There should be at least two different words for anxiety, because the word “anxiety” doesn’t do what I experience justice. When you explain to someone the extent to which you deal with anxiety, most of the time they respond with “oh man me too! I get so nervous when I go on dates, or am with a large crowd.” And on one hand I empathize with them, because no degree of anxiety is comfortable or wanted. But anxiety for me is so much more pervasive. You know that feeling when you lean too far back in your chair? When for a split-second you fear that that absolute worst has happened, and you feel your heart skip a beat? That’s what anxiety is like for me, except that feeling almost never leaves me. Anxiety isn’t a personality trait for me; it’s a disorder. There have been nights where I have to bolt out of bed and run to the bathroom to vomit because of a night terror.
I’m not telling you this for your sympathy. I would just like to ask a favor of you. When someone tells you that they are feeling anxious, instead of trying to make them feel better by telling them that you too experience anxiety, ask what you can do for them that would make them feel better. Because even though you are trying to make them feel more comfortable and connect with them, most of the time you are minimizing their experience.
Since I have experienced anxiety and panic symptoms since I was 16, why would I choose to move 5,947 miles away from my family, friends, psychiatrist, therapist, and comfort zone? The short answer: because I have anxiety but I am not anxious. Yes I know that is confusing as all hell, but let me explain. For so long I told people I am anxious or that I can’t get rid of my anxiety. I was using language that denoted anxiety as who I was and not as an experience or feeling. So while I have anxiety, I am not my anxiety, I am so much more than that. It was this change in mindset that loosened the grip that anxiety held over me. I now feel so much less fearful of the panic that I experience because I know it to be a fleeting part of me, and not all of me.
So what is it like to travel when you experience intense anxiety? It’s terrifying, and absolutely empowering. Never have I felt so hopeful in my entire life regarding my mental health. I won’t lie; it has not been easy. When we first arrived in the Czech Republic while my excitement was at an all-time high, so was the anxiety that I felt. I was fucking terrified, but I refused to let that stop me from exploring. One fair warning though, anxiety related disorders and anxiety in general are not nearly as talked about or understood in European countries (specifically central and eastern Europe) as they are in the United States. I always used to be ashamed of my anxiety, and with people here being less understanding of what I deal with, caused a resurgence of these old feelings.
I understand that anxiety is a personal affliction and it affects everyone in different ways. I also understand that sometimes the LAST thing someone who experiences intense anxiety wants to hear are suggestions on how to make it better (because we feel like the person giving us the advice has no real grasp on what it is that we deal with). But here’s the thing…I know what it’s like to be afraid to leave the house, to be unsure if you’re having a panic attack or your heart is finally giving out, to sweat so much for no goddamn reason that you look like an out of shape, post-swim, Michael Phelps. So with all due respect, I know what I’m talking about and this shit helps.
- Eat something small as soon as you wake up
There are a lot of things in my life that can exacerbate anxiety, and hunger is one of them. So as soon as I wake up I eat something light. Also, make sure you’re eating enough and drinking enough water throughout the day
- Go on a run
I am not a runner. In fact I sort of hate it. So I do sprint intervals because it is an anaerobic exercise that promotes strength, speed, and power. I find that endurance running for me is not the right fit because It doesn’t give my heart rate the same spike that sprints do, which is what I find to alleviate anxiety.
I will make a full post on how I meditate and why it helps at a later date. After my run I sit down on a bench and meditate for 15 minutes. If you’re new to meditation I recommend using a guided meditation program such as Headspace.
- Eat a diet that is right for YOU
Something that truly changed my life was a visit to a nutritionist. I was vegetarian for five years and vegan for the last eight months of those years. It was a personal decision to have my diet be meat free, but I did not realize how much it was intensifying my anxiety (I’ll share this story in another post as well). But a visit to a nutritionist set me straight. I’m on the healthiest diet for me, and take supplements that were missing based on the results of blood tests.
- Get out of the house everyday
Even if I’m working from home for the day, I still go and wander the city for at least half an hour every day. Because if you’re someone who experiences anxiety, you know how easy it is for that to slip into agoraphobia.
- Mementos and mottos
I like to set intention for the day ahead of me when I sit down to do a meditation. I have been drawn to crystals my entire life, so I use wire-wrapped crystal necklaces to use as a reminder for that intention. I also have several mottos that I say to myself in case I was to ever experience an anxiety spike. It’s important to find a phrase that you identify with, but for me I use “this is not then”. Use something that is simple, easy to remember, and powerful.
Right before bed I do 15 minutes of yoga to wind down after the day. I find that it’s a powerful sleep trigger for anyone that experiences insomnia, and is a great way to trick your brain into thinking you’re tired.
- Sleep + meditation
I either fall asleep to a guided meditation, or really calming music because I find that it seriously helps me to get much more restful sleep. And if you can get eight hours of sleep it does wonders to recharge the body and helps to alleviate anxiety. (There are loads of sleep hypnosis / meditation tracks on youtube that are wonderful)
These are all the things that I do on a daily basis that help to alleviate my anxiety. It is also important to understand that we will never be completely without anxiety. In fact, anxiety is actually a good thing at a primal level. It’s that fight or flight response that can keep you safe in a lot of circumstances. But when the anxiety begins to inhibit the way you want to live, that’s when you need to start taking action.
Oh and above all, talk to a professional. You know you better than anyone else, if you feel out of control of your emotions or anxiety, talk to a therapist or psychiatrist for guidance.
Also if anyone was curious as to the header image to this piece, I recently got the “command” symbol tattooed on my middle finger. This is just a daily reminder to say, “Fuck you, (‘you’ being my own mind) I’m in control here.” I make the personal choice every day to face my fears, and step out the front door.
Much love & many adventures,