You had crushing anxiety. Now you don't. Tell me about it!
February 13, 2020 9:21 AM   Subscribe

I know there are a lot of questions about anxiety, but I'm hoping for excellent success stories on managing it.

I have lived with anxiety for a while, but it has gotten worse with parenthood. (Though the anxiety isn't all about parenthood nd is often job-related.)

In short, I am extremely anxious over things I may have done wrong, and mistakes I have made, especially when they can't be "fixed." I agonize over these things. I have a public-facing job, which makes my fears of being "found out" worse, esp. when I issue a public document I know will be scrutinized. (I definitely have imposter syndrome/perfectionism.)

I am functional, but my mind is constantly ruminating, buzzing, throwing out depressing ideas, striking panic in my mind as I think of things that might go wrong with something I've done (or that I've caused something that HAS gone wrong.) I know this is often irrational -- not (just) a matter of "getting better" at something.

But things that I can't directly control? Climate change? Cancer? Crime? I do not worry more than is usual -- maybe even less than usual. I don't have social anxiety (I actually really enjoy community a lot, though I'd like more of it), but I do tend not to engage as much when I'm in a funk.

I have seen therapists in the past; I feel better in the room but it doesn't carry over. I have tried CBT -- I liked it, and can identify the distortions quickly, but it doesn't seem to help me feel better about them. I am not on meds; I think I have a real bias against them having read quite a bit of criticism of them, but now I'm ready for anything.

So, if you were like me, and now you have some peace -- tell me what worked!
posted by anonymous to Health & Fitness (42 answers total) 37 users marked this as a favorite
 
Medication. Xanax, Klonopin, etc. It's the only thing that's worked.
posted by Kitchen Witch at 9:23 AM on February 13 [7 favorites]


I am functional, but my mind is constantly ruminating, buzzing, throwing out depressing ideas, striking panic in my mind as I think of things that might go wrong with something I've done (or that I've caused something that HAS gone wrong.)

Project managers at work added in a living "Risk Management" document to our client deliverables and now I can write down all those anxious thoughts as a part of my job. Maybe you could fin a similar opportunity? The exercise of listing out how things could go wrong but then coupling that with a few bullet points on how to understand or mitigate the risk (and then often assign it to someone else!) has been very enjoyable and freeing, and clients and the other people I answer to get a lot of insight out of it.
posted by Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drug at 9:27 AM on February 13 [7 favorites]


I had a lot of internalized anti-med ideas but I have to say, being on a low does of anti-anxiety meds has helped me tremendously. It doesn't mean I don't worry about things, but it does help with the intrusive thoughts, the physical reaction to anxiety triggers, etc.
posted by dismas at 9:28 AM on February 13 [7 favorites]


I started taking anti anxiety meds/anti depressants, and seeing a therapist regularly. CBT also helped a lot.
posted by ellieBOA at 9:29 AM on February 13 [1 favorite]


Meds worked really well for me. Everyone's different, of course, and finding the right medication regime can take time. But I was being absolutely destroyed by anxiety about this time last year and after a bit of back and forth with my psychiatrist I found a set of meds that brought the anxiety way down with almost negligible side effects.

Again, it took some time, and there were periods when the side effects seemed not worth it (serious cognitive impairment for about six weeks), but I'm in pretty good shape now.

BTW Xanax and Klonopin (i.e. benzodiazepines) were no good for me; there are tons of other options.

I don't know what your sleep is like, but one thing that really helped me was getting an ambien prescription so I could regularly get a good night's sleep. Once my anxiety was under control a bit, I didn't need the ambien any more.

Wow; I really sound like an advocate for the pharmaceutical industry here. But it did work.
posted by mr_roboto at 9:35 AM on February 13 [2 favorites]


I am the exact same way, and two days ago I made an appointment to talk to my doctor about trying medication. I have been in therapy for 3+ years to GREAT, life-changing effect and the mental aspects of my anxiety are very well-managed, but I canNOT seem get any sort of long-term handle on the physical symptoms like my stomach clenching up and my insanely shallow breathing and the constantly "scanning" for threats that I KNOW do not exist and am fully capable of handling even if they did. It's almost like it's just pure habit at this point. Like you, I was opposed to medication for a long time, but I have strong reason to believe that meds will help turn down the constant background noise and chatter in my brain that just drains so much of the enjoyment out of my (really great, on balance!) daily life.
posted by anderjen at 9:40 AM on February 13 [1 favorite]


Meds + therapy worked for me. Meds took enough of the edge off that now I can actually USE the tools I learned in therapy.

There is nothing wrong with meds. You'd take insulin if you were diabetic (right??) so why not take a different med to help supplement your brain chemistry?
posted by some chick at 9:44 AM on February 13 [2 favorites]


Yep, meds.
posted by greta simone at 9:49 AM on February 13


Meds, a shit ton of therapy, and multiple personal catastrophes brought about by anxiety-driven avoidance.
posted by PMdixon at 9:54 AM on February 13 [2 favorites]


Meds. Mirtazapine in my case.

I also got a lot from the audiobook Hope and Help for your Nerves by Claire Weekes. Some of it is very dated (it's from the 1960s and she talks about housewives having agoraphobia because they're based at home and men having stress because of their roles in the workplace). But it's worth trying to see past that, because she was way ahead of her time in identifying techniques that have become popular recently within mindfulness etc - being aware of the way anxiety affects your body, using that awareness to interupt and short circuit the spiralling of anxiety etc.

Also leaving a high-stress job for a more chilled one.
posted by penguin pie at 9:58 AM on February 13


Medication.
My doctor prescribed meds (in my case, Xanax and Lexapro) at my request to help me deal with a very stressful, life-altering event. After being on them, I realized that not only were they helping me cope with those particular anxieties, but were helping relieve anxiety in many other areas of my life as well.
I still feel anxiety, but I now feel that I'm in control of my anxiety, rather than my anxiety being in control of me. Huge difference!
posted by bookmammal at 9:58 AM on February 13 [1 favorite]


Hi I'm you! Zoloft has improved my life so much I can't even begin to enumerate the ways. To assuage the fears that I had when I first started meds: I don't feel numb and I still feel internal motivation to get things done. I just...don't ruminate like I used to. I'm able to make a mistake and the world doesn't come crashing down on me. And yeah, I still worry but the worry doesn't take over my life. I can asses the situation and determine if I need to continue to worry about it or take some action or let it go. Before the meds (and therapy), I couldn't stop the worry.

Good luck, it's okay to try medication, it doesn't mean you're a failure or anything.
posted by cooker girl at 9:58 AM on February 13 [1 favorite]


Meds and cannabis.

As someone who was previously resistant to taking medication, here's the thing: you're already anxious and it sucks. It's not going to change on its own - if that were going to happen, it already would have. You want it to stop being horrible, so - try some meds. If they suck more, stop them and try something else. This is why there's more than one kind of medication out there.

I'd also note that you don't have to go straight to benzodiazepines. I've found that antidepressants are pretty solid for dealing with anxiety, but different things for different people. Talk to your doctor.
posted by bile and syntax at 9:58 AM on February 13 [2 favorites]


The kind of therapy called Somatic Experiencing got me off all anxiety and depression meds. I can't say I never feel anxious, but it's very manageable now. I'm doing way better than I ever did on the four psychiatric medications (at once) I was on.
posted by FencingGal at 9:59 AM on February 13


In addition to meds, therapy, and cannabis, forty minutes or so of brisk walking per day is super effective at slaying anxiety for me.
posted by neon meat dream of an octofish at 10:12 AM on February 13 [1 favorite]


Yep. Meds. I take a low dose of Sertraline (generic Zoloft, I think?) and it’s the only thing that makes the ball of anxiety dread in the pit of my stomach go away. I still get anxious about stuff, but the constant hum of anxiety is gone.
posted by Weeping_angel at 10:13 AM on February 13 [2 favorites]


Meds are the big guns, but you might want to augment them with daily meditation. In many ways meditation is about training your brain not to run off out of control all the time, which obviously could be useful for you.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 10:30 AM on February 13


Meds did the trick for me too. Lamictal has been life changing for me. I still get stressed but the constant circling thoughts have calmed way down and my physical reaction to stressful situations is less extreme. I also take inositol, on my psychiatrist's recommendation, which is an otc supplement that helps stop rumination. 4000mg twice a day, I notice the effects after week or so.

CBT also helps, but only when I am on meds so I can stay calm enough to use the techniques.
posted by ananci at 10:32 AM on February 13


Meds + therapy. I have been diagnosed with depression in the past but never anxiety, but parenthood definitely ratcheted up the anxiety in a whole new way for me (and, like you, often not parenting-related). I've been on prozac for a few months now and it made a huge difference. I'm going to therapy also and trying to add in meditation and exercise and some of the other recommendations, but honestly, I needed the medication to even be able to try those things. Sounds like you might be at that point too.

I emailed my OB about meds and got a prescription the next day. That was in large part because I had been on them for depression before; it might not be so easy for a brand-new prescription but you don't have to find like a psychiatrist to get basic anti-depression/anti-anxiety meds anymore. Assuming you're in the US, your primary doctor can and likely will prescribe them, especially if you are also seeking therapy, whether or not your therapist is capable of prescribing (mine isn't).
posted by peanut_mcgillicuty at 10:33 AM on February 13


Meds. The very first combination of Imipramine (Tofranil) and Xanax took me from almost full blown agoraphobia to cool and calm. After the first year, I was able to drop the Xanax unless I had a stressful event once in awhile. The most frustrating aspect for me, is that the meds stopped being as effective after about 10 years. So I have used Prozac, Zoloft, and Lexapro over the years, A couple years ago, I asked my doctor if I could try Imipramine again and it's been working great for me. It's funny that one of its side effects is dryness of mouth and nasal. It clears up my year round allergies as a bonus!
posted by a humble nudibranch at 10:49 AM on February 13


Still working on elements of this. Buspar has been helpful. For work specific concerns, which also got worse for me after becoming a parent, I realized my anxiety was related to getting fired and not having a way to support my child.

I then was able to see objectively how unlikely it was that I would be fired based on the situations I was nervous about, how difficult it is for most organizations to fire someone, and how it was not likely to be a sudden event but rather a lengthy process where I would be put on a performance improvement plan. I.e. not blindsided, and I'd have time to form a contingency plan in the event my performance became fire-able.

So, taking a page from CBT processes, getting to the core fear and challenging it has helped me, but I'm often in the grip of hyperarousal and rumination regardless, which is where meds have value.
posted by crunchy potato at 11:00 AM on February 13


Adding to the meds chorus! I took benzos on an emergency basis for a while, and looking back that was a clear turning point in my anxiety management - having a way to stop the anxiety feedback cycle in its tracks was huge, even when I chose not to use it. Before then, I didn't quite believe that it was possible to live without a constant chorus of racing thoughts.

Some other folks have mentioned cannabis already, but I want to specifically plug CBD and high CBD/THC ratio products. The hype around CBD is pretty intense, but for me, at least, it's been a game changer for side-effect-free daily anxiety management.
posted by Basil Stag Hare at 11:22 AM on February 13 [1 favorite]


I took Klonopin daily for a while, then just when needed, then eventually I almost never needed them anymore. I feel the medicine was instrumental in restoring a sense of normalcy and training the habit of just dealing with shit.
posted by rodlymight at 11:30 AM on February 13


It is very very normal to be someone who is anxious and afraid of meds. Doctors tend to notmanage this aspect of it ("But what if it GETS WORSE?!") but people in support groups can be really helpful about it. I'm here to add to the chorus of "Push through it and maybe try?" Other non-med things that helped me a lot, mostly just agreeing with what others have said

- regular sleep by whatever means necessary (so hard if you are a new parent, I know)
- exercise of any kind but the longer and more vigorous the better
- if you are somewhere where it is winter, consider a sunlamp and Vitamin D supplements
- meditation helped me learn I didn't have to respond to all my fears RIGHT NOW
- having a buffer before I interacted with the internet. I stay off it 45 min,minimum, in the morning and and hour before I go to sleep. it helps
- along those lines, quit watching the news or find ways to limit intake, if you are in the US it's a terrible time for news
- finding ways to be involved locally either with other parent stuff, maybe volunteering (only if you have time!) just to have some more positive thoughts occupying your mind

I am still trying out long term meds (I tried one that didn't work for me, I had a bumpy week of difficult sleep and I stopped taking it and I was fine) but short acting ones like Ativan and occasional ambien for sleeping have really helped in the meantime. Everyone's a little different, good luck finding something that works for you.
posted by jessamyn at 11:37 AM on February 13 [1 favorite]


I’m going to the different one here. Probiotics! Especially if you’ve taken a lot of antibiotics in the past. When I had unexplained anxiety and depression, I read about a link between that and gut flora. I’d had many course of antibiotics previously so thought I’d give it a try. I dosed myself up on every type you can imagine (yoghurt, kombucha, pharmacy probiotics) and within three weeks the difference was remarkable. So maybe give that a try first (it’s a cheap and simple fix) before you go in with the big gun antidepressants, they might not be necessary.
posted by Jubey at 11:40 AM on February 13


I will add, lifestyle factors help as well. I use a lot of caffeine and I'm less anxious when I cut back. Cardio-based exercise also helps burn off a lot of anxious energy. Adding topical magnesium helps soothe me at night. I buy a high concentration lotion off Amazon to use at bedtime. If you get it, don't apply to areas of broken or irritated skin as it can sting badly. L Thianine has also been helpful.
posted by crunchy potato at 11:51 AM on February 13


Send me a pm if you want -- I have some thoughts about this that I don't necessarily want to post publicly.

I have lifelong anxiety issues that are similar to yours in some ways, and I feel like just over the past few months I've improved a lot (or at least am going through a really good period).
posted by mekily at 12:10 PM on February 13


Your description is similar to me, and though I still have that sort of anxiety, I've knocked it down to a much more functional level via three skills:

1) Recognizing when I need a "mantra" and adopting one. Mantra might be the wrong word -- more like a thought shield or thought redirect tool. If you fear that a buzzing in your ears is going to turn into hearing loss, an equivalent would be: "the doctor said my hearing is fine and the buzzing will go away soon." If, every time you hear the buzzing, you think that thought, you form a habit, and your mind immediately jumps from *ears buzzing* to the relief of *it's going to go away soon*. Finding the right thought is hard. You have to believe it. It has to be a good counter to the fear that actually gives you a little relief. Maybe you fear that "this project is going to fail" but you also truly believe "I can solve problems that arise one step at a time." Maybe you fear the alarm clock won't wake you up but you also believe that by setting two alarms you've done everything you can to wake up so you'll be able to forgive yourself if somehow you don't... whatever helps you feel relief and relax in the face of the fear. Then use it consistently to build a new thought habit.

2) Recognizing that worrying doesn't help and that relaxing does. This reinforces #1 because it encourages you to embrace the redirect. The ears will heal faster if you're not sending adrenaline through your body all the time. You'll catch more mistakes if you're calm but alert, not jittery or avoidant. If you're worrying about the project failing, you're not taking the next step. You want to think about this so that when you try #1 and relax, you say to yourself "yes, relax, good job," not "omg don't let down your guard!"

3) Building your tolerance for anxiety / pain. One technique that helped with this for me was yoga. The yoga I did taught a certain kind of breathing whenever you were holding a tough posture. I noticed myself shifting into that breathing at work and realized that yoga was teaching me to hold steady through stress of all sorts. Another technique is the CBT-based technique of spending, say, 15 minutes sitting there and thinking the thought that gives you the worst panic. Sit with it and eventually it'll lose its edge. Or you'll realize why it panics you so much and completely defuse it. Or you'll learn interesting things about it based on when you see the now-familiar fear-feeling arise in your daily life.
posted by salvia at 12:40 PM on February 13 [6 favorites]


Buspar and running. The former takes the edge off and gives me the distance I need to call myself on my own shit. The latter gives me time where I can’t actually think about anything at all other than my form and breathing and moving forward. That hour of downtime helps my brain freak out less, I guess.
posted by okayokayigive at 2:13 PM on February 13


Adding a little prozac and subtracting a bunch of caffiene helped me a bunch.

Also going through a lot of grotty health/family/job stuff in a very short period of time. Whenever I feel overwhelmed I think about May 2019 when both my parents went into the hospital with potentially fatal illnesses -- my dad having some kind of aggro dementia-like symptoms from an untreated infection -- while my job went absolutely apeshit, I lost a bunch of my hearing and a sudden dust allergy made me itch if I touched anything that wasn't polished shiny clean. Didn't thrive then, obviously, but I survived and emerged out the other side in a calmer place.
posted by Sauce Trough at 3:48 PM on February 13 [1 favorite]


Like others, meds + therapy. Journaling helps a lot. I found a hobby that is relaxing (coloring). Being in nature is key too. But all in all, meds + therapy got me to the point that the other things are helping more. I'm tapering off the meds and I'm only doing therapy 2/month.
posted by kathrynm at 4:40 PM on February 13


I may be a lone voice in the wilderness here, but I had very unpleasant experiences with meds. I experienced bad side-effects, including especially gaining about 40 or 50 pounds. I've lost some of the weight since I quit, but not nearly all of it. And the meds didn't really have the desired effect (and I tried many different drugs, in different combinations, over the course of several years). I rue the day I ever heard of meds. They're bad news.

My main problem was depression, but I also had anxiety and rumination. I'm much better now than I used to be, but it's hard for me to say exactly what helped. I think moving to a different city and getting a better job helped a lot, and getting married helped, as well. Also, I think just getting older, more mature, and (perhaps) wiser helped. Also, I really liked the book, Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy, by David Burns. It's about cognitive therapy, which I know you've tried already. The book had a profound effect on how I view depression, anxiety, and other unpleasant thoughts. Exercising helps, too, though I regret to say that I find it difficult to maintain a regular exercise regimen over the long haul. I still get anxiety, but not as bad as in the past, and it's manageable now. Good luck to you.
posted by akk2014 at 6:47 PM on February 13


I take a supplement called NAC that really seems to help me with a number of brain issues such as anxiety, focus, and executive function. (One surprising effect I am super happy about is that for years I've had a really nagging problem with maddening musical "earworms" that persist to a ridiculous degree. After a few weeks of taking NAC regularly, I notice I have not had this problem in some time now.) I take one 600 mg tablet per day, the linked article recommends a higher dose so you could start lower and go up to the dosage they say. I will stress this is not a quick-acting solution like how you take a klonopin and feel better in half an hour. It will likely take a week or two to notice a difference.

I quit caffeine entirely a couple of months ago, and I noticed that made a noticeable difference as well. I would have sworn to you prior to quitting that the caffeine was not the cause of my anxiety but going off of it the difference was huge. As a nice side bonus I rarely get those pesky heart palpitations any more either.

Lately I only get anxiety if something truly noteworthily stressful is going on (as opposed to having anxiety be practically my baseline.) Unfortunately, I've had a number of extremely stressful situations come up. For this kind of anxiety I take L-theanine, which takes the edge off without causing drowsiness or sluggishness.

In addition to my daily NAC I also take a magnesium pill at night to help me sleep, which can also be helpful for certain kinds of anxiety. Plus I take fish oil with my morning supplements, which is good for many things including depression, so that might be helping the anxiety as well.
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 7:36 PM on February 13 [1 favorite]


I am not on meds; I think I have a real bias against them having read quite a bit of criticism of them, but now I'm ready for anything.

If you go the meds route, save yourself a lot of unnecessary agita and press your doctor for pharmacogenomic testing first. Variations in a handful of enzymes dictate proper dosage of the drugs which will work with your particular metabolism, and reveal any drugs you should personally avoid. Read more here, here, here and here. Some testing company sites, and FDA concerns about post-results patient response.

[Please don't be me, in middle age, learning last week I'm a 'poor metabolizer' of a third of prescription drugs, after decades of 'suboptimal response' -- at best, no therapeutic gain; at worst, terrible side effects / worsened conditions. And, a variation of mine may mean a naturally higher baseline level of anxiety. By 2015, I knew of a couple of anti-anxiety meds which help me, but there were several antidepressants, prescribed (starting in 1998, and as recently as just last year) to treat anxiety disorder, that did harm: I don't metabolize them.]
posted by Iris Gambol at 10:21 PM on February 13 [5 favorites]


This is so much me that, save the fact that I'm pretty sure I don't have a kid, I could have written this. I could still write this question.
I don't qualify in the sense that I'm still a very long distance from saying I'm over it. Light years away. But I can tell you what helped or didn't.
A) Being militant about a minimum amount of continuous sleep at night (which I understand must be hard for you).
B) Imagining worst case scenarios of whatever private nightmare I was overthinking about (yes, worse case scenario) and strategizing a workaround (my brain just naturally does worst case scenarios better). And then mentally checking it off - I have run a simulation in my head and have at least a sense of how to deal with it. I don't know why this helps, but it does.
C) no. caffeine. after. 7pm. Ever. Ever. I love coffee so this has been really hard but I have regretted every single instance of flouting this.
D) finding a small toolbox of handy distraction techniques - for me what works best is a social conversation after work that is definitely not about work. It stops my brain from squirming about, looking for mistakes I may have made.
E) Trying my best to remember to have compassion for myself if I do screw up, just as I would for someone else.
F) Dramatically reducing carbs from diet. I have no idea if this is related honestly, but I noticed an uptick in anxiety management capacity around the same time that I did this.
I'm so sorry you're dealing with this. It truly sucks. I hope it gets better soon.
posted by Nieshka at 8:28 AM on February 14


Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT). It's got a solid evidence-based canon now showing its effectiveness with anxiety. I've been doing it for a little over a year. I started with a self-directed workbook and ultimately found an ACT therapist.

I'm happy to see others mentioning getting away from caffeine. That did *so much* to turn down my anxiety volume, I was legitimately stunned. I'll occasionally have a cup of coffee on a weekend now (after ~10 months off caffeine) and, woah, yeah, there it is. This is coming from a former pot-a-day coffee drinker.

I'm a toxicologist who works in the drug space, which means I'm going to offer an unpopular opinion that meds are great for a short term bridge but shouldn't be treated like a long-term solution. Happy to discuss more about that via memail--if I say more on that topic here, history tells me that it'll hijack your question and people will start telling me I'm a bad scientist who stigmatizes pharmaceutical interventions. In full faith, I consult on the approval packages drug sponsors use to get FDA (etc.) approval to market drugs. Happy to answer any questions about all that.
posted by late afternoon dreaming hotel at 8:50 AM on February 14


[just a friendly note, please limit answers to stuff that helps the OP and is on topic for the question. Thank you.]
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 8:57 AM on February 14


Medication. I've been on it for 5 years and feel better and better all the time.
posted by thereader at 12:11 PM on February 14


I was very similar to you—normal anxieties about things outside my control or don’t reflect on me personally, minimal anxieties around areas where I feel competent, crushing anxieties where I’m vulnerable, new or inexperienced (and could be judged, wrong, or face consequences).

What’s helped is understanding and managing my thoughts in the crush zones. What am I afraid of? Why? Where does that come from? What thoughts surround this? How can I build ‘thought ladders’ to step myself over to different ways of thinking about this? Then continually doing the work...writing, exercises, practice, reflection, etc. It’s taken many, many years.

I didn’t take meds, but I can see how I might have succeeded at this process of building better thought patterns more quickly if the extra noise was dialled down a bit.
posted by iamkimiam at 2:48 PM on February 14 [1 favorite]


I’ve had generalized anxiety since ... forever. I’ve handled it through therapy, meds, exercise, sleep and eating well. Lately, I’ve been doing EMDR therapy. I am much calmer and more centered. The fundamental shift in my thinking after sessions is striking. Those periods are lasting longer and I can bring an anxious episode under control more quickly. If there’s a good practitioner in your area you may want to consider it.
posted by marguerite at 4:15 AM on February 15 [2 favorites]


I forgot to mention EMDR, did it last year and it made a huge difference.
posted by ellieBOA at 6:44 AM on February 15 [2 favorites]


Shrooms. Seriously. One ''heavy'' session every 2.5 years, and then occasional micro-dosing has made a dramatic, life changing difference. Once crippling anxiety was *poof*, gone. Like the relief of taking off an itchy, painful, heavy coat. I'm due for a top-up soon, and I can't wait. Also, someone I'm close with recently started daily micro-dosing (without ever taking enough to ''get high'') and it has been an absolute life changer for them as well, allowed them to continue their career, ended a lot of troubling thoughts, etc.

Of course YMMV, and it's something to discuss with a trusted medical professional if possible, but I strongly recommend it to anyone I know struggling with anxiety. Feel free to PM me if you want more info.
posted by hasna at 6:44 AM on February 18


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