14 Ways I’m Conquering Anxiety and Hopelessness
I am not a mental health expert, but I am someone who has a lot of personal experience on the subject. For years I struggled with giant waves of anxiety, sadness, or hopelessness that would just hit me out of nowhere. My thoughts were often irrational to the point of absurdity, but even when I could recognize I was dealing with lies, I still couldn’t let go of the emotions.
While I am not 100% free of these problems, I have seen so much improvement. The difference has been night and day. I have gone from literally not being able to emotionally handle walking into the grocery store without having a meltdown, to public speaking on a regular basis.
It took years to find answers and coping methods to get me this far, so I wanted to share everything I’ve learned in case it helps someone. Some of these are possible solutions, and some are just coping skills, but I have found that both are very valuable!
(None of this information is meant to diagnose, prevent, or treat. I’m not a doctor, and I don’t recommend you do anything without talking to your doctor first)
Start Praying Constantly
You already knew this one, but it is the most important step towards finding healing. God made you and your emotions. He is the one that is ultimately in control of the situation, so it would be silly not to include Him in the healing process! Every time you feel a wave of emotion coming on, start praying or singing praise. While this does bring me a lot of peace, it has also helped me “redeem” my anxiety disorder. If it brings me closer to God, then it is all worth it in the end.
Philippians 4:6-7 Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Change Your Diet
The problem may not be your brain at all, it could be how your gut is affecting your brain. I found that looking into leaky gut syndrome and reading the book Grain Brain were very helpful when trying to learn more about how food can affect emotions. I ended up following the paleo diet to help with mental health because I feel like it fits my needs best. Supplements are also a great thing to look into, because the root cause might be as simple as a nutritional deficiency in Vitamin B12 or Magnesium.
“Diet and lifestyle have a profound role to play in determining the destiny of a person’s health, with respect to brain function.” – Physician David Perlmutter
Detox Your Body
Start paying attention to things in your physical environment that may be contributing to your anxiety. Although it’s not the solution most people think of first, there is plenty of information online about how your environment (especially heavy metals) can affect your brain. The chemicals you are using every day may be stopping you from seeing results. I saw a dramatic shift in my mental health after committing to this lifestyle change. Start detoxing your body through methods like detox baths or essential oils or juicing, just find whatever works best for you and stick to it! Stop buying personal care products (like hairspray or deodorant or perfume) and start making them at home. Replace your home cleaners with natural alternatives. No more spraying smelly sprays all over yourself and your home. It’s surprising how much of a difference this makes!
Have you ever just been minding your own business when suddenly you smell something familiar, and it takes you back to a memory you had years ago? You can’t help but experience the same emotions you felt the last time you smelled it. Scents have a huge impact on our emotions, and that’s why essential oils are a great tool to have on hand when dealing with occasional anxiety or blue moods. If you haven’t heard of them, essential oils are the immune system of a plant, and we can either use them topically, aromatically, or internally (depending on the purity of the brand) to support different body systems (like immune, digestive, etc.) When you inhale essential oils, the molecules travel up your nose and stimulate your limbic system. The limbic system is a part of your brain directly linked to memory emotions. I only recommend and use this brand, because if you aren’t using therapeutic grade essential oils, you are just filling your body with more toxins (and we just talked about why that is no good!) My favorite oil to help support mood is Frankincense, which contains incensole acetate. But I also use Lavender, Stress Away, or Joy almost every day!
Double Check the Side Effects
My dad has no idea what medications I am taking. But about a year ago he randomly asked if I was taking anything that started with the letter “O.” He told me while he was praying he kept hearing over and over again that I should stop taking a medication that started with that letter. It kind of blew my mind because I only happened to only be taking one medication at the time, and it happened to start with the letter O. And after looking up the side effects, I found out that it also happened to cause severe mood changes and panic attacks. I had taken that medication for years without realizing it, because I never dreamed that an over the counter pill for something as common as acid reflux could have an effect on my brain. Finding an alternative to that medication changed everything, I would say it took away about 50% of the problem. It reminded me that I should always study the side effects of anything I put in my body so I am fully prepared for any outcome. If I hadn’t changed this part of my life, I’m not sure if I would have ever had a shot at conquering mental health problems. If you are in the same situation it is so worth it to talk to your doctor about all of your choices!
Pay Attention to Everything You Put Into Your Mind
You can’t remove all stress from your life, but you can at least remove it from your alone time. If something “fun” doesn’t bring you joy, then why bother doing it at all? If Facebook stresses you out, stop looking at it. If the news makes you sad, stop watching it. If the books or magazines or TV shows or music you are filling your mind with leave you with negative or even neutral feelings, then why bother doing them at all? Make a strict rule to give them up completely. Instead, start actively planning joy in your life. Swap activities with things you truly enjoy, ones that leave you filled up afterwards, not emptier. This has saved me from a lot of unnecessary grief!
You already know that sleep is important for mental health, but the question is are you actually doing it? I know I wasn’t for years, and I am so glad that I have finally made it a priority. I can tell that I am much more emotional and irrational when I don’t get enough sleep, but it makes sense when you read about how the body can only clear toxins from the brain while sleeping, and that pretty much every mental health problem is directly linked to lack of sleep.
Invest in Some Headphones
This is a very healthy way to “escape” for a few minutes when dealing with a big emotion. It’s also helpful to have something familiar on hand when you are dealing with new or scary situations. Invest in some really nice noise cancelling headphones and compile a list of songs on your ipod or phone that make you feel calmer. This is a playlist of a few of my favorites.
Ever since I was little I’ve had a bad habit of shoving things in corners like a pack rat. The piles got so big that it caused stress, and because they stressed me out I avoided them. The more I avoided them, the worse they got and it was just this vicious cycle that was driving me bonkers! It wasn’t until I starting giving away almost everything that the problem was solved. Clearing out your physical life is therapeutic, because it can have an effect on how cluttered your mind feels as well (and it helps you sleep better.) I like to use the very popular Marie Kondo method. Choose one thing at a time, like books. Go get every single book you have in the entire house and place them in a pile on the floor. Then one at a time pick them up and ask yourself, does this bring me joy? If it does keep it, and if it doesn’t, toss it! Does that necklace remind you of a nasty break up? Toss it! Does that book remind you of an embarrassing moment from school? Toss it! Does that shirt always remind you of that one time someone said something really mean and hurt your feelings? Just throw it away! I believe that sometimes it’s NOT practical keep things, because it’s not useful anymore if it’s stealing your joy.
Deep Breathing Exercises
This is the main piece of advice I got from psychiatrists, and I think it is definitely a valuable tool to add to your arsenal of coping skills! I find that it is very helpful after a panic attack has already started.
Release Muscle Tension Every Day
Try to recognize where you carry the stress in your body. A lot of people hold tension in their shoulders or back which causes sore muscles, but I find that my abdomen is my most affected area. No matter where you carry your stress, it is helpful to learn how to release it through a self massage every day. While it would be ideal to have a massage therapist on hand any time you need it, it’s not impossible to reap benefits from doing it yourself. It’s not hard to learn, all you need is google!
Over time we can unconsciously train our brains to react negatively to circumstances. This is often how phobias can start. For example, it only took puking at the grocery store ONE TIME for me to be forever paranoid about it. Now the grocery store, although seemingly unrelated, is directly linked to my fear of getting sick in public. It’s kind of funny that every time I walk into the supermarket my brain thinks it needs to warn me about the “danger” and instantly goes into fight-or-flight mode, but I really don’t need to be warned. Because of situations like this, it’s often necessary to “retrain” the neurotransmitters in the brain that send messages. The video above describes what tapping is (it’s basically acupuncture without needles.) This video describes how it was discovered, and the scientific reasons behind why it works. However, it is not only limited to fears, but can be used for any negative emotional patterns you can think of.
Memorize and Meditate
One of the best ways to get through a difficult emotion is to repeat God’s promises over and over. It’s important to have some Bible verses committed to memory so that when an unexpected emotion hits, you are ready. However, it’s also helpful to schedule meditation for a certain time every day, and do it even if you feel fine at that moment. Keep in mind there are two different kinds of meditation: transcendental and biblical. If you want to learn more about why you should start using biblical meditation to focus on the word of God, I think this is an awesome resource. And if you would like to give meditation a shot, I find this guided video very helpful!
No More Bullies
This is the hardest one. I didn’t realize how much I bullied myself until I started actively listening to my internal thoughts. It was a defining moment when I realized that if anyone else was saying these things to me, I would be absolutely horrified! It’s not always possible to control your feelings when you struggle with mental health problems, but try for just one day not to say anything negative to yourself, and see what happens! Better yet, spend all that free time thinking about how to make someone else’s day awesome!
Philippians 4:8 Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.
If you have discovered any techniques that have helped you find relief from emotional issues, I would love to hear about them!