Anxiety..something so common that no one wants to talk about. Well, I decided to share my personal story in hopes it helps you understand you’re not alone and you can be proactive at preventing/reducing anxiety. I’ll also touch on medication and how I weaned myself.
My Anxiety Story
In 2008 I had my first experience with anxiety. My children were ages 1, 4, 7 and I was working full-time. As you can imagine there are some stresses that go along with raising little ones and working full time, but furthermore I had a couple of extremely stressful situations happen within a month of each other, which probably was the straw that broke the camel’s back. In addition to those stresses, I think I had been experiencing depression since my third child was born but didn’t really recognize it until later.
On Tuesday, October 28th, 2008 I woke up in the middle of the night violently ill. I was out of work for a couple of days and finally mustered up the strength to return to work. By the weekend, I forced myself to go to a Halloween party but really wasn’t feeling up to it. I still felt weak and mentally wasn’t feeling great either. There were moments I actually felt like I was losing my mind which was terribly frightening to me. Looking back, I see how irrational my thoughts were. Why would I be worried I wasn’t going to get better? It was a stomach virus! My negative thoughts sounded like this: “What if I don’t get better soon and I can’t keep working? We need two incomes to survive. I’m the one who holds the insurance for my family so I HAVE to get better.” The following Tuesday I became violently ill again with the exact same sickness but worse. As I crawled from the bathroom to the bedroom, I told my husband that if I got sick like this again, I would die. I went to the doctor and they performed several tests but couldn’t find anything wrong. I couldn’t eat which wasn’t helping me get stronger. My friends at work began to worry and monitored my eating. They often would force me to eat one bite of food at lunch.
I had constant thoughts of what could have caused my sickness. Was it the duck eggs that I ate? Was it the chili? I had a list of at least 15 items that I ate prior to being sick that I told myself I’d never consume again. Bananas, caramel, kefir, duck eggs, chili, etc. were all things I thought could have caused my sickness. My biggest fear was getting ill again which caused me to be more anxious. When I think back to it, my resistance was probably down due to stress and then I got a virus. I couldn’t get myself healthy again because I was so stressed about getting sick again. Another theory I’ve had is my coping skills for stress were lacking which potentially manifested my stress into a physical illness. I will never really know what made me so sick back then but more importantly, I know I was in need of better stress coping tools to deal with that rough patch in my life.
After a few weeks of weakness, nausea, diarrhea, and lack of appetite, my husband finally took me to the hospital and encouraged the doctors to admit me because I kept losing weight and wasn’t able to eat. We wanted answers! They did every kind of test you can imagine and they said everything looked perfect on the inside. The nurse came in after one of the procedures with her clipboard and asked me if I could be depressed or anxious. I was extremely groggy from one of the testing procedures so the question annoyed me and I quickly said no. It didn’t occur to me that my inability to get better had to do with something going on mentally.
When I was discharged from the hospital, I began thinking about what that nurse had asked me. I had never experienced anxiety before so I didn’t know how to recognize it. It didn’t occur to me that being envious of the elderly probably wasn’t too normal. I just thought I was afraid of being sick again because I had a family to take care of and we all know moms can’t be out of commission for long. I didn’t realize how unhealthy my thoughts were. I was putting a lot of pressure on myself to get better which only made things worse.
I was living in the country and had no internet access. My phone was still a Nokia that was for calling, not texting or surfing the internet. I didn’t have the tools we have now. If I wanted to read about depression or anxiety, I would have had to google it on a public computer (embarrassing) or check out a book at the library (mortifying). I remember being in a bookstore and wanting to go over to that section but I was too ashamed to even be in that section of the store. I decided to call the doctor and admit I may be having an anxiety issue. I explained I recently had two major stressful events in my life while taking care of little ones and working full-time. He prescribed an SSRI (serotonin reuptake inhibitor) called Zyprexa. The first medication made me feel awful and I discontinued it after a couple of weeks. At this point I’m 5’8″ and only 128 lbs and every day I was losing weight. I couldn’t really afford to continue this way so after going off the first medication and still not feeling better, I asked they prescribe something different. I was prescribed a different SSRI called Lexapro which started working within a couple of weeks. I began to enjoy eating again! I began feeling joy again! I remember the elation I felt when I was able to enjoy my first cup of coffee in months. The SSRI brought me back to ME! It didn’t numb me like some medications do. SSRI’s actually increase the level of Serotonin in the brain. Serotonin is a natural mood stabilizer so by increasing the levels of Serotonin in my brain, my depression and anxiety were eliminated. I was on the medication for about a year and then weaned off. I think it helped my brain forget what anxiety was, which was helpful.
What I Do Now to Prevent Anxiety
These are MY proactive ways to prevent anxiety from returning:
- Exercise 3-4 times per week. I decided to try running. I didn’t have a gym within 20 minutes of my home and didn’t want to buy any fancy equipment to get my heart pumping every day. I learned of an app called “couch to 5k” and used it to become a runner. I didn’t really start exercising until I went off the Lexapro. If I could go back in time, I think I would have tried to exercise and doing the others things below before resorting to medication. Want to start now? Check out our article and podcast on exercising to be happy.
- Essential oils! So many essential oils reduce stress and promote relaxation, which is great for anxiety. They have become part of my daily life. Rub some Frankincense on your feet after a stressful day at work. Diffuse lavender before bed for the most restful sleep. Use Vetiver for an awesome calming effect. Click here to learn more.
- Eat healthily! Check out our article The Food Documentaries That Changed My Life if you want to know more about what I did to become a healthy eater.
- Yoga at least weekly. Not only is yoga amazing for your body, but also your mind. My yoga instructor (like many) has a positive energy about her. She stresses giving to yourself so you can give to others. I go to yoga every Sunday with several girlfriends and we are all amazed at how relaxed we feel for the entire day. Even my sassy teenager can’t get me revved up.
- Stay present! Anxiety is caused by worrying about the future. Change your thoughts and keep them focused on the now, instead of the what- ifs of the future.
- Meditation. Learn to meditate! I listen to guided meditation and meditation music. I listen to Jason Stephenson on YouTube and he has many choices such as meditation music for grief, stress, focus, etc. Don’t just listen when you’re stressed. Make time every day. If you want the links to Jason’s awesome meditation music (he even has One Minute Meditations now), check out our podcast/article Benefits of Meditation. Other resources that may help you learn to meditate are Muse (a device) and an app called HeadSpace.
- Be positive. I know venting is a relief sometimes but you aren’t helping yourself. Venting is reliving the negative situation to everyone you tell ( Maybe you’ve told your mom, best friend, and sister about your bad day and next thing you realize is that your entire evening was taken up by stressing about that one negative event from earlier in the day.
- Try to not complain for an entire day. Then try two days, and so on.
- Be productive. When I feel like I’m in a funk, I get moving. Clean, throw a load of laundry in, plan dinner, etc. will always make me feel better in minutes.
Connect with People
Don’t be afraid to talk to a friend or family member about your struggles. Many of my friends helped me through when I was experiencing this years ago. What surprised me is when I told my friends, many could relate and had experienced similar issues. You aren’t alone and it’s not permanent. Medication really helped me and is necessary for many people but I didn’t want to be on medication. I was eating healthy and exercising and didn’t feel good about being on medication indefinitely. I know that if anxiety reveals it’s ugly self again, I have more tools to fight it naturally.
How I Successfully Weaned Myself from the SSRI medication
Although the SSRI got me through a really tough time, the decision to go on one shouldn’t be taken lightly. I think doctors are quick to prescribe without thinking holistically first. When I initially tried to wean by just cutting the pill in half, I had a long list of withdrawal effects. Some withdrawal side effects of an SSRI include anxiety, blurred vision, crying spells, cramps, concentration impairment, constipation, and diarrhea. Weaning off the medication is dreadful which is why I then requested my doctor to prescribe the medication in liquid form so I could taper more gradually. I decreased the daily dose of medication by only one milliliter biweekly to minimize the nasty withdrawal side effects. This process took several months but I attribute the successful discontinuation of this drug with minimal side effects to the gradual weaning. I still had some mild withdrawal effects including a couple months of brain zaps (electrical shock sensation in your brain) and feeling weird.
Interesting Facts about Anxiety
- Forty million Americans are affected by anxiety which is 18 percent of our population. (Anxiety & Depression Association of America-ADAA)
- Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the United States.(ADAA)
- Women are 60 percent more likely to experience anxiety than men. (National Institute of Mental Health-NIMH)
- Anxiety can cause or exacerbate a physical illness because of the mind-body connection.
Anxiety is treatable in many different ways but only a small percentage of people seek help. Don’t accept anxiety…you don’t have to live that way. Do some of the things mentioned in this article. Don’t be too ashamed to reach out to family, friends, or a doctor. Remember, you’re not alone. Peace friends.
The content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.