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Anxious About Anxiety

Updated: Nov 29, 2020

It’s a familiar feeling - the hollow pit in your stomach, frantic breathing, inability to focus, feeling drained no matter how long you've slept, and dread over things that are out of your control. These feelings have a name, and for me their name is “anxiety.” It isn’t a dirty word, it isn’t taboo, and it’s not a feeling to be ashamed of. Most of us will experience situational anxiety at some point in our lives, caused by uncertainty or distress over things beyond the reach of our control. These feelings generally resolve themselves, disappearing after that deadline is met or the dinner with your extended family is over.

An anxiety disorder, however, is another beast entirely. Anxiety is a mental illness, and can be debilitating to those who suffer from them. Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) is one of the most prevalent mental illnesses, so why is talking about it so difficult? I have had a complicated relationship with my mental health my entire life, and in hindsight I realize that I have been suffering from feelings of anxiety since I was a pre-teen. Although I didn’t learn about GAD until I took my first Psychology class as a freshman in college, I knew that there was something “wrong” with the way I felt moving through daily life. I became a woman obsessed: I took every Psychology course I could to learn more about mental illnesses, to learn about what it was that I was feeling and why I felt this way. Learning about how common Anxiety Disorders were and that I was not alone made me feel less alienated from those around me. After a lot of inner turmoil and debate, I finally worked up the courage to see a Psychiatrist to get a second professional opinion about my own assumptions of my mental health. His diagnosis confirmed my suspicions, concluding that I suffered from GAD and Major Depressive Disorder (MDD), which are often comorbid.

I felt relieved that I was self-aware enough to monitor and somewhat understand my own emotions, but was immediately let down when the Psychiatrist’s first suggestion was to prescribe me a SSRI, an antidepressant like Lexapro or Zoloft, to treat both illnesses. I was raised by an intensely caring health-conscious mother who believed heavily in natural healing and self-growth, her values rubbed off on me and followed me into my adult life and led me to seek out other healthier ways to cope. I began taking CBD supplements, and I tried Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) briefly in college. Unfortunately, this was not a positive experience for me, and I did not continue to seek treatment. Not to disparage CBT practices or the efforts of mental healthcare professionals; CBT has been very successful in treating illnesses like GAD, Social Anxiety Disorder (SAD), MDD, and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). I believe this form of treatment was not beneficial for me because, in general, it’s difficult for me to open up to people with whom I don’t have an established trusting relationship. Coupled with the fact that I did not feel entirely comfortable with my therapist, it was just not a very positive experience for me.

After my less than successful bout with therapy, I became discouraged and threw myself further into my education and job, admittedly in an attempt to ignore the problems I was having with my mental health. I spent my college career as a full-time student and a full-time worker, mostly serving and bartending to pay my tuition and rent. My Service jobs were often stressful for me, simultaneously wanting to talk to others and give them a good experience while also needing to be alone. An unfortunate part of the Service industry is having to interact with less-than kind patrons, which led to more than a few shifts including trips to the walk-in to cry. Between work and classes, I hardly had any free time, and I became addicted to the stress of constantly being busy. I always had something to occupy my time, so I didn’t truly re-address my mental health until I was forced to. I realized that I’d been doing myself a grave disservice by relying on stress to keep me going. Mere weeks after graduating, I moved cross-country and began looking for more work. I found a job that I truly enjoyed; I was managing a wine bar and doing food photography for the restaurant, helping plan events, and working with an awesome team led by the amazing Amanda. In mid-March, the business closed because of COVID-19, and I was rocked by the amount of time I had to spend with myself. I felt very alone, and I spiraled into a particularly intense period of depression that I like to somewhat affectionately refer to as my “Blue Periods.”

The sensation of being utterly lost constantly plagued me, my feeling of self-worth plummeted because I was no longer able to contribute to life’s expenses while my husband footed the bill for our rent. I knew that I had to change something, and I started going to the gym every day as an outlet for my frustrations with myself. Once my “new normal” solution closed down as well, the need for me to get myself together became even more imperative. I took a step back and, after some self-examination, I determined that I needed to turn back to what I knew I was comfortable with - natural remedies. There are a number of herbs that are known to have anxiolytic (anxiety reducing) properties, and they aren’t difficult or expensive to acquire. The herbs that I began to incorporate into my daily rotation were Ashwaganda, Kava Kava, Valerian, St. John’s Wort, and Ginko Biloba. All of these herbs are known for their rejuvenating and healing qualities, sometimes being used to help manage depression as well as anxiety. Other more widely known botanicals that can help reduce feelings of anxiety are Chamomile and Lavender, which are often brewed into teas or infused into topical oil blends.

I don’t always have enough time or resources to search for fresh herbs, so I opt to buy herb extracts. I do this so that I can make blends that I can incorporate into teas or easily administer if I feel like I need a little extra help throughout the day. The supplier I’ve been sourcing these extracts from is the company Herb Pharm, sometimes buying directly from them, and sometimes buying their extracts at my local Sprouts if I don’t want to wait for shipping. Additionally, Sprouts also has their own selection of herb extracts, and they offer a pre-made blend to aide feelings of anxiety that is aptly named “Anxiet-ease.” I have tried this blend, and it does it’s job, but I personally prefer to create my own blends so that I can tweak the dosage of each herb depending on the areas that I feel like I need the most support.

Another “non-traditional” method I’ve been using to help treat my anxiety is through the process of journaling. I have always found writing to be therapeutic, and discovering an organized way to use that release to its fullest extent has been profound. I was scrolling through my feed about four months ago when I saw an ad for a journal that was tailored towards those who struggle with anxiety. Once I moved past the initial feeling of unease that my phone knew what I needed, I decided to take a closer look at the product. I discovered that the journal was essentially a way to self-administer CBT, which was something that I was still interested in. The description said that the journal was developed by therapists, and that made trying it out much more appealing. I bit the bullet and ordered the Anti-Anxiety Notebook, and I truly think it has helped me grow immensely in my mental health journey. Although it isn’t perfect, I found that using a tailored journal has helped me hold myself accountable, and forcing me to write down how I feel and then challenge it has pushed me to think differently when I’m in a situation that causes me stress.

Combining my supplements with journaling has definitely made a difference in how I function, but consistency is key, just like going to the gym and eating clean. The journey has not been easy or perfect, but seeing progress and reaping those rewards give me reassurance that I am on the right path when it comes to my relationship with my mental health.

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