Learning to Live with Anxiety: A Bittersweet Story

Anxiety is a debilitating affliction.

It’s hard to describe anxiety to those that haven’t experienced the troubles. They say, “just relax”. Sure, that helped! It feels like a heart attack mixed with an oncoming stroke.

The body goes numb, heart rate up, tingles, head fuzziness, and a sudden urge to escape the situation. It can happen at any given moment.

I know this because I’ve had anxiety all my life.

It was always there but very mild – something you’d pass off as being nervous – then it became a problem. The attacks got worse. For a good while it prevented me from doing work, interacting with friends, and taking care of myself.

Then I learned how to cope with anxiety.

Anxiety is in the mind. It will be there in one form or another but it doesn’t have to be debilitation.

These days the triggers (finances, relationships, and social interactions) rarely trigger anxiety. In fact, within the past two years I’ve only had two major attacks – yet even they weren’t so terrible.

Things changed when I made a change. How so? Let me share a few that worked:

Cutting out vices – Vices (such as drinking and smoking) raises blood pressure. When blood pressure spikes your body feels out of place. This triggers anxiety and panic attacks. Reducing (and eliminating) the vices keep the BP regulated. These take time and I would recommend you join a support group to help with the process.

Better sleep – It’s hard to sleep when anxiety is hitting. That moment when you’re about to doze off and suddenly jerk back awake as if you were falling. Your heart races. Body tingles. This goes on for hours. At least it did. I read that sleeping on the left side places pressure around your heart (my preferred side). I also happened to sleep on a very tough mattress. I did some research for different mattress on the Bedding Mart site and bought something comfortable. The pressure that used to cause anxiety is no longer there. One more trigger down.

Exercise – When you’re having bad anxiety/panic attacks you immediately think “heart attack”. One of the best aids with coping with anxiety was starting a cardio routine (biking in my case but walking or running is fine). This improved heart health. My GP confirmed the heart improvement and assured I was healthy. This kept me assured any time anxiety popped up. Since then I try to exercise not only for heart health but because the fresh air and focus keeps me aligned.

Self-Help – I would recommend seeking therapy but I didn’t go that route cognitive-behavioral therapy instead of just therapy. My GP prescribed a heavy dose of Xanax but I hated the feeling of being zonked out. Instead, I practiced a bit of mindfulness and self-help & improvement. My buddy, also suffering from anxiety, does meditation. That isn’t for me. Instead, I like to work on craft projects. I guess it just means that, in all, you should find an outlet that lets your mind wander. It could be anything. Keep experimenting with new activities until you find the one that helps you relax.

I’m not saying I’m an expert on anxiety. I don’t think anyone truly is because it’s such a difficult problem to diagnose. I do know what it’s like to be stopped dead in their tracks because the body feels like it’s shutting down. I’ve been to the ER thinking I’ve had a heart attack just to be told it was a panic attack.

It’s something we have to live with – to cope – but it doesn’t have to be a barrier to life.

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