I’m 32 years old now, and I cannot remember a time in my life without anxiety. I had pretty severe OCD as a child and teenager, and my first symptoms starting showing around age 4. I’ve done therapy, medication, inpatient centers, and so many other things. I credit a lot of my improvement to “I grew out of it” because so many of those treatment options did absolutely nothing but leave me with awful side effects. As the severity of my anxiety issues began to lessen as I got older and my environments changed, I was able to implement some methods that helped curb the lingering remnants.
I drastically changed my diet.
I know this one will undoubtedly get a lot of eye rolls, but it honestly helped me. I went from a pretty bad Standard American Diet to a cleaner Paleo-style diet all the way to a plant based diet. I worked hard on healing my gut biome with fermented foods, kombucha, lots of unprocessed meals, hydration, etc. Boxed foods, ready-made meals, meat, dairy, etc… All gone. I ensure my body is getting the vitamins, nutrients, and calories it needs. B12, vitamin D, plenty of iron and protein. And my physical wellness has improved SO MUCH. That in turn gave me more time and energy to devote to my mental health. It’s hard to feel good in your head when you don’t feel good in your body. They need to be in tune to get the best from both.
I started recognizing intrusive thoughts for what they were.
I used to be so bad about catastrophizing and letting my mind wander into really deep, really dark hypothetical situations. A minor event or comment in my daily life would snowball into something TERRIBLE and, in my mind, inevitable. But none of it was reality. The likelihood of any of those events actually occurring was slim to none, but that seemed irrelevant to my anxiety and fears. The possibility of it happening became so overwhelming that it absolutely smothered out any logic or reasoning.
I eventually started to see through these thoughts and realize that none of my worries were actually happening in that moment. So my high heart rate, sweaty body, and rapid breathing were all a result of “what-ifs.” I then started to work backwards. I could catch myself in the midst of an intrusive thought and remind myself that it was not happening. And it probably wouldn’t happen. And then after a while, I could catch myself at the very beginning stages of those intrusive thoughts. Now, I’m at a point where I can nip those thoughts in the bud right away before they get rolling.
I do a lot of visualization.
It may not be for everyone, but it’s definitely helped me to clear mental space. I imagine my worrisome and intrusive thoughts as being written on a chalkboard or whiteboard, either in word or picture form. I then picture them being erased and turning into dust that gets blown away. Or I sometimes picture my thoughts on paper which is then burned, and the smoke floats away from me and disperses/dissolves completely with no trace.
I learned to meditate.
Dedicating a few minutes throughout the day to refocusing and reestablishing my mental baseline helps me immensely. It’s like starting fresh whenever I need it. I reaffirm my reality and how I feel about myself and what’s around me. I can reiterate my goals for this moment in time, this day, this week, etc. I can dismiss thoughts that don’t serve me in a positive, helpful, or realistic way. It’s a bit like taking a mental shower and rest. Everything is clear and renewed.
After decades of struggles, I’ve now gone an entire year without an anxiety attack. Keep swimming! Don’t give up. Try new things! There is always another day.