Thursday, April 21, 2016

Confession: How I'm Coping with Generalized Anxiety Disorder

The First Bird Back by Lulu Lovering via Flickr cc.
My Confessional Series Explained. 
March 30, 2016

Inspired by Confessional Poetry I’ve decided to start my own confession series although I don’t do poetry, so I’ll just be dishin’ it. I am not an open person. Most people who know me know very little about me. 

I am guarded because I am terrified not to be. Nevertheless, I’ve decided to open up, and to all people, I’ve decided to open up to all of you.

Why? Because maybe some of the secrets I’m keeping are similar to some of the secrets you are keeping and maybe by sharing, I can somehow be of some help.

Deep breath, okay . . . here I go . . .

How I'm Coping with Generalized Anxiety Disorder

So last time in Confession: I was Recently Diagnosed with an Anxiety Disorder, I explained that I have Generalized Anxiety Disorder. I talked about what exactly that is and how it feels to have an episode, but now I’m going to tell you how I’m coping with it.


This is written based on my personal experiences. What is discussed here should not be considered a medical opinion of any sort.

Therapy
As I said last time, I was diagnosed by a therapist/psychologist, and I continued to see my therapist for about ten months. You can find lots and lots of general coping techniques online and in books, and I do recommend checking those out, but the therapist helped me dissect my values and thought patterns and approach my anxiety with techniques tailored specifically for me.

Therapy is a strongly recommended part of dealing with an anxiety disorder. It's recommended to try it before trying medications, and it's also suggested to use along medications. It's also something that many people are often hesitant about because they are afraid of what it says about them to be seeing a therapist. 

I felt this way myself and it took things getting pretty bad before I went. After having gone though, I can say two things: one, it's really easy to keep therapy a secret, and two, appearing sane is not worth being miserable.

God
More Good Foundation via Flickr cc.
Shortly after my diagnosis I was researching anxiety, and I found an article that basically said people with anxiety don’t trust God. Now, I actually don’t believe that at all, but when I read it, it was like a slap in the face. Whether it was true or not in general, it was true for me. I realized that over the past decade, one by one, I had stopped trusting in the Bible, in prayer, in church, in believers, and in God and Jesus.  

After crying on my knees for a while, I then created a plan to reconnect with and trust in God again. It was a slow progression starting with prayer and researching my questions regarding religion and spirituality for a couple of weeks and then finding a church and eventually joining a Bible study group and volunteering. This was a gradual progression over several months. 

Reaching out to God might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but for me, this was an important part of my progress because by redirecting my life back to God, I changed certain values that were causing me to have anxiety. 

For example, I had been putting my work and personal goals first in my life, but when I achieved them I felt no sense of satisfaction or self-worth, and I was constantly anxious about an overwhelming sense of purposelessness. By refocusing on God, and by putting Him first in my life, I realized what was really important and by trusting in God, I have less fear in general.

These two books really helped me with that process:

Books on Anxiety
From the start, I did a lot of research. I researched anxiety on Google and my therapist recommended some books, and I found the following particularly helpful:

This book is awesome because it’s designed to let you create your own personal plan to cope with and manage your anxiety. It provides explanations of negative thought patterns and ways to deal with them. It has worksheets to help you think through irrational fears and come up with solutions to problems that seemed unsolvable. It’s really useful for a variety of struggles, not just anxiety.

This book is nice because it focuses on anxiety and provides in-depth and targeted solutions.

A huge part of anxiety is self-esteem because being afraid all the time means you don’t have confidence in yourself.

Meditation/Mindfulness
I have found a lot of benefit from practicing mindfulness and mindfulness meditation. 

Freedom by Lauren McKinnon via Flickr cc.
Quick definitions: Mindfulness is simply the practice of observing your own thoughts. Human beings are thinking machines, and we think without realizing what we are thinking all the time, like we are on autopilot. This is how anxiety can feed upon itself, through negative and fearful thoughts that you don’t even realize you have. 

With mindfulness, you practice paying attention to your thoughts, so you can be aware and then stop those negative patterns. It’s not as easy as just deciding to do it though. It requires practice through . . . 

Mindful meditation is taking the time to sit and practice being aware of your thoughts. This is how you gain the skill of being aware of your thoughts at other times. This is also the common first step in traditional eastern meditation, and that’s where the study and practice of mindfulness originates from. Psychologists did a whole bunch of experiments and found out how helpful it is for a variety of mental struggles. 

Eastern meditation also encourages gaining the ability to stop thinking all together and living in the present moment plus other beliefs and philosophies that are too extensive for this post. 

Mindful meditation is my number one tool for combating my anxious episodes. When I realize I'm having one I go and do a mindful meditation practice. The ones I do from Mindfulness:An Eight Week Plan for Finding Peace in a Frantic World by Mark Williams, DannyPenman are only like five minutes or less. I got the audio book so I can listen to the guided meditations. 

Here's why it works. Two issues create an anxiety episode for me, first negative, fearful, and irrational thoughts start cycling in my mind (the steroid hamster). Then, those thoughts trigger my fight or flight response over and over, and my body is pumped full of adrenaline, which causes my heart and mind to race. Meditation combats both of these problems. By focusing on my breath (a common basic of meditation) I can actually relax my body and end the fight or flight response. Then I can focus on my thoughts and uncover whatever it is that is causing that stimulus. Hamster intervention. 

Another great book I found on meditation and mindfulness is The Power of Now: A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment by Eckhart Tolle.

Anti-Depressants   
Happy by Luciano Zanardo via Flickr cc.
All of the stuff I discussed above really helped and continues to help with my anxiety, but after more than six months of trying, I still felt like anxiety was winning every single day. I knew techniques but once I had an episode, I couldn’t get control. In the moment, I would think: “I’m having an episode, I need to—” but then that thought would fly out of my head and be replaced with all the unstoppable steroid hamster thoughts.

I had all the normal fears about anti-depressants: Will it make me a drone? Will it make me too happy, and I’ll do something crazy? Will I have to be on it forever?

When I finally did take it, the results were surprising. It worked! I feel better, not only happier and less stressed but also normal. I just feel like me when I’ve been happy in the past, except for the first time in my life, that happiness doesn’t seem so fleeting. My husband agrees that I don't seem off or different, just normal.

Was my anxiety cured? No. It’s for life baby! Anti-depressants don’t cure anxiety, but they make it easier to cope with. Before, I struggled with stopping in the middle of an episode but ever since taking the anti-depressants, I can stop and say, “Hey, this is anxiety. I’m going to go meditate.” I still have anxious episodes, but when I do it doesn’t affect me as badly or cause me to stress out the way I used to. It’s helping. 

So How Am I Coping? 
Happy by Paula Satijn via Flickr cc.
The type of anxiety I have isn’t something that gets cured. It’s something I will have to manage for the rest of my life. Some days I don’t succeed, but with everything that I’m doing I’m having more and more success than ever before, and more importantly, for the first time in years I feel like my life is getting back on track, back where things feel right and I’m not afraid, worrying, or feeling like something is wrong all the time. 

Sure I’ll always have to work on it, but so far learning how to has made my life better in more ways than one (getting back to God, reevaluating life values, learning how to relax, etc.), and I think it’s going to keep getting better, and I’m pretty happy about that.  

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About Stephanie Carroll
U&E Founder & Author
Buy Her Book A White Room!
Photo by Randy Enriquez
I dated and married my husband in 2004 when I was 19. I felt like an outsider for the first half of our marriage. He didn't understand what I needed to know about the Navy, and I didn't know what to ask.

After ten years of learning in the Navy, I founded Unhinged & Empowered. I wanted to spread the knowledge that I needed when I was new, to reveal what took years for me to learn.   
Cover Design by Jenny Q
  
In addition to being a Navy Wife, I am also a novelist. I write historical women's fiction.

My first novel A White Room debuted in 2013 and is about a woman forced to sacrifice her own ambitions of becoming a nurse to marry a man who can save her destitute family. He moves her to a strange, small town where she slowly succumbs to madness until she stumbles on an opportunity to nurse to the poor despite the fact that her husband prosecutes unlicensed practitioners.

Learn more at www.stephaniecarroll.net and connect with me @CarrollBooks on Twitter, Facebook, or on Pinterest!

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