It’s been a couple weeks since my last blog, but I assure you it’s for good reasons! In the last few weeks, I’ve gotten pretty preoccupied with life, to say the least. While I was feeling good living in the present for the last couple of months, it was time for me to face the music that the future is not only knocking on my door, but it’s pounding so hard that it’s pretty darn close to breaking the whole door down.
I’m not sure I’ve shared this with you all yet, but I am soon going to be a Galway Girl *cue Ed Sheeran song* Yup, that’s right! I’m going to be moving to Galway, Ireland next month to finish my Master’s program at the National University of Ireland, Galway. While this is something I’ve been looking forward to since the Fall Quarter of my senior year as an undergrad, now that the time to go is actually here, I’m freaking tf out and have been for the last few months.
When my anxiety first kicked in, I figured it was a short-term thing and that I wouldn’t have to worry about it in Ireland, but look at me now, 6-months later, still trying to figure out what’s going on (but I’m a lot closer than I was then). With my big move quickly approaching, I knew now was the time for me to get my act together and start being proactive about handling my anxiety. I’ve spent the last few weeks getting serious about managing my anxiety (more than just praying it away and crying about it), and I thought I’d share what I’ve been doing with you!
* Side Note: As with most things on the internet, take this blog with a grain of salt. These are things that I have done and have helped me better manage my anxiety and overall mental health. I’m not saying what I did is a cure or is the “right” way to manage your anxiety, I’m simply here to share my experience. If you also suffer from anxiety and get inspired by my experience and journey, that’s awesome! If something I said helped you, let me know! If there’s something different you do to manage your own anxiety, please send me your suggestions! I’d love to give new things a try. We can all learn from each other.
Mindfulness & Meditation:
When I first started having anxiety, I didn’t know what the heck was going on with me. I didn’t understand it, I couldn’t identify it, and I seriously thought I was going crazy. I couldn’t control what my body was doing and I would freak out all the time, for seemingly no reason. It made me feel like my body and mind weren’t my own anymore. I didn’t know who I was.
When I started telling people (doctor, family and close friends) that I felt so outside of my own self, they all seemed to recommend that I try practicing meditation and mindfulness. I wasn’t in any place to knock a suggestion, so I said “what the heck” and downloaded a meditation app (check out my article in Mental Health California Magazine on Mental Health On-the-Go) and began to meditate.
While I have a pretty chill demeanor, I am a very active person and generally have a lot going on, so for me, I found it very difficult to sit in silence for 5-10 minutes and try to clear my mind. Thoughts about anything and everything came to my head and they were very hard to redirect or ignore.
My first couple meditations were difficult, but like the saying goes, “practice makes perfect”, right? I believed that, but I was having so much trouble concentrating on my meditations, that my motto became more like “fake it til you make it.” So as I was faking it, I eventually came to appreciate and feel some of the benefits of meditation.
My Pros for Meditation:
It gives me time to pause and catch my breath - With anxiety, I could just be standing, but my mind will be running a marathon. Anxiety is mentally exhausting and having a dedicated time (for me it was right before bed) to give my mind and body a break was key in helping me find my calm.
It helps me in my SOS moments - When I was having panic attacks often, I found that if I began to listen to a meditation when I felt an attack coming along, it would help me calm down and get me into a less panicked state of mind. (I am particularly a fan of Headspace & Simple Habit).
It helps me sleep - With so much going on during the day, it’s kinda hard for me to shut off my mind at night. I’ll be so tired throughout the day, but as soon as my head hits the pillow, I suddenly remember everything I need to do that I didn’t do, (you know, mistakes I made in 5th grade, and awkward moments throughout my life). Rather than fight my mind all night, I put on a sleep meditation to refocus my mind onto something that’ll soothe me to the point of beautiful REM.
My Cons for Meditation:
Silence is not my thing - If you know me, then you know I *always* have music on. Even when I’m studying, reading or writing, I’ve got music on. I cannot stand silence, so having to sit in silence and just focus on my breathing, or body, or whatever the meditation calls for, is extremely difficult for me.
It’s kind of difficult to find the right meditation - I’ve learned that the voice of the guided meditation leader is very important. If their voice or pace is off, I won’t connect and I’ll be thinking about that throughout the meditation, rather than relaxing.
My doctor was the one who initially recommended that I try out therapy as a way to cope with my anxiety. I started by first having a consulting appointment with one of the Kaiser therapists, and she then helped me connect to a more permanent therapist through a partnering organization. Basically I had to see one person who told me to see another person, and another person until I can start seeing a regular therapist.
After about a month of calling and researching, I finally found a therapist I liked (and who was available). I’ve only seen her for one session so far, but that first session was so helpful. I really feel like she not only understood what I was going through, but she understood the type of person I was and she and I were able to set-up a wellness plan that worked with me and my life.
I’ve got another session with her coming up this week, and I’m excited to see her again and update her on my anxiety.
My Pros for Therapy:
I get to let it all out - The most toxic thing for me and my anxiety are my thoughts. I would start off with one thought, and it would quickly spiral into a series of negative, pessimistic, and poisonous thinking. By going to therapy, I can talk out my thoughts instead of getting trapped in my own mind. Vocalizing what’s going on in my head helps me clear my mind and really rationalize my thoughts.
Working with a professional - My friends and family help me out a lot when I feel most anxious, but I sometimes feel like a burden when I keep coming to them with the same issues. So, by having someone be paid to listen to me, I get to be as emotional and redundant with my problems while feeling like less of a burden to my friends and family.
My Cons for Therapy:
It can be difficult to find one - Y’all don’t even know how many phone calls I made, trying to get a first appointment with a therapist. Most of them in my area are either just not for me, or are not accepting new clients. I left so many voicemails, called the healthcare organization, and waited on the line forever (I never want to hear telephone holding music again). Just goes to show you that if you really want something in this world, you’re gonna have to work for it.
It ain’t free - Fortunately, I am still under my parents' insurance and have medical coverage that allowed me to have a therapist for just a small copay per visit. Not everyone has this luxury, but if you do, and you think therapy might be for you, then go ahead and give it a try. Also, if you don’t have insurance or don’t have time for traditional therapy, you can check out TalkSpace. I’ve heard good things about it and maybe it can help you!
Knowledge is Power - Kaiser Class
I hate not knowing or understanding what’s going on with my body, and when it comes to anxiety, I knew absolutely nothing. As humans, we naturally fear the unknown, and I’m no exception to that. By not knowing anything about anxiety, it made me fear it more and that fear is what ultimately kept and keeps feeding my anxiety.
My initial therapist noticed this with me and recommended I sign up for the “Understanding Your Anxiety” class hosted by Kaiser. According to the online description, “In this series, you'll learn to identify what triggers anxiety for you as well as ways to manage your symptoms. We will help you explore your thoughts and learn to approach instead of avoiding what you fear. You will also learn techniques to relax, reduce your response to triggers, and approach your anxiety with mindfulness.”
Attending this class itself was a challenge for me, but I’m about halfway through this 6-week course and I’m actually enjoying it and learning a lot. The class is made up of about 7 women, and I’m the youngest (by far), but despite the huge age gaps, I have found myself able to relate to people I would never have thought I could. I’m learning more about my own anxiety through each class, and I believe it’s actually helping me battle it. I’ve only got three more sessions before it’s over, but I am looking forward to growing more with the rest of the class.
My Pros of the class:
Good Information - I’m getting to know the ins and outs of anxiety. Since my fear of anxiety kept triggering it, this class showed me that with anxiety, I don’t need to fear it. It’s hard to explain, but just understanding what’s physically and biologically happening to my body when I experience anxiety, helps me cope and feel more confident in my ability to overcome it.
Community - The class may be small, but I can always appreciate quality over quantity. The women in my class have all been vulnerable by sharing their stories, and have been respectful, non-judgmental, and most importantly, supportive, whenever I share my own. We’ve created a small community where we can share and grow with each other, and that’s pretty special. It’s been very helpful for me to be around those who know first-hand what I’m going through.
Learning about myself - I have learned so much about my own anxiety from this class, and that alone is helping me get through it.
My cons of the class:
- Vulnerability is a *requirement* - If you’re not ready to talk about your anxiety or if you’re not at the point where you’re ready to tackle your anxiety, you probably won’t benefit from a class like this. For me, this class is beneficial because I’m open to it and ready to get over my anxiety. It does call for me to be vulnerable and share some stuff that may be uncomfortable, but ultimately I do it because I know it will help me.
Reading Self Help Books
Along with some other advice, my therapist recommended that I check out a couple self-help anxiety books. She noticed that I was not the type of person to just sit and wait for things to get done, but rather I like to be proactive about things. So, she recommended I read two books, both of which aren’t your typical self-help books. These two books are Hardcore Self Help: F**k Anxiety by Robert Duff and Dare: The New Way to End Anxiety and Stop Panic Attacks by Barry McDonagh. Let me give you my thoughts on these two.
F**k Anxiety: I read this book first, simply because it’s only about 80 pages of size 13ish font. Even the book itself suggests you read the book in one sitting, so that’s exactly what I did. Given its title, I was expecting the most radical and intense form of self-help and guidance ever, but as I read through it, I didn’t find it to be so exciting. A lot of what I read was the same mumbo jumbo stuff I’ve heard from others or read in online journals, so I wasn’t very impressed. There were, however, a couple of things I liked in there, like some of the exercises. I also appreciated that the author took the time to write a letter for those suffering anxiety to give to their loved ones, to help them understand what they (I) are (am) going through. That’s something I found helpful and I may use in the future.
Overall, I give the helpfulness of this book about a C. I don’t think it’s helped me much, but if you’re looking for some self-help, maybe it’ll be good for you.
Dare: I’m only halfway through this book and it is already helping me with my anxiety more than most things have! From the intro alone, I instantly connected with this book. I literally started crying while reading because I related sooooo hard to McDonagh’s words. I knew from that moment, that this was exactly what I needed. The title is actually an acronym for the main topic of this book, which is the D.A.R.E. approach to end anxiety. Without giving much away, D.A.R.E. stands for Defuse, Approach and Accept, Run towards, and Engage. As the acronym suggests, this approach to attacking anxiety is all about being daring and facing anxiety head-on.
What I like most about this book is that its intention isn’t to help you cope with anxiety or learn to live with it. This book and the D.A.R.E. approach is meant to help you get rid of your anxiety and get back to being the person you were before you were plagued with anxiety. Let me tell you, that’s exactly what I was searching for. Reading this was the first time throughout this 6 months where someone told me (and I believed them) that I wasn’t going to have to deal with this forever. It’s not going to be easy, and this book makes me literally Run Towards the exact things about anxiety which scare me, but I am so ready to give 110% into this approach. And don’t worry, I’ll keep you updated throughout the journey.
Overall, I give this book an A and I’m only halfway through :D
So, 6-months later and that’s where I’m at with my journey through anxiety. I’ve gotten off my butt and started seriously working towards getting better. I’m at the point where I will do (almost) whatever it takes to get over my anxiety, and I’ve got one month before I move abroad and am on my own in Ireland. Basically, that means I’ve got one month to get my s**t together! Wish me luck, and know that I’ve appreciated all your continued support thus far, it does not go unnoticed (seriously, I’m checking the analytics of my website lol).
For those of you Curious Cathy’s, in my next blog, I will be sharing some of the not-so-formal things I do to help me cope with my anxiety. In the meantime, I’d love to hear about your own experiences with coping with anxiety and mental health! Drop a comment below or hit me up on social media. Until next time, take care. <3