Anxiety can be an ugly beast and a beast that I know quite well. It not only effects me but it effects my children too and the tricky part about anxiety with children, is that you can not always tell when it is going to hit.
For me personally, on an imbalanced day, I would drive to the supermarket to pick up some needed items, only to find myself having a mild anxiety attack about parking my car. Next minute I would be driving home without getting out of the car, still no groceries and angry and disappointed in myself which frankly just added more fuel to the fire.
Other times it would rear its ugly head when I had agreed to go out socially. As the function date got closer I would look for an excuse to find a way out of the commitment, as the thought of making conversations with strangers or even friends would start the rollercoaster ride.
Anxiety feels different for everyone. For me, my heart would race, I would almost block out all of my surroundings and my brain felt like it was full of panic. This meant that I would struggle with conversation and often some rather bizarre things would come out of my mouth in panic. My hands would shake and I felt like all eyes were on me. Tiny little fears became full blown irrational thoughts and I would have to talk myself down from the symptoms or give into it. It was easier just not to go out. Easier to experience less and easier to sit comfortably in my safe space, it was warm and cosy, if not a little lonely.
An anxious state is not an easy one to live in. Mostly because you can not actually see the symptoms outwardly, it becomes even more isolating. Explaining to a friend that I was late because I practically parked in the next suburb due to the busy car park sounds crazy even to me. So I rarely talked about it.
When you notice similar traits in your children however, suddenly you start paying attention. Interesting that I barely helped myself, but when it comes to my children, I move mountains. I notice this with a lot of women in clinic!
The way I was living my life reflects on them too. If I wasn’t participating, how can I expect them to? I had to think about the message that I was sending my children.
I have already mentioned that my kids have been tainted by the anxiety stick and there is supporting evidence that it is a family trait. If I dig a little deeper into my family history, the main person that I think of that may have been an anxiety sufferer was my beautiful Nan. She was a worrier. (A warrior too, but that is another story!) If it could be worried about, that is what she would do.
Anxiety stems from fear and fear can be a healthy response to new experiences. It is the way that our brain checks in to make sure that we are ok. The difference is that it isn’t actually telling us that we are not ok, it is just checking in. There is a big difference.
An analogy that has always stuck with me from heysigmund.com, is that our anxiety trigger is like a smoke alarm. Your smoke alarm is triggered by smoke. The smoke alarm can not tell what kind of smoke, is there is a fire in the house OR if you have you burnt your toast? It has no way of telling the difference.
Like the smoke alarm, we are alerted of possible danger, the brain responds in a way that floods our body with all that is necessary to fight or run from this situation. This is good! Until it is not. It is not ideal if the thought of parking your car fills your body with dread that it actually stops you from even getting into the car in the first place.
One of the biggest issues with this constant trip wire is that we are not built to respond this way so frequently. Imagine back in a more primal part of history, your fight or flight response was triggered by the sight of a sabre tooth tiger only a short distance from where you are standing. Your brain senses danger and rightly so (excellent response brain, lets get us out of this situation asap!) A rare situation and unlikely to happen several times per week. Now lets fast forward to our “on demand” way of living. Waking up to hundreds of new emails to get through before you even begin your work day can trigger the same response. You can see how these frequent responses are happening more and more often, it is no wonder that we are exhausted and anxious “tired and wired”.
So what can we do. I want to give you some tips for right now. I want to help you break the cycle and start moving forward because I can tell you from experience that it is debilitating and exhausting to live like this.
3 Topp Tips
1- Ditch the stimulants!
This means caffeine in particular! I think I just heard your inward groan, but just hear me out. I now have a healthy relationship with coffee. I should start off with saying that I love coffee, but I notice that I can become unhinged if I have more than my body can handle each day. If you are reaching for two or more every day or you are relying on it to get you through, it is time to reassess your relationship with it. Caffeine actually robs the body of essential nutrients, particularly the ones that we need to keep our friend anxiety in its happy place.
It is important to improve your sleep hygiene to enable your body to repair properly. Adequate sleep is imperative to improve your state of mind and for this there are a few things that you can do.
Ditch the stimulants! Yes really! Our liver takes up to 8 hours to process caffeine, so if you are drinking tea and coffee in the late afternoon or evening, you are decreasing your sleep quality. When I gave up my evening cup of tea, I noticed the effect within a couple of nights.
Watch the alcohol consumption. That one or two over a weekend is moderate enough, but if you are doing this every evening too, it is effecting your sleep.
Turn off the computer at least an hour before bed, try reading or listening to music instead as the light from the computer is stimulating. You only have to check out the behaviour of a child after they have been on the iPad for too long to notice this effect!
Sounds simple right! Well have you done it? The effect is in the DOING, it sounds like a simple idea and easy too, but the secret is, you actually have to do it.
A recent study showed that since the feeling of anxiety and excitement are so similar, that actually burning off the energy helps you to take control. They asked children who were feeling anxious, to run around and move their body and then reassessed how they were feeling. The result was incredible from such a simple thing that everyone can do, every day. (Just do not go blaming me for arriving at your meeting as a hot mess because you had to run around the block a couple of times before the boss came in!) Structure your exercise and schedule it. Your results will be incredible too.
Nicole Topp is a Naturopath living and working on the Mornington Peninsula in Victoria. She loves working with women and taking them from feeling anxious, worried and overwhelmed to calm, efficient and focused. She loves helping women put their health first is a simple, achievable way.