I love to teach, I actually think it’s one of my “gifts”! We all have special gifts, and one of mine is to gather information and harness my experiences to share what I’ve learned with others so that they too may benefit from it…hence why I fell so naturally into the world of wellness and nutrition! Teaching others about health and wellness has been something I’ve been doing for almost a decade now (wow, am I really getting that old?!), and much of what I’ve learned has come from education along with personal experience.
When it comes to mental health I’ve had some formal education on the topic but I have to admit that most of what I know and teach to others has come from my own, gritty, real life experience with an anxiety disorder.
Yup, I said it, anxiety has been a long time companion of mine and we’ve had our fair share of ups and downs over the years. I like to picture my anxiety as this little gremlin that tends to tag along when I go places or sometimes just takes a seat with me when I’m trying to relax on the couch at home. During my teen years I definitely dealt with anxiety but didn’t put a name to it until my early 20’s when I had a panic attack on a backpacking trip around Thailand (and it wasn’t just the culture shock!).
I lived with anxiety for most of my 20’s as a near constant companion, untreated, and left to wax and wane until I reached a point where leaving that little gremlin unaddressed was no longer an option as it was limiting my life far more than I could and would allow. I realized that it wasn’t just going to go away on it’s own and it was time to face my anxiety head on.
Over the past 5 years I’ve picked up several pieces of armour that help me combat anxiety to put it in it’s rightful place. Mental health still seems to have a stigma attached to it so I feel it’s something we can’t be quiet about. Being quiet only ever serves to worsen the stigma and keep those affected feeling isolated. Having anxiety has definitely made me feel alone in the struggle before but I know that’s not the truth, and the more we talk about it the better! I love that companies like Sun Life are also joining in on the mental health conversation. Sun Life has recently launched a new online Digital Health Community with a whole section dedicated to mental health. With resources like this available, my love for teaching, and my own experience I am able to share exactly what I do to combat my anxiety with you. My hope is that maybe you or someone you know can use this advice and feel a little less alone in the struggle!
1. Sleep 7-9 Hours Per Night. There’s nothing that triggers anxiety for me more than a lack of sleep. The last 15-months was more challenging with sleep as having a baby doesn’t make for consistent sleep patterns, but I’ve still done my best to be diligent and get those hours in. The biggest thing is setting boundaries to make sure I get to bed at a decent hour so that (as long as my daughter is sleeping) I can get my full nights rest. Quality sleep is key when it comes to combatting anxiety and improving overall mental health so if you are lacking when it comes to your own sleep hygiene, this is a great place to start! You can find great sleep-related apps and products in the Discovery Lab section of Sun Life’s online Digital Health Community!
2. I Exercise Regularly. This is a big one for me. Exercise is huge when it comes to decreasing my anxiety levels as I always feel better after a workout. When I workout on a regular basis, around 4-5 times per week, it really helps me keep my anxiety at bay. Research has shown that exercise induced changes in the brain have a direct influence on stress reactivity and anxiety (see here). Dealing with anxiety? Get moving my friend! Need exercise inspiration? Yep, you can find it in the digital health community!
3. I See A Psychologist 1-2x Per Month. When I first started seeing a psychologist I honestly felt a bit embarrassed (again, that stigma). Me? A therapist? Really? Wow, how that has changed, I literally could shout it from the rooftops now, loud and proud “I SEE A PSYCHOLOGIST!”. Visiting regularly with a professional has been so, so, so unbelievably valuable in my anxiety journey and has given me a toolbox of techniques and abilities to combat it. I also appreciate that I have accountability to get better and improve by having a professional who is constantly challenging me to push past my boundaries (the walls that anxiety creates) and broaden my horizons. Plus when I’ve had a rough couple of weeks, it’s always so nice to have someone objective to vent to, and give practical, proven advice. If you have been toying with the idea of seeing a psychologist but haven’t taken the leap, I highly recommend it. I also understand seeing a professional can be unattainable for some people due to the higher cost of these services, so it’s nice that there are also many apps out there that teach mediation and relaxation techniques for anxiety. The Digital Health Community also has great articles on this too!
4. I Limit My Sugar & Alcohol Intake. Sugar and alcohol have both been linked to an increased level of anxiety (see here and here) and I can definitely tell when I’ve had too much of both as my anxiety dial gets cranked right up. While I also am a proponent of balance and enjoy sweet things and a crisp glass of wine or cocktail I do pay attention to how much of both I consume and set limits for myself, knowing that if I overdo it the little anxiety gremlin will be especially pesky. It’s important to be aware of added sugars in beverages, baked goods, sauces, and condiments as well as the obvious, sweets and junk food, and when it comes to alcohol, a general recommendation is up to one alcoholic beverage daily for women and two for men (also note that saving up and having 7 drinks on a Saturday definitely isn’t going to help, been there, done that!).
5. I Take Nutritional Supplements Daily. I worked with an amazing Naturopathic Doctor when my anxiety hit it’s worst years ago and together we came up with a supplement regiment to help boost my brain chemistry. Even though I know a lot about supplements for mental health I still find it beneficial to work with someone who can see my own situation objectively. While my supplement intake has changed a bit over the years with having a baby I still take magnesium, vitamin B complex, omega fatty acids, probiotics (the gut is our second brain!), and will be starting adaptogens again once Hemsley is finished nursing. If you are struggling with anxiety I highly recommend working with a Naturopath or Nutritionist to find the best supplements for you.
6. I Go For Regular Massages. Maybe the fact that I used to be an RMT makes me a bit biased when it comes to massage therapy but it’s honestly so amazing for overall health and definitely reducing anxiety. As a general stress reduction tool massage is always a good go-to but I find that for my own anxiety, the physical symptoms can be just as bothersome as the emotional. The more anxious I am the more tense my body is and the more tense my body is the more anxious I feel. It’s a bit of a vicious cycle that massage therapy helps to alleviate. Everyone “holds” their stress or tension in specific areas of the body so getting regular massage can help to literally work that stress and anxiety right out.
7. I Start The Day With Gratitude. When I jump out of bed in the morning and storm right into the chaos of the day without taking a moment to centre myself I typically end up feeling more scattered and anxious, which is why I do my best to start my days more slowly and intentionally. When I wake up, I’ll take 5-10 minutes to pray for the day ahead, set an intentional to be joyful, and practice gratitude by giving thanks for five to ten things in my life. Just thinking of the things I am grateful for brings me a sense of joy and calm that I truly feel sticks with me throughout the day. If I have the time I’ll journal, but most days I just say my thanks aloud and it really helps to set the tone!
8. I Allow My Anxiety To Be Present. Ok, so this is an interesting one and I really think I’ve saved the best for last. How can you combat anxiety and let it be there at the same time? One of the best ways to combat anxiety is in fact to “invite it, not fight it” (thank you to my amazing psychologist for teaching me this one!). Our natural inclination when experiencing something uncomfortable, scary, or painful is to run away or somehow make it go away as fast as possible. However, when it comes to anxiety, the more we fight it or try to run from it, the stronger it becomes. Whenever I’m feeling generally anxious the more I think “ugh, go away, go away, I hate this, I can’t handle this” the more the anxiety persists as I’m essentially keep my mind believing that I’m in a threatened state. Instead if I invite it, or simply allow the anxiety to be present and exist, leaving it alone, my brain actually perceives less threat and the anxiety dissipates much faster. Honestly, it sounds crazy but ever since I learned this technique I have been astounded by how effectively it works. Now, when I notice the little gremlin has joined me I think to myself “Oh hello anxiety, you’re here, that’s just fine. I can handle this, I can sit with this, it’s all good” and I essentially just let it flow on by, no fight, no running away. Even in an acute panic situation, when I get highly anxious very quickly (being unexpectedly put on the spot in front of a group of people for example), I’ll still do my best to tell myself “Ok, fine, my heart is pounding, that’s ok, I’m ok, pound more little heart, bring it on” and by inviting the physical symptoms I am again signalling to my body that there really is no threat. This technique has definitely taken some time and practice, I didn’t have it down pat over night but I have stayed persistent with using it and the more I do, the more effective it is.
If you deal with anxiety in small amounts here and there or as a daily struggle I want you to know, you are so not alone. I’ve been there, I am still there in a sense, and while I can’t say anxiety has been a beneficial aspect of my life, it has definitely made me a more compassionate, empathic, and loving person.
We are all in this together, and thanks to companies like Sun Life with their fantastic online Digital Health Community you can get even more support targeting your mental health with innovative and empowering health-care options, information, and you can even connect with others on similar health journeys through their listings of local health-related events.
It can sometimes feel overwhelming even just to start, so just go slow, start with 1 or 2 of these tips and check out the articles on the Digital Health Community. Then, when you feel you are making some progress, add in a couple more tips and check out a recommended mediation or sleep app in the Discovery Lab. Little by little you’ll put that anxiety gremlin in it’s place, just like I have!
I’d love to know if you personally deal with anxiety, how you combat it, and what resources you use to help you in your own journey. Join in the conversation by commenting below and be sure to sign up and join me in the Sun Life Digital Health Community today!
Also, if you feel inclined to share this information so others can also benefit, pin the photo below and spread the love.
Christal // NITK