Explore natural remedies for anxiety

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Medication is a valid solution to mental health problems, and in many instances it’s all that will help. However, the process of finding the right meds and dose is long and arduous. For me, there were weeks where I felt virtually nothing change after popping the first pill. There were times when I bumped up my dose and then cried nonstop for days. One terrifying time, I felt like I had lost my mind, becoming suicidal and manic. Focusing on finding natural remedies during these times helped me reduce anxiety while I searched for the right med and made me feel like I had some control.

I’m not sure how I would have kept working through some of this if I was relying solely on the medication, and as a freelancer being unable to work is bad news.

Natural remedies are not often the entire solution, but meds likely won’t completely kick anxiety’s butt alone either. Finding the right combo is key. Here are a few options.

Hydrate

I heard at a seminar on anxiety that people who have anxiety disorders have thicker blood. Because we’re often in fight or flight mode, our blood thickens so that if we’re attacked, we won’t bleed out as fast. The speaker told us that, for this reason, we should make sure to drink tons of water.

Since hearing that, I’ve read a few other resources that talk about the importance of drinking water. Being dehydrated can cause anxiety, so staying hydrated is important for people with disorders.

Cut the caffeine

Caffeine is fuel for anxiety. Cutting out my morning coffee does wonders for my anxiety, but has caused me a lot of sadness because I love  good cup a joe to start my day. So, I’ve done some experimenting.

Many of the coffee replacements are tasty. Decaf works alright and Half Ass is fine for me most days. There are some days when regular coffee doesn’t send me into anxious spins, especially if I have a cup later in the day.

If you’re a caffeine addict like me but it’s not really helping your mental health situation, it’s worth finding ways to comfortably fit it into your life. If not, it’s totally worth cutting it all together.

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy

People with anxiety often fall into negative thought patterns. For example, I often become paranoid that people dislike me and will overanalyze every social interaction, always interpreting small actions as feedback that I’m boring and stupid.

Using Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), my therapist helped me first recognize these thought patterns and then come up with activities to change them. When anxiety comes up, I sit down and think about what is going on. Once I’ve identified the thought patterns that got me there, I think through it rationally. Has my friend not responded to my text because she suddenly hates me? Well, we’ve been friends for more than a decade and she always tells me when she’s upset with me so probably no. More plausible reasons are that she’s busy, she’s overwhelmed with her own life, or technology is failing us and the text didn’t go through.

Regularly examining thought patterns like this, it eventually becomes a quick process that nips anxiety in the bud. Check out some books on CBT at your local library if you think it might help you out!

Exercise

The solution to so many health problems is to get moving! Many anxiety resources I’ve consulted recommend calmer forms of exercise for anxiety, such as walking and yoga. Personally, I prefer high energy activities such as zumba and running because they let me get some of my anxious energy out quicker.

What’s most important is that you’re doing something regularly that you can stick with. If you start to get bored, find a new activity. If you feel too busy, add something that doesn’t take time out of your day like doing exercises at your desk, cycling to work or doing stretches while watching the news. Find what works for you.

Herbs

Lots of plants are said to reduce anxiety. With some experimentation, you might find some that work for you.

A friend of mine makes a tea she not so fondly calls Ass Tea. It’s made of dried angelica sinensis slices and dried astragalus roots. Toss a handful of each into a pot of water, boil them, simmer for 25 minutes, let cool and then strain. It tastes awful—as the name implies—but chilled with ice and some flavouring (tea or herbs), it’s tolerable. It makes her need to pee uncontrollably, so she adds in a bit of poria. I can skip that last awful-tasting ingredient.

Lavender, chamomile, valerian and lemon balm are all calming as well. You can grow some of these plants to have them readily available for tea, or buy teas that include them in the ingredient list. At the very least, settling into a cozy spot for a warm drink can be relaxing.

Mindfulness

I tried meditating many times before I finally found a meditation series that explained the purpose of the practice in a way that makes sense to me. It helps us strengthen our thinking muscles so we can have more control over what is racing through our brains.

This has helped me so much with CBT. When my mind is going too wild to be able to deal with my thoughts using the techniques I’ve learned, I do a quick meditation on my Calm or Headspace app. With my mind a bit calmer, I then implement what I’ve learned from CBT.

A lot of anxiety comes from overthinking, so being able to control the mind is a huge factor in its reduction.

If you have an anxiety disorder, it’s unrealistic to expect that anxiety will ever be wiped out completely. However, with small changes over time, it’s entirely possible to reduce anxiety enough so it doesn’t have a significant impact on your day to day life.

Each month through my weekly newsletter, I challenge my audience to make one change in their life, whether that’s eating healthier, reaching out to friends more or drinking more water. Sign-up today to join in the fun!

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Multi-tasking madness

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I used to pride myself on my ability to multi-task. I can eat meals while working, having conversations through Facebook messenger with friends who need a little support and snuggling my cats.

Just because you can do something though, doesn’t mean you should.

The chaos of juggling multiple things at one time left me too anxious to go on by mid-day. What I had accomplished wasn’t done as well as it could have been, kitty cuddling included. No one and nothing was getting my full attention, meaning I wasn’t doing a good job taking care of myself, writing, being a caregiver or being a friend.

This wasn’t something I acknowledged as being an issue until I got a concussion. For weeks, I couldn’t even knit anything that didn’t have the absolute most basic pattern while listening to music or my brain would fritz.

Learning to focus on one thing at a time was difficult, but it paid off in that I was able to get more done in the end. As I heal, I can see how beneficial this light on multi-tasking life will be.

In this go-go-go, busy, hyper-connected world, it’s tempting to cram as much into as little time as possible. Here’s what is helping me change my mindset.

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Photo by Bonnie Tsang.

1. I want to be my best self

If you can get something done with only part of your attention focused on the task, imagine what you could do with your full attention?

I can write an article in fragmented pieces between answering emails, but it’s often only after 10 or 15 minutes of struggling with words that the sentences suddenly begin to flow and the writing feels natural and unlaboured. It’s pieces written like this that don’t need much proof reading by me and that editors rarely send back with major changes. In the end, focusing my full attention on this one task saves me time, but, much more importantly, it allows me to put out into the world the best of me.

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Photo by Daniel.

2. I want to have real experiences

Ever have a conversation with someone and later not remember what you chatted about or, worse, in the moment realized that they’ve paused for a response and you don’t know what to say?

Beside being rude, it’s proof that you’re missing out on real life experiences. I don’t even want to think about the countless times I’ve returned home from spending time with a good friend, regretting that I was too focused on watching my phone for an email to have really enjoyed their company. Instead of having the memory of a rich interaction and the positive feelings that come from that, I was regretful. But also a little too busy looking at my phone for another email to register this fully.

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Photo by Home Thods.

3. I want to enjoy life

Always listening to podcasts while walking through the forest, how will I ever hear the birds? Looking at my phone on the park bench, I might miss an otter swimming passed in a nearby pond. Working while chatting with a friend, I might not notice the subtext of the conversation.

I’ve been trying to practice mindfulness throughout my days lately. Noticing the sounds, smells and sights of my surroundings has enriched the most mundane moments of life, including standing on a downtown street corner waiting for my shopping buddy to arrive. And pulling my mind into the moment—rather than dwelling on the to-do list, financial issues and odd social interactions—reduces how much anxiety builds up throughout the day.

It’s hard to fully enjoy all the rich complexities of life when the brain is trying to do too many things at once. It’s been through meditating that I’ve discovered how beautiful life is when it’s simple. From the concussion, I learned how focusing in on one thing is kind to our overworked brains.

Like what you’re reading here? Then you’ll be interested in my new newsletter! This summer, I’ll be launching a weekly newsletter sending motivational words to freelancers and creatives who struggle with anxiety. It’ll be similar to the blog, but more tailored and concise, with action steps you can take to better your life and career. Sign-up now and don’t miss out on even one!


Featured image by Daniel Lobo.


Concussion update

img_1172.jpgAs I get better, it’s been more difficult to gauge what is pushing it too much. Earlier this week, I had an amazing day with no symptoms. The next day, after scooping dog poop and weeding in the back yard, mopping the floors, making lunch for Lucas and I, working 1.5 hours and sitting in the sun listening to podcasts about finances without a hat or sunglasses, it dawned on me that I’d only had such a good day because I’d spent most of my time between 15 minute stints of work sitting still with a hat and sunglasses, even when in the shade.

Sigh.

Having a successful day requires so much mindfulness. It’s a great lesson, but one that I’m slow to learn. Maybe I’ll get it down by the time my brain is healed and ready for full action again. In the meantime, a couple of the musicians from Cottonwood Club, a band my partner is in, gave me this lil’ fellow to keep me company on my side of the car. They also gave me a container of homemade vegan cookies, but I might have already eaten them…