How can I relieve all of this anxiety?
January 15, 2010 8:18 PM   Subscribe

I really need to chill out. For the past couple of months my life has been in a state of flux (birth of first child, promotion at work, studying for an exam, etc.) The stress and anxiety has manifested itself in the form of numerous frightening physical ailments. How can I learn to take things easy and calm down?

During this stressful period I haven't felt overtly or consciously stressed. I think a lot of it has built up deep inside due to the sweeping changes that have occurred around me. I have been to the doctor for everything from chest pains, arm numbness, shortness of breath, migraine headaches, etc. (all of which I perceive as life-threatening ailments like a heart attack or brain aneurysm). All tests done have come back negative and the symptoms have been diagnosed as stress-related.

This has recently culminated in anxiety and panic attacks. My mother used to have these all the time and I've read that they're hereditary. Whenever I feel any kind of physical symptom coming on I start to panic, have tightness in my chest, difficulty breathing, etc. My doctor has prescribed me with Ativan which I've only used sparingly when I feel panic coming on.

I'd really like to stay away from medication as much as possible and adopt some lifestyle changes and positive habits that will allow me to lead a more relaxed, easy-going, positive approach to my day-to-day life (which is how I used to be before the recent onslaught of life-altering stress). It feels like I'm stuck in a snowball effect of physical symptom/worry/symptom gets worse/worry escalates/panic attack/repeat.

Any ideas on how I can naturally combat this?
posted by Tenacious.Me.Tokyo to Health & Fitness (27 answers total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
It feels like I'm stuck in a snowball effect of physical symptom/worry/symptom gets worse/worry escalates/panic attack/repeat.

Which is why you need the meds. They'll help you put that effect on hold so that you can take advantage of the natural methods you're asking about.
posted by runningwithscissors at 8:22 PM on January 15, 2010 [1 favorite]

yoga! Have a library that you can get a DVD from, or can you record a few episodes from tv? I can do yoga one or two times a week, and the breathing stuff stays with me for a while. You mention a new kid, is the weather fair enough to walk around the block with the kid in a stroller?
posted by kellyblah at 8:24 PM on January 15, 2010 [1 favorite]

One thing that helps is organization. This sounds counterintuitive, but if you sit down and make a list of everything you need to do—and the very next step you need to take in order to get each thing done—it can be a real relief.

cf. Getting Things Done
posted by sonic meat machine at 8:27 PM on January 15, 2010 [2 favorites]

There are a number of relaxation techniques that might help you.

One is autogenic relaxation (I had to look up the name at the Mayo Clinic site), which is, basically, imagining you are in a restful, peaceful place, maybe somewhere from your childhood (you've probably heard people mention going to their "happy place") and projecting the calm by picturing yourself there, rather than in the stressful situation, and relaxing your breathing, concentrating on slowing your heart rate, etc.

Then there's yoga, which I really recommend, because it loosens up your body, improves your posture AND calms you down. Most routines contain sections at the end that are devoted to breathing properly and peaceful meditation, skills which can help you when you do start to have an anxiety attack.

And while you're at it, exercise can help you clear your mind. I know what you are thinking--you are exhausted from all the stress--but your mind is working overtime, and if you can wear out your body, it will also help to relax your mind so you can actually sleep.
posted by misha at 8:30 PM on January 15, 2010 [2 favorites]

A person I'm very close to suffered from panic attacks. Although during certain periods medication for acute distress was important, the two things that seemed to do the most good for him was first taking part in a group therapy type setting of other people dealing with the same problem, progressive relaxation exercises (mainly conscious muscle relaxation and breathing exercises), and some sessions with a presenter who was explaining/demonstrating Mindfulness exercises.
posted by nanojath at 8:36 PM on January 15, 2010

Panic attacks build on themselves. when you feel a physical symptom that might be trigger, stop what you doing, take some deep breaths, try to relax your body (or at least all of the parts that aren't involved in the symptom and think to yourself that the only problem is the symptom, you are making a choice not to allow panic or anxiety to make things worse. If you try and the anxiety isn't subsiding, take a pill and use it to help you repeat the process until you are left with a calm self dealing with a physical symptom. If you need to, make a plan advance on how to rational input about when you need to worry (let partner decide for you if you need to call the doctor)

Second, work really, really hard on getting enough sleep (probably impossible but it makes a huge difference in your ability to cope.

Third, seriously evaluate if there is any way that you can reduce the stress - delegate or delay as much as you can. Ask for help. I can't believe how much you are trying to juggle at one time - being stressed is pretty rational.

Talk to someone about the stressful situations in your life - see if you can let it out verbally instead of carrying in your body.
posted by metahawk at 8:43 PM on January 15, 2010 [1 favorite]

Yoga, and I'd recommend NOT a DVD. In particular, I'd suggest a "restorative" or "gentle" class (that's what they're called at my studio) in a studio, where you are away from the stressors of your home and learn to just be, relax, and feel things. If you're comfortable with it, talk to whoever's leading the class beforehand about what you're going through. This can help.

You don't mention whether you regularly see a therapist. Talking to an unbiased professional could be useful, too.
posted by knile at 8:48 PM on January 15, 2010

I'm sorry you're having a rough time. Your symptoms sound similar to something I've struggled with over the last couple years, particularly the part about having them without overt consciousness of being stressed. In addition to employing several of the excellent suggestions above, I have found getting regular massages extremely helpful. I went every two weeks for a while, and now once a month or so. It's not inexpensive, but it was the single most helpful thing I did.
posted by donnagirl at 9:02 PM on January 15, 2010

Copous amounts of chamomile tea. Traditional Medicinals uses the highest standard of ingredients IMO.
posted by saxamo at 9:16 PM on January 15, 2010

It feels like I'm stuck in a snowball effect of physical symptom/worry/symptom gets worse/worry escalates/panic attack/repeat.

Which is why you need the meds. They'll help you put that effect on hold so that you can take advantage of the natural methods you're asking about.

I went through a phase (mid-late 20s) that sounds similar to what you're talking about, and eventually negotiated my way out of it entirely WITHOUT MEDS, except for the occasional beer or toke when it seemed right (ie: relaxing).

Key strategies were all pretty pragmatic. Eat better, exercise more, sleep better and more consistently, stop and smell roses etc. Which isn't to diminish what I was going through. The experience was brutal and demoralizing but ultimately, I concluded (with a little help from my friends and family) that I was looking for a shortcut out of a mess that had taken me years to create. Once I relaxed and adjusted and surrendered to a long term fix, it all kind of flowed from there.

In conclusion, heed your own counsel, just don't put a time limit on it:

I'd really like to stay away from medication as much as possible and adopt some lifestyle changes and positive habits that will allow me to lead a more relaxed, easy-going, positive approach to my day-to-day life (which is how I used to be before the recent onslaught of life-altering stress).
posted by philip-random at 9:19 PM on January 15, 2010 [1 favorite]

Straight up meditation. Similar to the yoga suggestions, but I like the 'stillness' of meditation. I suffer from some jacked up chronic pain issues, & overall tend to be a pretty anxious stresscase, even without the exciting/stressful life events you have going on (congrats on the sprog, BTW!)...

Doing a simple sitting meditation even for 10 or 15 minutes (the longer, the better, but you sound fairly busy) helps me remember how to *breathe*, literally clears my head & generally changes my outlook immediately. The longer term effects (that I noticed within the first week) were less pain (reduced far beyond my hopes &/or dreams), fewer heart palpitations, better sleep & less anxiety overall. I feel like I just handle things so much better/differently - there's a good deal less panic coursing through my veins.

Take a class, check out some books or go online. I don't have any good links at the moment - I've learned through classes and haven't done much other research yet.

Good luck! Remember to keep breathing....
posted by East Siberian patchbelly wrangler at 9:20 PM on January 15, 2010 [3 favorites]

I really agree with yoga.

Also, take more baths. Really.
posted by hermitosis at 9:21 PM on January 15, 2010

Assuming you get the go ahead from your doctor: exercise, exercise, exercise. Consistent exercise, at least 5 days a week -- do aerobic workouts until you are sweating. You'll be surprised how big a change this will make on your mood. It's what your body was designed to do.
posted by whiskeyspider at 9:36 PM on January 15, 2010

posted by k8t at 9:46 PM on January 15, 2010

When I have had major life changes or stresses, I have had serious panic attacks (chest pain, dizziness, short of breath ... and medically everything was fine). I think meds can be very very helpful, but in my personal experience, the following have been the greatest help with anxiety:

- Intense cardio exercise. If your doctor thinks it's ok, push yourself HARD. It is, IMHO, the best stress reliever and mood-booster there is.
- Yoga. DVDs are fine if you can get some privacy/quiet while you do them at home.
- Supplements -- I take Omega-3's, a B-Complex vitamin, and a regular multivitamin.
- Eliminating caffeine. At least cut it down to no more than 1 cup per day.
- If you can spend a little time outside each day, try to do so. A little sunshine and a little nature goes a long way towards soothing the soul.
- Make time to have stressless fun. Make it a PRIORITY, not an "if I have time" kind of thing. Watch a funny movie with your partner and child, go for a walk in the park, do something you enjoy that doesn't stress you out. Plan these fun little things ahead of time so you always have something somewhat immediate to look forward to.

I think therapy or even just journalling might be helpful for you, too. From what you said, it sounds like you don't even have specific stressful or anxious thoughts that you are aware of, just general life stress leading to physical symptoms which then panic you further. Either by yourself or with professional guidance, you should try and at least give yourself time and room to figure out what's eating at you and what's stopping you from being able to feel more relaxed.
posted by tastybrains at 10:02 PM on January 15, 2010

Tai Chi works well.
posted by koeselitz at 11:36 PM on January 15, 2010

Yoga and meditation were my suggestions too. Both are especially useful for preventing your ending up hating yourself (which is one of the the worst and counter-productive things that could happen) But this doesn't do the whole job.

When I was in a similar spot (second child born, re-located to another country for new job in which I wanted to do everything well, just as at home) I eventually had to stop and re-assess after a stupid strep-throat that threw me down for an entire summer. I ended up asking myself any number of the following questions: which elements of my work and my private life do I really need to do in this frantic "better done now than later" fashion (action: discard the unnecessary ones); what do I actually like (action: find more of these things), need (action: ask for it), hate (action: make yourself heard when situations arise that you don't like, instead of meekly accepting) in my existence, where do I, for my own saneness, need to tell people to stop bothering me with demands, where can I grant and give, what do I expect of my performance (as opposed to "what do I think others expect of it" etc.)?

In other words, trying to do everything right in a complex situation leaves you with anxiety, whether it runs in the family or not, so you have to make an active effort to (as Ron Weasley says) sort out your priorities, with emphasis on "your". I ended up chucking some responsibilities at work (while keeping those I felt comfortable with) and feeling good about it.

Then there's that modern thing that it's not really socially accepted to want to be alone for a while; this may be a bit different in different countries, but in general one has to convince people of the fact that one is not an a-social wack-job if one wants to take a solitary walk or whatever for an hour (at least I had to fight for that right, and it was difficult, especially with my Dutch in-laws). Stillness is necessary for recovery, so claim that, whether for yoga, meditation, or just for staring at the wall and let time pass.

One thing, especially with little kids: you perhaps don't realize how a lack of sleep influences the picture. I fell headlong into that trap: I usually was the one who woke up at squawks from the kid's bedroom, went up, provided the glasses of water and the turn-the-baby service and went back to bed, after which I often stayed awake for an hour or so; while also doing a day's job, finally failing at the kiddie-entertainment after returning home and hating myself for it. This won't work. Take turns, if necessary in various parts of where you live, ensuring you get your sleep at least occasionally as well as your partner.
posted by Namlit at 2:09 AM on January 16, 2010 [1 favorite]

In the last three months I've suffered some hardships (jaw infection gone wild, brief homelessness, building collapse at work, cancer in the family, car accident, ugly breakup). The combined effect of these events has not left me well.

What works for me, every time, is hard physical labor, whether that be chopping wood, rearranging my entire workshop, or a really hard bike ride. If you find that the calmer methods mentioned here aren't working, see if you can find time and space to do something with your hands and arms.
posted by fake at 3:17 AM on January 16, 2010

Nthing exercise. #1 thing my therapist told me to do when I was going through a rough patch. I had to report back to her, so I was more likely to slap on the headphones and go walking.

Park your car further away. Get a baby jogger 3-wheeled stroller, off Freecycle if you have to, put on some music and dance around the living room, do some jumping jacks. The key is to do something like this 5 times a week. Think of exercise as your medication.

I did this for 4 weeks and by the time I had my psych eval, the doc said it was working so well he didn't see the need for meds.

I have a pill box and take a B-complex w/C & folic acid, and two 400 IU Vitamin D3 pills every day after breakfast. I keep a box of chocolate calcium chews on my desk and take one or two per day. I also drink lots and lots of water, I have an insulated water bottle that I carry around with me like a security blanket. The act of drinking cold water when you're stressed can break the cycle and it's good for you.

Also, I have several herbs, that I got very cheaply at the health food store in bulk. Passion flower tea is wonderful. I let it steep for 10 minutes with a cover. Add a little honey, sip slowly, and you're good to go. To sleep, even. There are others, look up teas for relaxation.

I keep a bottle of lavender and ylang ylang essential oils in the medicine cabinet. Just a sniff will do me. A lavender eye pillow or sachet for your eyes at night is great too.

If you can afford it (or have a willing partner!), massage is the best. Put a few drops of lavender or other essential oil into some olive or almond oil, and have them rub away.

Next time you have a panic attack (assuming you're doc says you're fit), do 5 jumping jacks. And remember, it's a condition. If this stuff doesn't work for you, don't put yourself through hell. Seek out a therapist and psychiatrist. You may not have to take pills forever, but there's no shame in taking meds for a severe condition. Like "natural" childbirth. When they offered me the epidural after 12 hours of labor, I said, "hell, yes!"
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 4:57 AM on January 16, 2010 [1 favorite]

Sorry, I missed the part about you having access to meds. But wanted to add that caffeine can cause problems for people with anxiety. I still drink coffee, but not a lot and never after noon.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 5:07 AM on January 16, 2010

I recommend Calms Forte, which is essentially chamomile in homeopathic form. 10 bucks at a health food store. I actually take it when I just want to relax, usually at the end of the day and it usually gets me in the mood for sleep early on. Also, I have never wanted to use meds either, so I know it's entirely personal. But don't be so hard on yourself either about taking them. They can really help sometimes, give your brain a chance to recoup and everything. I decided not to use them because I basically 'took a break' for about 3 months when I was having constant anxiety attacks, but if I hadn't been able to do that, I would have used them for sure.
posted by Rocket26 at 5:49 AM on January 16, 2010

I've gone through exactly the same problems you are going through - i made my boyfriend phone an ambulance because i thought i was having a heart attack, i laid awake at night for months thinking that a blod clot was making its way to my heart, i thought i was having a stroke, etc. etc. For an immediate help, my doctor prescribed me beta blockers (which as far as medicines go, are pretty harmless and have few side effects), but like you, i didn't want to solve the problem with medicine. Here's what I did:

* I got into mindfulness, particularly reading Turning your Mind into an Ally. Mindfulness is not just about meditation, but generally is all about knowing that you are in control of your mind, and not the other way around. This doesn't have to be about sitting down for hours at a time in a lotus position, it can just be about stolen moments where you look around you, appreciate the moment that you are in and focusing on really being present.

* I changed my diet. I found for me that having too much sugar, caffiene, etc., gave me artificial ups and downs throughout the day, and that was more likely to give me a panic attack. I cut out both and started making sure that most food i ate was freshly prepared, and this helped me a lot.

* As many others have suggested, exercise helped quite a bit, too.

* More than anything, I learned to recognise the symptoms of what was coming. You say that you're not conscious of what's happening underneath, and it's generally the same way for me too, but I've learned to find and recognise the tiny symptoms that build up into a panic attack. When i see it, i give myself a break from whatever i'm doing and take some time to myself. This has helped me a lot.

Good luck, and this will get better!
posted by ukdanae at 5:52 AM on January 16, 2010

Seconding the B vitamins. Also make sure you're getting enough sleep. You can also try Sam-e tablets. Sam-e is formed naturally in your body, like Vitamin D.

Mayo Clinic

I originally discovered it in Prescription for Natural Healing, which is pretty much my bible.

My mom used it for a while when my dad died, and I used it in a similar situation. My whole family is dead-set against taking drugs unless absolutely necessary, but this, as I said, is something that your body makes. You can find it at WalMart, Target, most any drug store... it's not terribly expensive.

Also, and I can't stress this enough, stay away from caffeine! Most doctors never mention this, but caffeine can exacerbate anxiety, and cause mental confusion.
posted by fairywench at 5:54 AM on January 16, 2010

Also, if she's still alive, call your mother. :) Moms are usually pretty helpful in these situations. And they don't mind phone calls at 3 a.m. if you're upset.
posted by fairywench at 5:56 AM on January 16, 2010

I highly recommend Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction. The premise is based on meditation, but you learn very specific techniques that you can use in your everyday life. It can be a more accessible way to learn meditation because it is the concepts and methods without the religion. If you are like me, you might get a lot out of being in a group and the support of a schedule that a course provides.

Read more about it here.
You can find a program in your area, usually they are 8 weeks long. There are also the books by Jon Kabat Zinn, but I find learning mindfulness techniques from a book difficult (until I have actually done some meditating). CDs would be helpful, with guided meditations.
posted by hazel at 10:30 AM on January 16, 2010

Oh shoot, I just saw that you are in Tokyo and I'm very surprised there isn't a MBSR program there. Maybe "Mindfulness for Beginners" CD and Full Catastrophe Living by Jon Kabat-Zinn.
posted by hazel at 10:36 AM on January 16, 2010

I have this kind of lifestyle, I find a hardcore vitamin pill does wonders. I swear by Berocca (as do many dance dj's which is how I found out about it; they take it at raves instead of drink/drugs).
posted by Neonshock at 12:49 PM on January 16, 2010 [1 favorite]

« Older Looking for a forgotten movie title   |   Chinese surname (possibly) translation help. Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.