As a longtime anxiety sufferer, I've experienced quite a few hardships along the road to health and healing.
Outside of the obvious stress, mental anguish and low self-esteem that accompany a mental health disorder, I found it's the misconceptions surrounding it that are often the most difficult to deal with. Anxiety can force a person into solitude and prevent you from living a happy and fulfilled life. It can swallow you into obscurity, leaving you feeling judged, uncertain and powerless.
Although it is said that over 40 million adults suffer from some form of anxiety, it has only been viewed as a prominent mental health concern within the last 30 years. Prior to that, anxiety was swept under the rug and often treated as a symptom associated with stress — not as an independent issue. And sometimes anxiety is still misunderstood, even today.
Some sufferers self-medicate, while others pretend their anxiety doesn't even exist.
And unfortunately, I was one of those people.
I've suffered from anxiety for over 15 years and was finally diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder just a few years ago. But I developed a life-threatening addiction to anti-anxiety medication, and suffered an accidental overdose from a combination of anxiety meds and pain pills.
This series of unfortunate events forced me to search for a more natural and holistic way to control my anxiety. That's when my "Trinity of Wellness" (yoga, meditation and juicing) was born.
But despite this positive outcome, I realized that sufferers like myself are often plagued by the inability or unwillingness of others to truly understand how and why anxiety has such a profound impact on our lives.
So I've compiled a list of the three most common misunderstandings of anxiety and ways to overcome them. My hope is to help those who suffer manage their anxiety better, and make this crippling disorder a bit easier for everyone to understand.
1. Anxiety is not just mental.
Many people assume that anxiety is simply a mental health issue, but it's actually a bit more complex than that. Although the root of anxiety starts in the mind, there are physiological implications that accompany it.
Heart palpitations, chest pain, dizziness, difficulty breathing and increased heart rate, are only a few of the significant signs of an anxiety attack. Although these physical indications normally pose no immediate danger, they are closely related to the symptoms of a heart attack, making it very difficult to tell the difference.
This misconception often leads to a heightened sense of panic and fear, not knowing whether or not you're going to die as a result.
I've been rushed to the emergency room multiple times due to the misinterpretations of an anxiety attack. I'm sure there are thousands of others that can attest to a similar experience.
One of the key principles I practice and teach is the importance of slow, concentrated breathing that I learned through the practice of yoga. This has helped me greatly with the daily management of my anxiety, providing relief during the early onset of an anxiety or panic attack.
So the next time you feel overwhelmed or anxious, begin to focus your attention on your breath and try this exercise:
Inhale for a count of three, pause for two seconds, then exhale for three.
Repeat this until your inhales and exhales reach five seconds each.
Repeat this exercise backwards until your breaths return to the original three count.
Repeat as many times as needed.
2. Your diet can have an effect on your anxiety.
Studies have shown a direct link between nutrition and mental health. Some foods can contribute to anxiety and depression, while other foods help to prevent it.
Before my diagnosis, I was a caramel-latte-a-day kind of guy. I literally ate and drank anything I wanted. Nonetheless, my careless lifestyle and dietary choices didn't fare well in my fight against anxiety.
After months of research and a lot of trial and error, I was able to pinpoint which foods were contributing the most to my anxiety.
These are the foods that I completely cut out of my diet or minimized greatly:
- Processed foods
- Sugar (refined or artificial)
- Gluten (wheat, barley, rye)
While eliminating these foods have helped to reduce my anxiety symptoms, I also increased my intake of fruits and vegetables. I implemented a daily juice and smoothie routine, drink lots of water, and try to eat at least one leafy green salad every day. I also snack on nuts and other whole foods between meals.
This has proven to be a great success for me. I have a lot more natural energy and feel fuller longer. I don't believe that there is only one way to be healthy, so I recommend exploring a few options to see what works for you.
Remember, what you put into your body is what you get out of it.
3. Anxiety CAN be controlled.
If you get nothing else out of this article, please understand that your anxiety can actually be controlled.
We often get so wrapped up in how extreme our anxiety is, that we forget we have dominion over it. I know firsthand how anxiety can make you feel defenseless and vulnerable, but I also know that it only occurs if you allow it.
The fact that you have anxiety is not the core issue, it's your reaction to it that is problematic. If you control your perception, you can have control over it's impact.
I used to treat my anxiety as if it was my worst enemy. I hated when it was around and did everything to evade its presence. It wasn't until I accepted my anxiety, that I was able to gain control over it. I stopped running from it and began to look for the positive in it.
I believe that my anxiety saved my life.
Prior to living with an anxiety disorder, I was a heavy smoker, heavy drinker and had terrible dietary habits. My disorder forced me to take my health and wellbeing seriously. Had it not, there is no telling what diseases and other health ailments I may have ended up with.
Point being, whatever you believe in ends up becoming your reality. There is a positive opportunity within every negative experience. It's our job to find it! Don't give up until you do — it could be the one thing that ends up saving your life.
Photo courtesy of Taylor Images