How I Beat Anxiety Naturally – Part 1
After much deliberation, I decided that I wanted to share my story and journey with anxiety – more specifically, how I beat anxiety naturally – which started last spring. It has almost been a year since I was at my worst, and what a long way I have come! When I initially shared my experiences on my personal Facebook page, I was inundated, I repeat – inundated – with messages from friends who were suffering from the same symptoms, and didn’t know what to do to alleviate them. In fact, I am still getting requests to share how I have managed to handle my anxiety and keep it at bay so successfully. The most shocking part of this whole ordeal for me wasn’t that I developed anxiety seemingly out-of-the-blue, but was that so many of my friends and colleagues were suffering from it, too, and yet had never told anyone! I firmly believe that the more we try to hide and cover up something like anxiety, the longer the negative stigma that surrounds it will remain. In an attempt to give it a voice and shine some light onto the darkness, I’m going to demystify the demon. What follows is the first part of a two-part post, where I will explain what led up to my symptoms (Part 1), and then give a detailed account of what I did to manage – and to a large extent eliminate – anxiety from my life (Part 2).
PART 1 – WHAT HAPPENED:
Starting in October 2015, our family unit experienced a lot of change, and with that change came stress – both from negative, worry-filled emotions, and from simple excitement about new opportunities. ‘They’ say that your body can’t tell the difference between good and bad stress, and I feel that is definitely accurate when looking back at my own experience. Let me go back in time and tell you what we experienced between October 2015 and April 2016:
– Kevin’s employment contract in Bangkok came to an unexpected and abrupt end. We then had a maximum of 30 days to legally leave Thailand, the country we had called home for nearly 6 years, as our resident visas were cancelled.
– Kevin was offered a position with a different company, to be based in Dubai, U.A.E. However, this would involve training in Louisiana, U.S.A for several months.
– In less than three weeks, we had to get our household effects packed up and put into storage in Bangkok, say goodbye to our friends, pull Fergus out of preschool and bid farewell to the only home our son had ever known. I lost my placenta and raw food business overnight, and the morning after our going-away party, we left with 6 checked bags plus carry-ons and flew to Louisiana.
– We stayed in a small furnished apartment, but it was winter, we didn’t know anyone, and part of the time I didn’t have a car (plus Kevin was travelling a bit). With no social contact for Fergus and I, and no preschool, it was a bit tough.
– We had all sorts of problems with paperwork, which we needed to obtain our resident visas in Dubai. In order to get Fergus enrolled in school, to rent accommodation, to get a driver’s license and to buy a car, we needed this paperwork. An important document got lost in the mail from the UK to the US, and the entire process of obtaining that piece of paper took two months and slowed us down on getting to the U.A.E.
– In January, Kevin was diagnosed with skin cancer. Thankfully, it was caught early enough and removed completely (we hope).
– On the way to Houston to get to the airport to fly to Dubai – the day we had been waiting for – we were in a car accident with the rental car, which scared the life out of me, and we had to be transferred with our 6 checked bags, three carry-ons, and assorted junk to the local police station to wait for alternate transportation.
– After finally arriving in Dubai, we faced problems with the provided accommodation, which was completely saturated in cigarette smoke. I was taping the door up with masking tape just to keep more smoke from coming in from the hallway in the evenings.
– We put Fergus into the most wonderful preschool in the free world, only to later decide to move quite a distance from there, which meant me spending 2.5+ hours on the road just to have him there from 8:30am-12:00pm, if I wanted to be able to come home and get things done around the house while he was there.
– Just under a week from when we moved into our rental home (which was already falling apart due to poor workmanship and needing a long list of repairs), a massive rainstorm and resulting flood struck, and our house took on water on all three levels, including the bedroom ceiling nearly falling in due to the rain. It was a disaster. Fergus was temporarily trapped at preschool as I could not get out of our neighborhood due to high waters.
– Fergus and I developed two successive rounds of stomach bugs and were completely miserable.
– I couldn’t cope with all the wasted time and energy of the preschool drive into town, so moved him to a closer school, which involved the stress of change for him, as well as more registration fees.
– Later in the summer, Kevin’s rental house (which we still have a mortgage on) in Louisiana flooded, taking on water throughout the house, ruining all floors, walls, appliances, air conditioning unit, and cabinets.
– All this put together, plus all the other little frustrations (in addition to some actual fun and excitement), swirled together like a ‘stress soup’, fraying my nerves. Moving country is challenging. I’m not talking about backpacking or being a global-prenueur and settling in Bali for a couple of months on a tourist visa while renting out a bedroom. I’m talking about getting residence visas, spouse and dependent visas, driver’s licenses, taking on a year-long rental contract (in which you have to give checks for the entire year’s rent in advance and will be put in jail if they bounce), navigating how to get a car loan, learning the rules of the land (of which there are many here in Dubai!), figuring out where is the best place to do the grocery shopping, school tours and exorbitant registration and tuition fees, making new friends for all members of the family, paying hefty deposits for getting utlilties turned on (US$1,000 just to turn on the electric/water!), in this case buying lights and curtains and outdoor stuff (not standard when renting a house in Dubai – you literally have wires hanging out of the ceiling where the lights go), and so on. While none of these things on their own were that traumatic, put together along with months of feeling unsettled and unsure of what lied ahead, with a child that missed four months of preschool due to the moving (poor kid was living in three countries and attended three different preschools in a four-month time period), caused us all to be on edge.
So, what actually happened as a result of all of this? I developed Generalized Anxiety. I can remember the exact day that I went from just feeling “stressed” or “tense” (which was manageable for a while), to actually feeling what I would call “anxious.” I had a tight feeling in my chest, and felt the way you would feel if someone snuck up behind you and yelled, “BOO!” in an attempt to scare you. It’s that electrified feeling of fright, but not associated with a specific, short-term event. It’s just there. All the time. My friend here described it as a little cloud that follows you around. You might get momentary relief when you are asleep (or not!), but as soon as you open your eyes and regain consciousness, there it is – your little cloud is hovering, casting a dark shadow on you in an otherwise sunny world. You can speed up, slow down, even hide, but your cloud can never be outsmarted. It’s always there, ready to pounce on you.
I remember I told Kevin, “I feel anxious in my chest.” I would have a couple of days like that, and then I would have a bit of a break, only to be followed by more anxious days. At that point, it was so bad that I really couldn’t associate its comings and goings with any particular event or worry, it was just all-consuming and was accompanied with a racing heartbeat and racing thoughts – the circular mind, I like to call it. I can only explain it as my mind being busy running in circles about various things, attempting to work things through, but getting more worked up in the process – never constructively solving any one problem, just marinating in the “what if” and “oh, no.” It’s not a fun place to be. While I thankfully never had a panic attack (that I know of), I was in a constant high-level state of anxiety. I didn’t have the luxury of spending time resting or in bed, as I had a house and family to take care of (we don’t have a maid or nanny like many/most of Dubai expats), so the show had to go on. I would like to say that most people around me did not know what was going on, as I was functioning, but I felt like I was stuck in this snake skin of fear that I wanted to shed or shake off, but just couldn’t. It was attached to me, like a foul odor or a poison that was imbedded so deeply that to remove it would be to destroy myself somehow. In one word, I would describe the feeling as “fear,” although at that point, I didn’t know what exactly I was fearful of. Just everything. All the things. All the things in the world. If I had to make the fear be an object, it would be a suicide bomb, strapped to my chest, exploding and shattering my flesh into a million little scattered pieces, which I would never be able to pick up and put back together again.
So, what did I do? Check out Part 2 of this story, where I share my triumph over and current management of generalized anxiety. For those of you suffering, please know that there is light at the end of the tunnel. You don’t always have to feel like this. I’ll walk you through exactly what I did to beat anxiety naturally and what I am still doing to keep things in check and properly managed, with the hopes that you might find it useful to your situation.