5 Tips if You’re Struggling with an Anxiety Disorder

Anxiety has become an everyday occurrence in my life over the last couple of years. While prone to anxiety my whole life, I did not start to feel the full, debilitating effects until after college. Nervousness about social situations was pretty much the extent of it. During Covid my anxiety hit a scary turning point, like many others. My respective degrees are in Human Development and Family Social Services so I’ve learned and utilized techniques for myself and with clients. Here’s what I found worked and hopefully it works for you too:

Have a Routine

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How many times have you started your day without a plan? If you do this you’re not alone. I’ve been guilty of this as well. Sometimes we can feel like freedom is the answer to all our problems. While it can be nice in situations like when you’re on vacation, Scheduling on a daily basis is beneficial for many people, especially for those with some form of anxiety. What scheduling does is take away more things that could be on your mind. “What am I making for dinner? Should I go to the gym? What will I wear tomorrow morning?”. All these questions are valid, but don’t need to be living in your head all day. Keeping a physical planner for work and/or school is extra beneficial. The more we have in writing means less strain on the mind. A simple step like scheduling can go a long way.

Put That Phone Down

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Man, have I struggled with this. Generally, I have been pretty self aware about cell phone usage throughout my time with one. I got a smart phone in 2011, my junior year of high school. At that point, I left my phone in my locker all day long and didn’t really have an itch to constantly check it when I think back to those times. It stayed that way until I graduated a couple years later. With the lack of structure that college provided, it became easy to turn to YouTube or twitter in instances of boredom.

There is a feeling that you could be missing something when you own a smartphone and you hear a notification or haven’t checked social media in 30 minutes. That feeling directly causes stress and anxiety in us. It is an unhealthy addiction. I have finally decided to remove social media and other unnecessary apps and put timed restrictions on others. I have even considered buying a flip phone eventually. You don’t have to jump to that extreme right away, or at all, but be more mindful. If you find yourself having that itch, ask yourself, “Is it worth it?”.

Sweat it Out

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Exercise is not only a necessary part of human life (if you wish to reach your physical potential) but it is also beneficial for improved mental health. Research has shown to improve mental health in those with anxiety and depression. Our present way of living has made us more prone to sit around all day but we are active creatures. We are supposed to move around all day and when that doesn’t happen, it can have negative consequences.

Talk it out

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At this point, the benefits of therapy and counseling are very well known. It can be awkward to talk about your struggles with someone else, but keep in mind that they want to help and don’t judge you based on those struggles like some family and friends may. Have you ever gotten something off of your chest that had been bugging you for a long time? Imagine being able to do that weekly. Those stresses will no longer weigh you down like they once had. When you actively work on your mental health, good things happen.

Pause, Take a Breath

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Remember to breathe! Some symptoms of anxiety can be chest pressure and breathlessness. And when we’re near panic/anxiety attacks we also notice escalated breathing. Focusing on your breath can be helpful in those situations. There are many techniques you can utilize. Take a look at them here. Deep breathing may not be for everyone but give it a chance next time you find your mind playing tricks on you. I know they help me quite a bit.

Just do It

I know anxiety can be a butt kicker. We need to be active in order to control it. It is, unfortunately, something we need to live with, but with the proper effort, we can live happy lives. Don’t ever give up. I’m with you along the way.

I (finally) got COVID!

Well damn, it finally happened. I got COVID. Nearly two years of jumping between fear and comfort, I got it. Two vaccinations eased my concerns throughout the past year. Hearing news about the new omicron variant has caused my anxiety to creep back up into the foreground of my daily life. Testing positive less than a week before the holidays doesn’t help things either. It means a second straight year without being able to see my family on Christmas. Just when there was a sense of normalcy, it feels like we are back at the start of things.

Even with all the negative things I mentioned, there is a weird sense of relief. No more feeling like I’m dodging it or false alarms when I contract a common cold. But with that being said, I can’t help but have all the COVID horror stories bouncing around my mind while I feel a tickle in my throat or while sniffling more than usual. I’m around five days in while writing this. I have felt better everyday but the fear remains.

As I mentioned, my anxiety is back at a heightened level like it was pre-vaccine. Any small sensation throws my mind into a vortex, my heart starts racing, and I begin breathing quickly. I hated this feeling the first time around. I will try my best to not let it get to that point again. I was lost and unaware of what anxiety can cause in a person the first time around. I am more prepared to tackle these symptoms.

This pandemic has been a rollercoaster and a real eye opener in terms of how bad my anxiety can get. But I’ll get through it, and so will you.

See ya.

Have Some Damn Respect… for Yourself

R-E-S-P-E-C-T

Think about how you talk to yourself on a daily basis. I don’t mean having full on conversations out loud while you’re alone. If that’s going on, some extra assistance may be needed. I mean what do you think of yourself day to day? Say you make a mistake while putting together a new piece of furniture. How do you respond? Are you the angry type who puts themselves down for a small mistake? Do the words, “stupid, dumb, idiot, or moron”, slip out of your mouth? Or are you the type who can brush things off and realize that something like a mistake has no bearing on you as a human being. “I must have missed a step. Oh well.” If you sound more like the first example, it may be time to make some changes.

I have lived most of my life as the type of person who speaks to themselves in a negative way. I never quite realized how damaging that could be for somebody until I studied mental health in college. My struggles with self-esteem and self-consciousness seem to make more sense. Eventually, those names you call yourself become your identity. That becomes how you view yourself and how you believe others view you as well. For some like myself, it can be easier to see this behavior in others actions than in your own.

Positive self-talk is one of the most important lessons I learned through my bachelor’s program. Once I became aware of “I” and “me” phrases, I realized how often I was calling myself negative things. Be aware of your self-talk. You will be surprised at what you begin to notice about yourself. If those negative phrases start to arise, know that you can catch yourself and stop it in its tracks. It’s not an easy task to change the way you’ve done things for a long time, but it’s worth the struggle.

Treating yourself with respect makes a lot of other things easier. Going about your life knowing that you are worth something makes all the difference in the world. Opportunities arise and things don’t seem so bad when you have a brighter outlook on life. Take it slow. These things don’t happen overnight. But it all starts with you.

Don’t forget about you.

My Complicated Relationship with Food

Dear Food,

I can’t deny that I love you. Sometimes a little too much. I’m having trouble figuring you out, and it’s been 26 years of trying. I wish I could be with you all day, every day, but we know that’s not good for either of us. I am looking for the perfect balance of you and I, but it has been a struggle. However, I will not give up. I am sorry for using you to get over my issues. I will learn to love and cherish you in the best way. Relationships are hard, and you may be the toughest one yet. Give me some time. I’ll get there.

Love,

Me

Let’s Be Honest

Alright, enough of this sappy s**t already. Let’s talk about this. The truth is, I LOVE food. I love cooking, eating, and serving food to others. Trying new foods and watching shows about food on TV is a comforting experience. I look up new recipes and learn about it and hope others find it as exciting as I do. Did you know al pastor tacos have a Lebanese origin?! I usually hope the person I’m spewing these “exciting facts” to doesn’t give me a blank stare.

At some point a couple years back, I began wondering, “when did I start loving food so much?”. After finding a journal from my early grade school years, I realized it was practically ingrained in me from the start. We were given prompts in school to write about. The prompt was “write about something you enjoy”. I didn’t have to think twice. I always noticed the picky kids complaining about their lunches, while I quietly enjoyed mine every day. It felt like could never relate to them.

Food Addiction?

Seldom do I come across a dish I do not enjoy. I can cherish a delicious well-put together meal but the next day have the crappiest, low quality frozen food. I am glad that I am not a picky eater, don’t get me wrong. My struggle stems from my love of food. Food is comfort. Food is medicine sometimes. It feels like food can solve problems.

Like an alcoholic falls back into their Jack Daniels, I have dived head first into peanut butter to ease my (figurative) pain many times. I’m trying to learn how to strike the perfect balance between my love, and my health and what I know is right. I have written about my late night binges to help me sleep and alleviate my anxiety. Those were rough times. Times when I resented food rather than respected it. I blamed it, rather than myself.

Making Changes

I want to stop overindulging and start appreciating each meal. Food is fuel, but it is also an experience. Someone worked hard to get me every morsel I consume. I will try to start keeping that in mind when It’s time to eat again. For people who struggle to regulate their eating, like myself, consider this: when you start respecting food, you start respecting yourself. Most times, when I was overeating, negative self talk was going on in my mind. “This is why you’re fat. Why can’t you eat like a skinny person? Why do you keep eating, you’re not hungry anymore?”. After hearing that from yourself, the shame soon arrives. It is a vicious cycle. Not dissimilar to the experience of addicts who struggle with substances, I would imagine.

It can be a tough, bumpy road, but with a lot of work and the understanding that you are not alone, success will find its way to you. You just have to keep believing, even through the setbacks. Hold yourself accountable. As much as you want to blame outside influences, YOU are the only person who can control your decisions. I’m right here with you along the way.

Let’s do it.

Gaining Weight Over Quarantine

Shell of Myself

I’ve broken down physically the last couple of years, or at least it feels that way. I blame myself nearly every day. It didn’t happen over night, but it was like I could not feel it happening. All the pressures of Covid, working from home, finding a new career path, graduate school, financial issues, and other things seem to have piled up on me like an avalanche.

I reached the worst shape of my life in 2020/21. Not the type of landmark I’m proud of hitting. I let myself down. With constant body image issues and perpetually sitting between chubby and in-shape, I have always struggled in this area, but I have never allowed myself to breach the 200 pound mark. In the past, when 200 pounds was nearing, I was able to hold myself accountable, work hard, and get back on track. I have lost 20+ pounds multiple times in my life. Not saying it’s a good thing that I have gained and lost weight, but I am letting you know I have the power to do so. This time around, there was no stopping me.

For context, I’m not a tall guy. I am approximately five feet, eight inches (I may be rounding up a little but don’t tell anyone…). In the two years prior to my weight gain, I was in, what felt like, great shape. While I was around 190 pounds, I had packed on a noticeable amount of muscle from two years of consistent lifting. Sports have always been a part of my life. So, while I struggled to be completely lean, I was always athletic and extra weight even benefited me in some sports.

Change in Routine

When the world shut down in 2020, I saw my habits changing negatively. I said, “Screw it. I’m just going to be here with my family for a few weeks, let me east some pizza rolls and pop tarts. Once things get back to normal, I’ll get back in my routine.” Well, as we all know, weeks turned into months of isolation and anxiety. After the first month or so, I began to take up biking. I knew I couldn’t stay at home and eat all day. “Who knows when this is going to end anymore?”. I took a step in a positive direction. Not to brag, but after a couple of months I was able to ride a 16 mile trail on a consistent basis three to four times a week. I was enjoying it. It was my saving grace from the horrible news. I could pop in my airpods and go on a trip.

Anxious Eating

As the pandemic continued to progress, so did my anxiety. After a daily dose of infection rates and watching government officials sob as they announce the death toll, it begins to weigh on a human being. Around mid June ’20, my physical symptoms of anxiety began. The breathlessness, sharp chest pains, and nasal inflammation began to take their toll. I could no longer take my long bike rides. I could barely make it a mile! Everything fell off all of a sudden (you can hear more about that experience by reading my post “Where is my Mind…”). I began using food as a distractor late at night. I could barely sleep because of my breathing. Feeling like you can barely take in air is one of the most terrifying experiences. Imagine that feeling consistently for six months. My thinking became, “Let me eat so my mind can be numbed by my feeling of fullness to get a minute of sleep.” It can be easy to get on a roll and not realize the negative effect it is causing one’s body.

By January ’21, I saw my weight balloon to a whopping 225 pounds! By far the heaviest of my life. After a hospital visit and learning that my physical symptoms were all caused by mental struggles, I could finally move forward. The beginning of my journey to get back in shape was a difficult time. My body ached any time I attempted to exercise. My back would be sore and sharp pain wound run down my knees to my shins and ankles. This was/is a new test for me. I realized just how much my body had deteriorated.

Far From Over

This is by no means a success story. At this point, I am yet to have any substantial weight loss, but I have gained a good deal of muscle back. I have been able to work hard in spurts, but have not been able to stay consistent. I no longer ache or struggle to get through work outs. Whenever I feel like I should be progressing quicker, I remind myself how long it took to get here and that it is not easy. I have learned that it is important to take the little improvements as big steps forward because it’s easy to get down on yourself. I tried to get my previous physical self back in one felt swoop. That is not possible. It is overwhelming to jump back in like that. So, now that mental health is under control, I have decided to focus my attention more so on diet than anything else at the moment. One step at a time. Sorry if I rambled. I felt like it was time I let these thoughts out.

Let me know if you’ve had a similar experience. Either during the pandemic or at any other point, too. If you’re in the same position, know that you can do it. It won’t be easy, but I believe in you.

Talk to you later.

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