When I was 12 my parents moved me and my siblings to South America from Ontario where I was born and raised. Before moving I daydreamed about the sunny weather that lasted all year ( unlike the frigid long winters typical of the east coast of Canada), I envisioned myself walking under the shade of palm trees, the scent of exotic fruits and flowers floating through the warm air. Instead I was bullied by both students and teachers at my new school for the next three years. As a result of this (and other experiences I won’t note), I developed Anxiety Disorder with Social Anxiety and Agoraphobia. It’s been an almost 28 year journey since then and although some may find this sad or difficult, today, I see it as a blessing in disguise and a huge lesson in empathy toward myself and others as well as a journey to self discovery, self love, self healing and self acceptance.
I still experience anxiety and panic but today I have tools that work for me and that enable me to live a fulfilling life and fulfilling relationships. Some of the things I’m going to share may not work for you but one thing I have learned from years of everything from group therapy, hypnosis, to meditation is that I have been able to draw a lesson from each one and I’ve collected an arsenal, a treasure chest of tools that I can pull out when I need and most importantly, that work. I hope some will work for you and I hope that by openly and honestly discussing my struggle with mental illness, you will feel empowered to either seek help or start taking steps you need to connect with your authenticity and through courage and determination, find what will work for your personal healing.
So here we go:
Aromatherapy : Peppermint essential oil changed my life. I carry it with me all the time and put a couple of drops under my nose which helps with nausea as well as reminding me to breathe deeply – very important to calm a rapid heart rate. Breathe in and say “peace”. Breathe out and say “relaaaaaax”
Meditation I meditate various times a day. I meditate in the shower, while Im driving, when I have a moment to myself at work and when I have a good 10 – 30 minutes, I sit in meditation at home. A great meditation is just saying Thank You and going down a list of all the things you’re thankful for. Visit http://www.calm.com for guided meditation.
Journalling is such a great tool when therapy is something you might not be able to afford. Be honest (no one else is reading it), say everything you need to say; every emotion, every frustration, doubt, fear and don’t forget, every success. It’s amazing to go back and re-read the things you wrote and to reflect on how far you’ve come or even to see how what was so important at that moment, is now over and how you were able to cope and keep going.
Distraction Exercises – If you’re experiences high anxiety or even panic, distracting your mind in any way possible is vital. Talk to someone or ask them to talk to you and really focus on the story they’re telling you. If you’re alone there’s a great exercise I’ve used – name 5 things you see around you. Name 5 things you hear. Name 5 things you feel (your hands on the chair, your shirt touching your arms, the breeze on your face). Count backward as fast as you can. Watch a funny video on youtube. Think of anything but worry. By focusing your mind on your surroundings it actually brings you back to reality instead of letting your mind run wild with scenarios that most likely will never happen.
Talk to someone you trust. One thing about mental illness is that still today, it is something shameful to many of us. We feel like we’re not normal or we’re weak. But I can tell you – we are the strongest people. One panic attack would bring a “normal” person to their knees yet we keep going. Be honest, talk to a loved one or someone who will not judge you or try to “save you”. Tell them what you’re feeling, what you’re thinking. Tell them what you need to do to help yourself. Sometimes it helps to hear yourself say these things out loud to realize how it seems a lot worse when we hold it in our minds than saying it out loud. Sometimes we even realize how silly it sounds to be worrying about it .Getting it off our chest is an exercise in letting go. Then forgive yourself, be gentle and kind. Bless your heart, you’re taking care of yourself.
Learn to say NO – As much as we want to heal. As much as we want to live a regular life. As much as we want to please others and participate fully in our relationships, It’s not a step back to say No at times, slow down and take care of our mind and body. Sometimes pushing too much, doing too much actually ends up being overwhelming and makes us feel like we’re failing.
Eating Right – There are certain foods that I know very well make me feel jittery. I still eat them ’cause they’re so fun!! but I will stop them completely when I know an event is on the horizon that might be difficult to go in to. I calm my system right down sometimes days before so that when it arrives and the stress rises, at least I don’t have extra stimulants from food making me feel worse. These are caffein and sugar. Instead I amp up the veggies, the herbal teas and of course the essential oils.
Taking time daily for ME time: This isn’t always easy when life gets in the way but if you can give yourself time to do something you enjoy, do it!. I take a warm bath, read, watch makeup tutorials online, meditate, do yoga, do my nails. Basically something outside of the daily routine and something that raises my spirit. You deserve it.
Do things your way – One thing I struggled with the most during my healing was “putting other people out”. The problem with this is that I ended up for the longest time, missing out on opportunities to participate in life just because it was too stressful to do things how others wanted instead of how I needed in order to have a successful experience. For me this meant getting my own car so that I could drive myself to social events and also have the freedom to leave when and if I needed without counting on someone driving me home. Believe me, it’s better to be honest and do what you need, how you need and on your own time, then to completely miss out on life or to, like I used to do, stay home for years wishing I could be enjoying life. Doing things on my terms without apology changed my life.
Safety Anchors: I carry things with me that in all honesty, make me feel safe! things that ground me – Peppermint oil is one. Sometimes I carry a pink quartz in my pocket and hold it (especially when I’m at the dentist lol!). My journal or a book . Anything you can use to distract you or something comforting. When I travel I bring things from home (a blanket, a candle). It reminds me of the feeling and smells from home and calm me down. I know, it’s weird but it works so who cares!