Towards the end of January I had a little bit of a break-down. I just felt completely overwhelmed and anxious. I wasn’t sure why. I had spent most of the weekend doing self care activities and was walking home from the gym on the phone with Jacqueline saying, “I just don’t know why out of nowhere I feel so anxious and it won’t go away!” And Jacqueline wisely told me that sometimes when she does self care like yoga or something very relaxing she ends up with more anxiety. That resonated with me. It feels like when I don’t acknowledge my feelings of anxiety and overwhelm, it’s like a cork that releases all this pent up stuff I haven’t been looking at and poof! I can’t get away from it.
As a result of this little mini-breakdown, I am obsessed with self care right now. I’m talking to people about their self care regimens, being more methodical about what I need from myself in order to be the person I want to be in the world. I now acknowledge that when it comes to taking care of others, the more I have the more I can give. My well has to be 100% full in order for me to give water to anyone else, and I’m in the role of primary caregiver to my girlfriend (yeah, we went there) who is going through chemo treatment for breast cancer right now.
I am going to do a mini-blog series about self care and in this first post I detail what I do to handle anxiety when it comes. There are lots of ways to deal with anxiety, of course, but this is what has worked for me and what works for some of my pals. Obviously, there are varying degrees of anxiety and some folks should consider seeing a mental health professional, but for those who have kind of spotty occurring anxiety like me, hopefully these tips will help.
1. Pay attention and course correct.
I treat feelings of anxiety and overwhelm as warning signs. They’re my own personal “check engine light,” some kind of acknowledgement my body, mind and/or spirit needs attention. If I’m having anxiety come up more often than usual than I know something is wrong and I need to do the work to assess what’s going on in my life and where the imbalance is. If I were on Car Talk and talking about running a diagnostic, I would do the things I know to do when I need to diagnose what’s going on with me. Journal, phone a trusted friend, stop and look at what’s going on in my life. In the January example, I knew what was going on–I had three friends and one of my cats pass away in a three week span in December on top of being primary caregiver for someone with cancer. Any one of those things is a lot! I needed to be gentle with myself and take care of myself and the check engine light came on!
When I’m feeling anxiety, it’s hard to know in the moment that I need to do something differently, in the moment all I can do is think “Fuck, how can I make this stop?” Then I turn to more immediate solutions.
2. Drink stress relieving tea.
Over my Christmas trip to visit my mom and grandmother I woke up feeling intense anxiety one morning. (I think this was another moment where I was relaxing and the cork popped out and all the grief and anxiety I was feeling came out.) I didn’t have anything that could cut the anxiety in the moment, so I went rummaging through Grandmother’s tea cabinet to see if she had any chamomile. Lo and behold, she still had the tea sampler I created as a hostess gift for my cross country road trip two years ago. Fully intact, it held in it four kinds of loose tea including “Stressed Out Tea.” It was like a gift to myself from the past. I drank that tea like I was chain smoking, one cup after another and within a couple of hours it started to work.
I bought the Stressed Out Tea from PS Coffee and Tea in Park Slope, but here are the ingredients if you want to create it yourself. Stressed Out Tea (blend of lots of herbs to calm down including rosemary, peppermint, chamomile, lady slipper, catnip, violet, feverfew, wood bettany herb, blessed thistle herb, white willow bark, stevia herb, raspberry leaf and flavored with peppermint oil).
3. Treat self care like a job.
Self care is a really important aspect of my anti-anxiety routine. The best thing I can do for my anxiety is to prevent it from happening. I like to say self care is a full time job, which it kind of can be, especially in the Winter when we have all the Winter Feelings and seasonal depression.
The other day I was staying with friends and they told me, “We go to bed at 9:30.” Which is an amazing example of prioritizing getting the sleep they need and having a mellow, unrushed morning. I have so much admiration for people who prioritize their self care.
Since my breakdown in January I have been very strict about doing all the core self care things I do every single day. I knew I hadn’t been doing the things I usually do every day, I was skipping some. I was in love jail, snuggled up with my sweetie in Winter and mistaking those temporary good feelings with the things I need to do for my own sanity in the long run.
4. Cut the caffeine.
Eliminating caffeine from my diet has been great for keeping my anxiety at bay. Some days I have none, some days I have a little, but I keep it in check as much as possible. I started the Lesbian Tea Basket web series when I gave up coffee for digestive reasons. Replacing my passion for coffee with tea wasn’t exactly a substitute (I still dearly, desperately, love coffee) but I do now feel very passionately for tea in a way I didn’t expect. I think the herbal aspects of tea are medicinally great but I also think the ritual of brewing and consuming a hot beverage is very soothing.
It’s such a hassle sometimes, but exercise is so crucial to my mental, physical, emotional and spiritual well-being. It soothes everything for me. If I can keep it up at least twice a week it’s great to keep me from getting depressed or anxious.
There are a lot of people I know who medicate for anxiety. I’ve never gotten a prescription for anything mental health related, but haven’t ruled out the possibility. There’s so much stigma associated with mental health prescriptions but honestly, I think stigmas around what people need to do for their mental health are bullshit. If you have a headache you take an advil, if you have anxiety and a pill will help, maybe take the pill? I’m definitely a follower of the Kate Bornstein philosophy of living:
Do whatever it takes to make your life more worth living. Anything at all. It can be illegal, immoral, unethical, self-destructive… anything at all if it makes your life more worth living. There’s only one rule to follow to make that kind of blanket permission work: Don’t be mean.
I just got some Rescue Remedy to see if an herb tincture (they also have pastilles/candy and gum) could help me in those moments where in emergency I need to break glass. So far it seems to work though I’ve only done it a couple of times when I was mildly stressed and haven’t had a major anxiety bout since I got the tincture.
I have some friends who medicate with klonipin (one of them just nibbles a little on a pill to take the edge off an anxiety episode), ativan, and xanax. Obviously you’ll go see a mental health professional or general practitioner who can advise about prescription meds.
Other friends I know with chronic anxiety use medical marijuana. For those who don’t know there are like a billion kinds of marijuana and there are lots of different ways to use it. Depending on your body chemistry there are kinds that just take the edge off the anxiety and you can still function (“cleaning the kitchen” weed) or others that make you want to sit on the couch. I am into watching documentaries about the medical marijuana dispensaries on Netflix and what it can do for folks. Again, this is totally something to go talk to a professional about if you’re in a jurisdiction that has the medical marijuana.
I am a shitty, inconsistent meditator. However, if I can take a minute to stare at some birds and ponder what they are up to, look up at the sky for thirty seconds, or close my eyes and just notice what sounds I hear, that will do me as much good as sitting in a chair with my eyes closed trying really hard to think about nothing. It’s really not much more for me than a way to ground myself in the present and remind myself that I am safe. When I’m feeling anxious I am not feeling safe.
I hope this not comprehensive list helps out when folks are feeling frustrated by bouts of anxiety. Leave your tips in the comments!