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How I Managed Anxiety Without Meds

Anxiety | Health

I remember some very dark days – panic would set it anywhere: public places, while driving, at work…Fear crept into every crevice of my life. This darkness began to spill into my daily decisions.

“Maybe I shouldn’t go to this party because I could have a panic attack “, was my typical inner dialogue. I wrestled with fear rather than being an active participant in my life.

The Thoughts of a Fear Junkie

With a racing heart, sweat would dampen my forehead and I knew it was coming. It was like getting to the top of a roller coaster; we know we’re on our way so far down that our bodies almost cannot take the sensation. We let out a scream in release as we realize our complete powerlessness in plummeting.

As I sat strapped into the dark seat of my fears, powerless to the rapid ascension toward its peak, full-on panic would take hold before the inevitable descent. I would begin to hear my own heartbeat.

Was I actually hearing it? Was I having auditory hallucinations? Could I be on the cusp of having a heart attack? Had my breathing become so shallow that I wasn’t taking in enough air?

These are the thoughts of a fear junkie. I use the term “junkie” because I believe that I had become addicted to fear and hopelessness…I hoped less. Eventually I stopped hoping altogether.

A Magic Pill?

During my first week taking Zoloft, I didn’t feel anxiety. I didn’t feel at all. I was amazed, yet perplexed as I thought, “So this is what medication feels like?” I felt as if someone had re-programmed my sensitive soul to a default setting; a factory setting where there is a generic format for everyone. I was void of anxiety, void of fear, and in this void was a darkness that was unfamiliar. This void was just that — empty; an echo that might go on forever if I had the nerve to scream.

I’d wished I felt intensely enough to scream, but the emptiness was infinite. Medication was not the right path for me. I felt it with every fiber of my being. My sensitivity was too great, or maybe too easily numbed. Possibly, part of me craved numbing and absorbed it like a sponge. I was lost. I’d taken the wrong path and needed to steer a new course.

Reserve The Right To Change Course

Healing methods are a very personal choice. There is no Rx for happiness as we find it in many corners of this planet. We may find it with the help of medication, or at our own desktop. After I’d changed my mind about medication, I decided to use my search engine. Literally! I googled the phrase, “natural remedies for anxiety.”

This led me, somehow, to the word “reiki.” I discovered a reiki master who lived in my area and made an appointment to meet with him. As I sat explaining (with desperation) my need for peace and happiness, he shined a light down a path that I would end up walking for many years to come. I learned how to breathe, and eventually he and I began to meditate before each reiki treatment.

As I was taught how to take a real breath, to be present in that space, I eventually went from fear junkie to occasional user. Now, I have sponsors and lifelines when I feel like using a litany of tools to help me find my way. Below are some strategies that helped me find light in the darkness.

1. Breathe

This may sound silly or like a no brainer. Our subconscious mind tells our lungs to breathe from the womb, right? Wrong.

Breathing techniques can alleviate anxiety. When anxiety sets in, we begin to breathe shallowly, from the upper chest- and when breathing is shallow and fast, the body responds with increased heart rate, rise in blood pressure and stress hormones. As we find ourselves having an anxiety attack, we may not even realize that we’re actually holding onto our breath.

As we become mindful of our breathing, we can take a few moments and consciously breathe properly. What does that mean? For a long time, I did not know. Then, I learned this: Let your belly be soft and relaxed, and breathe from your lower abdomen. Watch your belly extend, or even place your hand on it. Take a deep nostril breath in, and slowly exhale a deep nostril breath out.

Repeat — and use this technique any time you notice that you're anxious. Many of us mouth-breathe when we’re worried or tense. This releases the fight or flight response and we may begin to feel even more panicked. Deep belly, nostril breaths in and out will slow your heart rate, as you begin to feel calmer.

2. Speak

Very often, we may feel insecure about the fears that chew us up from the inside. We may have been taught that being fearful is a sign of weakness, or that only the strong survive in this world. The teaching that we must only rely on ourselves may have been prevalent in our lives, as we may have grown up learning that depending on others is another sign of weakness. Total bullsh*t!

Our whole universe exists because of interdependence.

Speaking our truth and allowing ourselves to be vulnerable is crucial to healing and radical self-acceptance. Speaking (or even writing down) the things that keep us up at night, or pulled over on the side of the road with a sweaty brow and a pounding heart can be incredibly freeing. Finding a therapist, or a close friend who offers acceptance as we speak our fears can diminish their power.

I eventually found a therapist who provided a non-judgmental ear and a compassionate heart. Speaking with her helped to disempower my fears. With every word spoken, I moved closer to healing. We are never alone. Ask for help. Speak your truth. It is a sign of strength.

3. Make a Plan

One of the biggest questions I would ask myself in the throes of a panic attack was “What if?”

What if I hyperventilate? What if I actually have a heart attack? What if I’m not breathing properly? Then, I learned to ask: So what?

Make a plan. Answer your own questions.

I will pull over. I will call 911. A doctor or EMS worker will help me. Combining mindful breathing, writing down or speaking our fears, along with logical answers to our panicked responses can bring an anxiety attack down a few notches until it becomes a bump rather than a free fall.

4. Do You!

I am in no way opposed to medication. We must take care of our well-being with the same love and nurturing that we would our own children. We can explode the myth that we are not worthy of such love. Self-discovery and healing are as individual as each unique being on this planet.

As we make decisions that are self-loving, we feel lighter as the sadness and anxiety that weighed us down is lifted. Our emotions guide us through this process as they offer signals to our heart and our gut.

There is oneness in the universal desire for love and bliss. The individual path that each person walks in pursuit of this desire is one of courage.

Featured in New York Magazine, The Guardian, and The Washington Post
Featured in the Huffington Post, USA Today, and VOGUE

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