I began having anxiety attacks in high school. The scariest part was that I really didn’t know what they were at first. Because of my personality, which is more Type-A organized, it would have been easy to allow them to take over my life and become debilitating. Fortunately, after college my interest in natural and integrative medicine allowed me to get a solid foundation to learn how to cope with and prevent future anxiety attacks.
I worked to find out what worked to relieve the stress, trying out several methods until I found what actually made a difference. Of course, like many people I have stress, but with these tools I was able to feel better and those anxiety attacks that would hinder me from participating in daily activities rarely occur.
These tools helped me to have an arsenal to control anxiety:
- Biofeedback. Biofeedback is a technique that uses technology and relaxation exercises to reduce stress (and it can also help with pain). Working with a trained therapist, biofeedback trains your body to almost instantly go to a relaxed state. It does this by teaching you to control body functions that normally would be involuntary, such as your heart rate and temperature.
When you are under stress, your heartbeat is more rapid. Most people are unaware when you are stressed your hands and feet will be cold because your blood collects in the center of your body.
Biofeedback therapy uses computer technology to create “learned relaxation”. You are hooked up to a computer with sensors. These sensors measure things such as body temperature and heart rate. When stressed, the computer beeps at a fast pace and high frequency. When you are relaxed with a slower pulse, relaxed muscles and the blood flows to your extremities (warming them up), the sound gets lower in tone and slower. This is how you are able to measure how quickly and how well you are getting to a relaxed state.
Each session uses audio of a guided relaxation session, assisted by the therapist. You also get homework! You have to practice at home every day. It takes time and effort.
For me, it took about six months but I got to a point that relaxation was an automatic response when I felt an anxiety attack coming. It’s difficult to explain but it’s a learned feeling that lowers heart rate, muscle tension and other indicators of stress. It was the most effective tool I used and reduced my anxiety attacks to the point where I rarely have them! For more information, visit https://www.aapb.org
- Meditation. Transcendental meditation was another huge factor in getting control of stress and anxiety. For me, it just improves my life overall and I recommend it to anyone, stressed or not! There is a great deal of evidence about the efficacy of TM. You can take a transcendental meditation course or if you want to try other types of meditation, check out an app! Most meditation is 20 minutes twice a day. If find just setting the alarm a little earlier gives me the time I need in the morning. www.TM.org
Exercise. Even if you are tired, working out expends extra energy and releases endorphins. One of the best stress relievers ever! I try and do workouts I enjoy, so it’s fun, not work. It can be hard to fit exercise into a busy schedule. Even a 20-30 minute walk will do you a world of good. I also have a yoga mat and small free weights at home, so I can do some squats or work my arms any time I feel like it. It’s a big help while binging Netflix! Bye bye couch potato!Staying away from sugar and caffeine. It’s a no-brainer but both will add to stress levels. Make the switch to herbal tea and sub stevia for sugar. Your body and your mood will thank you
The most important thing is to get serious about keeping anxiety and stress under control. Nobody has a stress free life. Knowing how to deal with it and getting the help you need can provide relief and help you to feel better