite, and would 
crush the pills, then push the powder
with a knife into a glass a wine.
 
No one grinned as he gulped;
by then, it wasn’t even a mother-daughter
joke–just quiet. We would wash dishes
together in silence, then wait until 
8 to laugh as he snored. We read books
with the TV on. Then had a full eight
hours.
Because we did what we had to do. 

This is Thirty

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This life isn’t 
a group of the ladies
in ridiculous stilettos 
on a pointless Tuesday
sipping Cosmopolitans 
while sharing the latest
philosophy about the hottest
one-night-stand-of-the-week,
holding the glass above
their head-held-high
because this is some kind
of fully-formed thirty,
this imaginary adulthood
they told us about in order
to soften the blow. 
 
…No. 
 
This is the girl who lost 
her debit card the same day
she realized she left her umbrella
at home, forever figuring out
the answer to what and why
in her favorite worn boots,
now until…whatever. 
This is
her friends
when they share the latest hook-up
life lesson with the sexual outcast
as she sips a beer, and takes 
notes about life and the curve balls
from those still finding pennies
between the couch cushions
with her because
wake up, this is the actual thirty. 

That Song

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Her song, smoked
and low
at the microphone
sent me into a mood. 
 
She sent me to
the dark corners of 
barrooms across
small town America,
 
where the ground 
at the entrance is damp,
inviting a chorus of critters
to translate for the others
 
that couldn’t make it. 
I want to meet you there,
the one where the cypress 
tree grows and mimics
 
shade for a room without
AC as the humidity 
and the background guitar
makes me feel easy, ready to
 
flirt with you like new lust. 
She’s convincing me, between
the lines, to love you like
a one night stand, even when
 
I’m not even into that sort 
of thing–but she sings
about burning the mattress
with someone she remembers,
 
and suddenly, during the third
beer, I understand why she thinks
we need to leave this place and find
some quiet, treat the loneliness
 
but not the disease. These days,
that’s all we can do. That’s why
she sings to us as wine creeps up
on me as I wait to go home, meet you there