Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Anxiety Post

Hi my friends! :)

This is a long post so feel free to skip over it if it doesn't apply to you! :)

I wanted to share with you details of the anxiety program that I've been following for the last few weeks because I've found a lot of relief! 

The program I followed was 8 lessons. It was theory, meditation and yoga. I've had a little bad luck with yoga injuries lately so I didn't do that part of the program. I did watch the videos, but I concentrated more on the theory and meditation.

Here is what I learned (4 exercises):

1. Short Quiet Meditations and Your Happy Place

Several times a day it's important to sit and meditate. It takes only minutes. You sit and be still. You start to feel every muscle from your jaw, up to your eyes, your ears...then down to your throat and lungs. You don't necessarily try to relax these muscles, but just be aware of them while you breathe deeply. If you want to try to relax them that's good, but only after you've noticed which areas are tense. The next step is to imagine a scene that brought you to such tremendous joy and focus on it. The idea is that if you train your body several times a day to slow down and focus, that any pent-up anxiety will be released.

In my case, I found that my jaw was horribly tight and so were my eyes; so I naturally focused on those areas and tried to relax them. My "happy moment" was Pavlov, our foster border collie, running like a mad man outside in the snow and loving every moment in the country. He looked so happy and free. He looked so confident and loved. That made my heart sing and I look back on that often. I've been doing this about 5 times a day, like I said, it just takes a few moments, but it helps me to be in the present, so anything that was nittering away at my brain dissolves.

2. Breathing In and Breathing Out

Inhalation brings energy to the body. It increases heart rate and gets the blood flowing. Exhalation releases hormones that promote relaxation, healing and feelings of harmony. The teacher had a fancy word for it...para...something or another, but basically the way we breathe sends different messages from the brain to the nervous system. When we deeply inhale and quickly exhale (as in the case of people under stress), we start to build up a lot of energy that can manifest into anxiety later in the day. We also release too much of the hormone cortisol through intense inhalation.

Cortisol is a good hormone to be released under times of high stress because it triggers the fight or flight mechanism in the body. If you're being chased down an alley - yes! You want that cortisol to help you out! But, like in my case, if you are prone to chronic stress and anxiety, too much cortisol can be very dangerous as it builds up in your system. Elevated cortisol levels interfere with learning and memory, lower immune function and bone density, increase weight gain, blood pressure, cholesterol, heart disease....the list goes on. Basically stress can kill you.

In my case, the elevated levels of cortisol triggered my fight or flight response when it wasn't needed and unfortunately this caused a physical reaction that led to panic attacks. The hormone is released through your adrenal glands and prepares you for a physical fight or a fleeing "flight". If you have chronic stress and the cortisol builds up...it has nowhere to go if you don't fight or flee. I've known this since 2003, but the only way I could manage it before was through tranquilizers.

3. Chest Breathing vs. Belly Breathing

People with anxiety tend to breathe out of their chests. These are not deep breaths, so the tendency is to inhale a lot more than we exhale.

With these two lessons (#'s 2 and 3) in mind, I focused on my breathing. I breathed very deeply, trying to do "belly breathing" instead of chest breathing. I also tried a 1:2 ratio of inhalation vs. exhalation...counting, say, to 5 on the inhale...then counting to 10 on the exhale. The near-immediate sense of calm I felt was amazing.

4. Your Ladder of Anxiety

It is important to establish your "ladder" of anxiety. The diagram that was shown was one of a person who was afraid of flying...which is a great example, but you can apply this to any situation that you know triggers your fear. So in the case of this person who has a fear of flying, the person starts with discomfort, and reaches full blown terror during the phase leading up to the flight:

1. Discomfort: Booking your flight (any idea of a fun vacation doesn't even register).
2. Restlessness: Waiting out the days before the flight.
3. Nervousness: Packing.
4. Anxiety: The drive to the airport.
5. Fear: Waiting for the boarding to start.
6. Fright: Sitting on the plane, waiting for take off.
7. Terror: The plane starts to move.
8. Panic: After terror, panic will stick with you until either you pass out or are on firm ground again...or if you take a pill. Some people need to do physical activity (like me, I pace around the house incessantly when I'm in panic mode)...and some people just lie down in bed and wait it out.

The lesson I learned is to identify the first three stages. Beyond that, the instructor was very realistic, he said "When you reach stage 4, Anxiety, do you really think you'll remember to think of your happy place, belly breathe and exhale deeply?" He said that if you can identify discomfort through to nervousness...that is the time to apply the first three lessons. 

For me, and I'm being a little vulnerable here...I'm terrified of choking to death. Okay, I said it. :) I've had trouble with swallowing and eating since I was about 8 years old. Sometimes food gets stuck in my esophagus; sometimes my throat refuses to work and I just simply cannot swallow. I've had many a gastroscopy (tube down the throat, talk about terror) and even got down to 88 pounds in 2002 when I couldn't swallow solids anymore due to stress. I was terrified of choking so I just stopped eating. 

So during the program, I really made an effort to put these lessons into practice. I observed my feelings for a few days and I discovered that one of my favourite places causes me the most discomfort. The kitchen. I noticed that as I was cooking and baking, I was in a good mind frame, but I felt a little tense, a little nervous. My hands shook and I started to feel stressed. I know this has a lot to do with the impending eating of the food. So now, when I'm in the kitchen and starting to feel a little nervous, I sit down and meditate, think of my happy place, belly breathe and intentionally exhale more than inhale.

Yowza. It works. For the last week or so, I haven't reached the fear stage of putting dinner on the table! I've had no problems swallowing or with food getting stuck.

The program is finished, but I'm definitely using the techniques I learned. And I'm continuing a daily 10-20 minute relaxation meditation as an ongoing method to promote relaxation. And now that I know what to do when I'm feeling nervous, I'm hoping these lesson will continue to be successful for me!

I am SO glad I found this program! I hope that this is useful to anyone reading it. Those who suffer this know how debilitating and frustrating it can be when you think you're doing all you can and it comes back without warning. I hope my experiences help someone who is suffering and needs some kind of help! xx


Pam Jackson said...

I am glad you found that program also. You are just to sweet of a person to have to deal with anxiety like that. I hate that you have to deal with that. Breathe.....just breathe!

Rain said...

Thanks Pam xxx :))) Really, the breathing helps so much, the exhalation, it's like magic! :)

Toni said...

Awesome. You discovered a plan and set it into motion. Kudos to you for being active in self-care. It is incredible what oxygen can do for one's brain and body!

In stress, or fight or flight mode, major amounts of blood race to limbs for running or blocking, blood deserts the frontal lobe of the brain, heading to back of brain to help duck and dodge. Thinking becomes almost impossible, decision making virtually impossible. If one is really stressed it is hard to add 9 + 14 because 23 has nothing to do with survival!

I often have to remind myself to breathe during the day. I simply forget! Must be the PTSD, sometimes waiting for the other boot to drop!

Lisa said...

Thank you for this very informative post! It's amazing how much just breathing can help! I find that when under stress I am a shallow breather and need to focus on the deep breathing techniques :) Lisa

MrsDuncanMahogany said...

I am so glad that you have found something that is helping! Isn't it incredible what a few techniques can do for one's psyche? I could have put this to good use last night when taking Karma for her vet visit. It did NOT go well. :(

Rain said...

Thank you Toni :) You're so right, during fight or flight, you cannot think straight, our brains make it that way. Precious energy would be used in debating rather than acting, so there's no way to remember what works during that stage. I catch myself chest breathing in short breaths at times, but I have to remind myself to breathe too.

There is a theory that it's not just fight or flight, that it's fight, flight or freeze...I feel the freeze when the food gets stuck. I just stand there in panic mode until Alex (figuratively) shakes me out of that terror.

Rain said...

Thank you Lisa :) Another thing to notice if you are under stress, are your shoulders up at your ears?? This happens to me and actually promotes the shallow breathing.

Rain said...

Thanks Dianna :) I'm sorry about what happened with Karma. I definitely think you need to practice that long exhalation when YOU start feeling nervous and restless about her next appointment in February. Our pets pick up on what we're feeling, it might not cure her of her own fear, but she will definitely feel like you are protecting her. I hope you feel better! xx

Plowing Through Life (Martha) said...

Oh Rain, I'm so glad you've found something that works for you. These are such wonderful recommendations. Breathing exercises always work for me when I get overly stressed. When I need to calm down, I close eye eyes and picture myself on the top of a mountain or walking along the shore with the sound of waves crashing against the rocks. It places me in a happy place where the sights and sounds are calming.

wisps of words said...

Oh my Dear, such pain to go through...

I don't have that particular issue. But have had _major_ OCD issues. Happily, they are better under control now, than years ago. But I admit, I have been through hell, with my issues. To find help is like being born again, almost. Forms of OCD are never cured. One has to know that. But better is better.

And it is interesting, how it surfaces, when you are doing something you love... cooking. I notice that mine surfaces, when I am trying to do something I love... reading. -sigh- Not just then, but... Insidious!!!!!!!!

I wish you all the best. And am so happy you have found help.

Many, many gentle hugs to you...

Fundy Blue said...

I'm so sorry that you have suffered so much over the years, Rain. It's inspiring to see you search for solutions to help you. I'm living a much less stressful life now and am very grateful. Your suggestion of short meditations is something I'm going to try. Good luck as you move forward.

baili said...

i think this is one of the BEST post i have ever read dear Rain!!!
thank you for sharing this wonderful program with us

all these situations are common human conditions which we encounter time to time and hardly take time to think about solutions

i learnt about breathing and yoga little bit many years ago and it gave my life a new turn where i was able to have command on my body and mind but over the years i almost forgot about that
thank you for reminding me my friend!

i feel terrible when i have to step over escalator and each time hubby or my eldest son hold my hand and i feel like i have no fear anymore

hope your weather is friendly now and you are completely under the blessing of God Rain!
please take care

Rain said...

Thank you Martha :) As they say, the mother of invention is necessity. I had to find ways that worked for me, because I've learned I'm NOT part of the status quo! I love your visualizations...it's so strong and powerful to do that. I just imagine Pavlov running around the yard and my heart just fills with love and gratitude that we can give him such a lovely "holiday" and it helps me too! :)

Rain said...

Hi Wisps of Words :) Oh gosh, I agree with that...to find help is like being born again. Living with ANY mental health disorder is devastating when things don't work. I'm so glad that you are better, and no, we are never really cured. How cruel that your OCD surfaces when you want to read...same thing here with the cooking, it peeves me off!

Rain said...

Hi Louise :) I know you're in the same boat. It's so hard to find what works. I hope the meditations do you some good. And yes, definitely eliminating any added stress makes life so much easier. I think that most of the decisions I make are to lower my stress levels now.

Rain said...

Thank you Baili :) I was in a spot many years ago when I just relied on doctors and meds to put a bandaid on the problems...but it wasn't a good life to live. I am very proud of myself that I'm trying everything I can. It's hard though. I know that feeling you described stepping over an escalator, though my fears are for different reasons, we all feel that terror. Having a support system really does help! xx

wisps of words said...

RAIN... Re: your comment on my blog.... The book, I didn't name. ,-) It is one of the "Agatha Raisin" series. I know that a *million* people do love all these books. That's why I didn't fully name it.

Nope it wasn't the author Anne Rice. But I have read a couple of her books!!!! REally!!!!!!! :-))))) That's not many since she has written a lot.

Rain said...

Hi Wisps of Words :) AHA! LOL...I've never read Agatha Raisin! We all have our favourites! I LOVED the movie version of Interview with the Vampire, probably because of the cute guys lol! :) But her books, I'll pass! :)