My history with anxiety is a long and varied journey over the last 12 years, and in the past 12 months I have explored several different remedies to help me to reduce anxiety naturally. At it’s best, I function like someone who doesn’t worry about anything (the holy grail!), and at it’s worst, I’ve been debilitated for weeks, even months, where I couldn’t leave the couch for much of the day.
I’d try and have a shower? Panic attack. I’d try to switch the laundry from the washer to the dryer? Panic attack. Go with my son to the swimming lessons he had been going to for 2 years? Panic attack. And grocery shopping? That’s a guaranteed panic attack.
Settle in for my lifelong story of my anxiety, how it came to be, and what I’ve finally found that works after years and years of trying everything under the sun.
P.S. my intention with this post wasn’t actually to share my entire anxiety or life story with you, it just poured out of me. And might I say that it was incredibly therapeutic. If you suffer from anxiety, maybe you could do the same and write out your story. Even if you never share it with anyone, or no one else reads it for the rest of your life, I swear you’ll feel less crazy and more grounded! Hindsight is a wonderful thing.
I also started to wonder, after I shared it (as I sat with my intense vulnerability hangover) if I was just being selfish sharing my story for no apparent reason. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that I’ve had 3 types of anxiety in my life, and that increases the chances of you connecting with someone else who suffers with the same type that you do. My three types were:
completely bodily driven, where my anxiety switch had been turned on for no distinct reason (i.e. no reason that I was really upset about, or traumatized by on the surface), but most likely from years and years of overworking my body and mind with little to no rest
PTSD-like anxiety, stemming from one particular traumatizing situation or event
chronic, lingering anxiety, resulting from living with the fallout of this PTSD-like anxiety for several years. In this case, it’s like the body and mind is more primed for anxiety, so things that never caused you anxiety before can set you off since your body already knows how it feels (kind of like muscle memory)
P.P.S. I am not a medical doctor, and this blog post isn’t intended to diagnose any health issues in yourself. It’s simply me sharing my story with anxiety, what I think triggered it, and how I helped remove those triggers.
If you’re thinking about harming yourself, please get help ASAP. Call 911, go to the hospital, and seek appropriate medical support and supervision.
My anxiety manifests itself as a feeling of not being able to breathe, hyperventilating, crawling sensation in my skin, nausea (which I then don’t eat, because no matter what I eat, I feel like I’m going to throw up), and diarrhea.
The worst part is that I KNOW that I’m safe, especially when I’m in my own home. I have a good marriage to a supportive husband who is truly my life partner, my son is funny and sweet (although overly energetic at times, but hey, he’s a 6 year old boy!), I have great friends, parents and other family members who live 5 minutes away and help us out on a weekly basis. I LOVE what I do, I can make my own schedule 95% of the time, and I can be productive in some ways that a traditional job just wouldn’t be able to accommodate.
I eat healthy food, I like my body (I mean, there are things I’d change, I’m still human! But overall, I’m happy with the skin I’m in), I don’t have to worry about money (since both my husband and I have good incomes and live well below our means), and overall my life is like a dream for 99% of the world.
And yet, I still have debilitating anxiety.
When I look back at my life, I think I did have “anxiety” or anxious feelings throughout my childhood, especially when I was bullied and abandoned by my friends in grade 7 (young girls can be such jerks!). That’s when I was first diagnosed with acid reflux, and had to learn how to swallow real pills since I started taking Zantac.
I was always a high achiever, and I graduated high school with a 94.3% average while playing provincial level sports, working 15-20 hours a week at a part time job, and dating a long term boyfriend who was a lovely guy. I got into my university and program of choice with early acceptance and a multi-thousand dollar scholarship.
However, throughout high school I would get a glimpse of how hard I was pushing my body, and that yes, there ARE limitations to how much the human body can take on a physical, emotional, and mental level when you’re going a million miles an hour, all day every day, with no rest.
I would get sick with a cold or the flu every 3-4 months, and I’d feel SO shitty. I knew that I needed more rest, and I’d cry to my Mom about how crappy I felt, and she’d tell me that I needed to slow down. I’d say, with tears, mascara, and snot running down my face, “Yeah, I’m going to slow down”. And 5 days later I’d be right back to my regular insane schedule.
In University, I did a 5 year co-op degree at the University of Waterloo, where I would go to school for 4 months, then work for 4 months, alternating for all but my last year, where I wrote my Honours thesis and graduated with an Honours Bachelor of Science in Geophysics (the only one graduating in that program in the entire school). Since I lived by myself, I ate whatever I wanted (including Smarties ice cream on the regular … for breakfast), played some sports (although not at the high level that I did in high school), and basically worked my butt off.
It’s so hard to even remember that time of my life, it seems like a lifetime ago, but I’d estimate that I was in classes about 20 hours a week, lab work about 10-15 hours a week, and insane assignments, especially in my last year, that could take upwards of another 20 hours a week. So about 50-60 hours a week of school work.
I wasn’t a crazy party animal, especially not during the week (except Wednesday’s at the Bomber, those were legendary!!! Where my fellow UW peeps at??!), but I’ve been known to do my fair share of drinking and tearing up the dance floor until 2 am on a regular basis.
Starting in second or third year, I started feeling really run down. Like, want to sleep 12 hours a night run down. I went to our campus health services, where they’d feel my swollen glands in my neck, say “let’s test you for mono”, and every time it would come back negative. I think I was tested about 6 or 8 times throughout those years. I had 2 cases of severe Strep Throat during that time, having to take strong antibiotics to wipe it out. There was also that time where I had severe abdominal pain while I was working in Sudbury, where the walk-in clinic doctor diagnosed me with diverticulitis at the ripe old age of 21.
My last year of undergrad was intense, while I completed my last year of courses and insane labs, and wrote my 120 page Honours thesis on an incredibly complex and mind numbing subject. I decided to grad school, and with the help of one of my amazing bosses at the Geological Survey of Canada, I was urged to look at US Universities. That meant writing the GRE exam, which is the grad school equivalent of the SAT’s. I studied for HOURS, and ended up scoring high enough to be accepted with full scholarships to do my PhD (and skipping a Master’s entirely) at several top schools, including MIT and Arizona State.
I ultimately decided to go to Arizona, and accepted without even visiting the school. I had to skip the completely paid for trip to visit because I got an insane case of viral bronchitis that left me out of commission for 2 weeks. I was so sick that my parents had to come pick me up (5 hour round trip drive) and bring me home, because I literally couldn’t take care of myself.
My body never bounced back from that illness.
I managed to finish the year, and presented my Thesis to the approval board while sitting in a chair, because I was too weak to stand. I finished my exams, and was overjoyed the day that I handed in the 3 copies of my thesis to my department, all ready to be bound. One copy for the department library, one for me, and one extra.
The next week, in late April 2006, my body literally had a breakdown.
I started having food poisoning like reactions to many meals. My skin started getting cyst-like breakouts. And I had my first panic attack.
I was driving to Ottawa, an 8 hour drive, to work for the summer before leaving for Arizona. Heaven forbid I take a summer off after 5 years of a backbreaking workload, or heck, even travel around Europe like a regular recently graduated person in their early 20’s. NO, that sounds like fun, and I was a serious soon to be PhD student. Plus, I needed the money. My little Volkswagen Golf was stuffed to the brim all of my personal belongings, and I had my huge catalogue of personally curated CD’s burned with my favourite pirated music. I was ready for the next stage of my life to begin!
I got about an hour from home before my head started spinning and I felt dizzy. I was driving on the 401, our major highway here in Ontario, at about 120 km/h. I took the next turnoff, and I felt like I couldn’t breathe. I felt like I was dying, I truly did. I was terrified.
I called my Mom, and she told me to come home. We agreed that I needed an entire week off before I started my job, so I called my boss to tell him about the delay, and I think I slept that entire week. I have no recollection of it.
The only thing I knew was that I could not possibly drive to Ottawa by myself, so my Mom arranged to drive me, and then she’d fly home. We got 2 hours from home this time before I started crying and yelled “STOP THE CAR, I can’t do this!”.
I mentally and emotionally limped home with her driving me, crying and sobbing, feeling like a complete failure. I had no idea what was wrong. I knew I needed a break, because my body wasn’t giving me another choice, and I felt like such a loser calling my boss again, but this time telling him that I wouldn’t be working there that summer at all. He was totally OK with that, it was me who felt like I was letting everyone down (let’s be honest, my job was to analyze minerals that were 2 to 3 millions years old … they weren’t going anywhere fast 😂).
I vividly remember sitting there, as a 23 year old with a shiny new university degree and a full scholarship to do my PhD, in a group of real grown ups with real grown up problems while they shared stories (and I’m not even kidding) that their wife just left them, they lost their job, and their dog got run over last week. I mean, they had REAL problems, and when I had to describe why I was there, I couldn’t even tell them why!
My life was great!!! I loved everything that I was doing, it’s just that my body would no longer cooperate with what my mind wanted to do. I remember describing to them and my doctor how I would almost have an out of body experience when I was having my panic attacks, where I’d see myself having them, but I logically couldn’t figure out WHY. I knew I was safe, I knew I wasn’t in any danger, I didn’t feel threatened in any way. But my body was acting like I had just witnessed someone being murdered in front of me.
Oh, to know then what I know now.
That debilitating anxiety was the start of a year and a half journey of spiralling and declining health, including shortness of breath, dizziness so bad that I was scared of driving (lest I pass out at the wheel and hurt someone else), and an increase of the cystic acne I had described above.
In 2007, in complete desperation, I saw a Naturopathic Doctor. I didn’t even know what they did, but my intuition told me it was something that I needed to do. The very first appointment, the ND asked me “are you sure you don’t have food allergies?”. I said no, because I didn’t get hives, itching, swelling, or any of the symptoms that I thought food allergies included. So we went upon our merry way for 3 more months, trying everything under the sun.
I’d finally had enough, and asked for the food allergy testing (paying $350 out of pocket, and this was when I had NO money). Turns out, I was at the maximum recorded reaction for this particular blood test to:
and a few other things. It was surprising, and terrifying (what was I going to eat again??!!), but within a week of getting rid of those foods from my diet, my anxiety lessened by 50%. No joke.
So, I had to teach myself how to eat again. I had to teach myself how to cook. Remember, this was 2007, and there weren’t entire aisles of the grocery store filled with gluten free options, not to mention gluten, dairy AND egg free. I remember going to the grocery store the first time after getting my test results, and being SO excited about finding foods I could eat … and then I left in tears when I started reading food labels (something I had never done before), and realized that practically everything had gluten or eggs or dairy in it.
After a few months of this, finding my groove in the kitchen, and watching ALL the Food Network (back when it was new and full of good programming ;), I started to feel like myself. I started getting passionate about food, and how I could help other people just like me (because I was learning that I wasn’t the only one). I looked at going back to school again, and researched chef programs, and even looked at becoming a dietician. But how could I study for 4 years, or learn to be a chef, when most recipes and recommendations would be based on foods I couldn’t even eat?
At one of my Naturopathic appointment follow-ups, the ND mentioned that her friend ran a school in the city that I was now living in called the Canadian School of Natural Nutrition. They taught about holistic health and alternative diets, and I ran home and googled it. Within a week I was enrolled, and school started a few weeks later.
I felt like I had come home. I was learning SO many basic things about my body and nutrition that would have prevented this whole mutli-year, horrible experience to probably never happen. Things that are definitely more common knowledge now, like how important probiotics are, or even the female hormone system, and how it interacts with the adrenal and thyroid glands.
I became a Registered Holistic Nutritionist in 2008, started my business right away, and have been supporting clients and customers to find REAL health for more than 10 years now.
During this time, my health was pretty good! I got married, we moved back to my hometown, and I had a regular, full-time job. I wasn’t on anxiety medication this entire time (I only took it for 6 weeks back in the summer of 2006 when I was first diagnosed, but the side effects were so bad that I weaned off it), and had no problems with the stress of our wedding, or working full time and building a business part-time on the side.
Then I got pregnant with my son, Aleks, in early 2012.
I was a horrible pregnant woman. I was sick from 6 weeks all the way until the day I gave birth. At about 6 months I developed something rare called cholestasis of the liver, and was in the hospital for 3 days. I stopped working after that, and didn’t do much but lay on the couch and try to choke down green apples (about the only thing that didn’t make me more nauseous) for the next 3 months.
Because of the cholestasis, I had to get weekly ultrasounds and extra checkups. The baby was growing great, no signs of any issues, but I had this resounding fear that we were going to lose him. And not the regular fear of having an early miscarriage, but for some reason I couldn’t shake the fear that we’d lose him very late term, or even in the actual birth. I didn’t really connect with being pregnant, maybe because I was so sick, and it stressed me out beyond any means to talk about the birth, or read any books about it.
A few days before Aleks was born, I started getting overwhelming anxiety. I had no idea why. I couldn’t sleep, I was wracked with fear. Even typing this makes my palms sweat. The morning before he was born, I had an overwhelming urge that something was wrong.
I wasn’t bleeding or having any contractions, I just had this gut instinct that something was not right. It was the Friday before our Thanksgiving weekend here in Canada, so I called our midwives for a checkup, as I knew the hospital would be short staffed the next few days.
I went in for a stress test, and sure enough, the baby’s heart rate was abnormally high. They kept me for a few more hours. Repeat test, heart rate still high. Repeat test a few hours later, still high. My anxiety was out of control, I felt like a caged animal, until the minute they said they wanted to induce me. Then I went into focused, warrior mode.
They broke my water, and tons of black meconium was present, indicating the baby was under stress, and there was so, SO much water. I remember them bringing in buckets and mopping up the floor, it was everywhere. I was contracting regularly and 2-3 centimetres dilated, but didn’t feel anything. To this day, I’ve never experienced a birth contraction (some would say I’m lucky, I feel like I missed out on at least feeling it once!).
They decided to put a fetal monitor on the baby’s head for a more accurate reading, and his heart rate was through the roof. They called for an emergency C-section at 2:40 am in the morning of October 6, 2012.
Aleks was born at 3:03 am, and cried immediately, but the doctors didn’t bring him over. Ben wasn’t allowed to see him. They told us there was something wrong, but they didn’t know what yet.
In the meantime, my epidural wore off in the middle of them suturing me up (I kid you not. Forget contractions, I never want to feel THAT again!), so I was knocked out cold. I remember very little of this time, but I DO remember them wheeling me across the hall to a room to meet Aleks, who was under an oxygen hood, not making any noise. When I reached out for his hand and he heard my voice, he grabbed my finger and started crying. That’s all I remember for several hours.
When I really came to, about 5;30 or 6 am, the doctors came in and said that something was wrong with his abdomen, and that they didn’t have imaging equipment good enough in our smaller city to help him. They wanted to transport him to a Children’s Hospital over an hour away, and they wanted Ben to go with him.
They waited until a specialized ambulance could help with transporting Aleks, and they loaded him into the unit. At this point, I hadn’t even seen him or touched him, other than that one moment. He looked so small in this clear glass chamber on top of this huge unit. I didn’t know what to do, so I told them to put my shirt that I wore the entire day before in the unit with him, hoping the smell would make him feel safe, like I was close by, even if I was 120 kilometers away.
Ben went to follow behind the ambulance, and I was left in my hospital room, post C-section, no baby, no idea what was going on, and a complete mess.
I then had to register Aleks with his birth certificate, and to choose a name for a baby that I didn’t even know was going to survive. Our debate that we’d been having for months over his middle name now seemed irrelevant, so Aleks Edward Ronnie Srokosz it would be.
My Mom called in reinforcements, friends who were retired nurses who could reassure me. My doula, a life long friend who herself was still nursing her son, wouldn’t leave me until she knew what was going on. Then we got a call.
The doctors in London didn’t know what was wrong, but they had to rush Aleks into surgery to figure it out. I was brave and listened to all the information, quickly conferred with Ben on the other end of the line, gave my consent for them to cut open my hours old son, hung up the phone, and dissolved into tears.
I was asked to start pumping my milk, and that they would try to transport me down there as soon as they could, which was never successful.
The next 2 days I had visitors keeping me company, consoling me, bringing me food. Ben was keeping me updated the best he could, and he had his sister and Dad there to support him. To this day, my heart breaks for what Ben was going through, by himself, sitting on the floor in the hallways, wondering if we would bring home our baby or not.
Aleks was strong, and Ben kept sending me pictures of how his condition was continuing to be upgraded on the master patient chart in the PCCU. He was allowed to start breathing on his own. He opened his eyes.
I was discharged on Monday morning, was driven the hour and a half to London, and wheeled gingerly into his spaceship-like looking pod. I held him for the first time, trembling and scared I would break him, or one of the many tubes coming out of him would fall out. But I smiled for the pictures, with Ben beside me, bags under both of our eyes, terrified and not knowing anything that was to come.
I won’t bore you with what happened over the next 129 days, but we went through one more major surgery, where they reattached Aleks’ large and small intestine, and fitted him with the littlest colostomy bag you ever did see. That day, I completely surrendered and succumbed to the fear that had been bottled up inside me for my entire pregnancy and the 7 weeks after he was born, and that night was the darkest night I’ve ever experienced in my life.
I waited until the privacy of our room at the Ronald McDonald House, and Ben held me on the bed while I sobbed with my entire body and soul.
We had many milestones in those hospital rooms. Aleks rolled over for the first time at 3.5 months in his crib, we had our first Christmas together, and he was taken off of IV for the first time the week before we went home. We finally had the cordless model of our baby after 4 1/2 months of waiting, an ongoing joke we used to crack with the nurses and visitors. A sense of humour can go a long way in those types of situations.
He came home with a colostomy bag, which, by the way, is super easy to have on the stomach of a baby who was trying to crawl (imagine me saying this in an insanely sarcastic tone), and that was reversed when he was 7 months old. It took us 7 months to experience our first poopy diaper, and it was amazing.
To this day, Aleks is one of the most energetic kids I’ve ever seen. He is completely healthy, funny, sweet boy who is our little miracle. He is totally OK, and for that, I am truly grateful. I have to remind myself of that when he’s acting like a normal 6 year old boy and pushing every one of my buttons.
I got through this entire time without anxiety affecting me. I did what I had to do. Until he was just over a year old, and my entire world fell apart. You know how when you’re a Mom, or even if you’re not, how you can push through HUGE projects or stressful times, and the minute you’re done, you get sick? Yeah, this was exactly that.
I’m sure that I have PTSD, but I’ve not been formally diagnosed. That’s OK, I don’t need a diagnosis to know that what this empathetic introvert experienced was traumatic. Duh. It was the fallout that I was entirely unprepared for.
I saw the stress it was causing Ben and my Mom to see me go through that, and on several occasions I thought to myself that their lives would probably be way easier if I wasn’t there. I never thought of actually harming myself, more like what if I went to live in another city where they wouldn’t have to deal with me everyday? I now know that those were passive suicidal thoughts.
I went to a counsellor, got (much needed) medication from my doctor, and started trying to take care of me again as a new Mom, but the panic attacks continued.
I went back to a (different) Naturopathic Doctor, had my hormones tested, and they were seriously out of whack, but not out of line with being one year postpartum and going through what we did.
That was 5 years ago, Aleks is now 6 years old, and my anxiety has been like my constant companion since then. Sometimes quiet and leaving me alone, sometimes having a tantrum inside my head, not allowing me to take a deep breath for weeks on end.
However, in the past year, I’ve started to figure some things out that have helped me come a LONG way. I haven’t had a week or months long string of bad days in probably about 6 months now, so I feel confident enough to share what’s been working.
I even went to Costco yesterday without any anxiety … on a Saturday. That’s right, I went to Costco on a Saturday and didn’t freak out, when a year ago I couldn’t even have a shower without a panic attack. I literally felt like Superwoman.
The first thing I want you to remember as you read these, though, especially if you’re a woman, is that it’s OK for our moods to fluctuate. We have cyclical hormones, and we shouldn’t feel the same day in, day out, for all of eternity. It’s OK if you feel more anxiety just before your monthly cycle, or extra tired when it starts. You’re literally shedding a part of you, and that’s hard work.
Yes, anxiety and depression during this time can get out of control, but feeling a little extra anxiety or a little more tired doesn’t mean that anything is necessarily wrong with you. It’s simply your body’s way of asking for what it needs (more rest and care for yourself!).
That being said, if you feel like it’s very much affecting your life, then seek the appropriate medical attention, especially if you’re thinking about harming yourself.
Here are my top 7 things to help you reduce anxiety naturally:
#1 Walk outside everyday
This sounds so deceptively simple, but walking outside for 30 minutes, 5 days a week, has literally changed my life in the past 5 months. And let me remind you that it’s 100% FREE.
I used to feel like a failure that I couldn’t handle crazy HIIT workouts, boot camps, or hardcore sports anymore. People ask me why I don’t play the competitive sports that I played growing up (and at a very high level), and it’s because my body just can’t handle it.
When I try and do these very intense workouts, it triggers panic attacks and anxiety in me. Since my body is already pre-disposed to feeling those on a regular basis, once I start to feel the slightest bit nauseous or winded, it feels the same as anxiety to me. So then my anxiety and panic starts. The last time I played a competitive sport, shortly after my food allergies started, I almost passed out.
I tried Barre workouts in a studio last year, and while I loved it (and my butt was looking better and better!), after a few months, and a few workouts where I didn’t eat far enough in advance and still had food in my stomach (so then I just felt nauseous, especially in positions where we were head down), it started triggering panic.
Barre is about the hardest workout I can do, but in the comfort of my own home.
This past summer, I saw friends sharing on Instagram that they had a running squad. Everyday they’d post an Insta Story when then finished about how good they felt. They’d tag the other women and friends doing the same thing, and cheer each other on. I knew I wanted to join, but I didn’t know if my body could handle running.
So I joined but, being the rebel I am, did it with plain old walking. 30-35 minutes, at whatever pace felt good that day, listening (or not listening) to whatever felt good that day. Even intense podcasts can trigger anxiety and panic in me some days.
The first few days and weeks I felt great, but just from walking? YES! I am happier, and on days that I don’t get to walk (usually weekends, because I make up some stupid excuse that my boys are home and I’m too busy taking care of them), I turn into somewhat of a bitch.
For about 5 months now, I pretty much walk Monday to Friday, first thing in the morning around 6:45 or 7 am. I take some days off because of our schedule, or if I’m not feeling up to it, but 95% of the days I’ve shown up and walked.
So no, you don’t need to join some crazy gym and do insane workouts to get the benefits from endorphins. Just walk around your neighbourhood. Notice how the seasons and sunrise/sunset times change from month to month.
Feel free to play with your schedule to figure out a time that works for you and that you’ll stick with. I’m best when I walk first thing in the morning, but whatever time you choose, be safe. Use reflective clothing and other safety measures if you walk when it’s dark, especially if you’re a woman walking alone (wish I didn’t have to say that, but it’s true).
I’ve also noticed that if I’m in a situation where I feel anxious, and I have the opportunity to get up and walk or move around for a minute or two, that it helps immensely. Next time you’re at a conference or workshop, sit in the back, and allow yourself the freedom to get up and pace the back of the room if you’re feeling nervous.
If you want to join in the walking fun, post on Instagram using the hashtag #dōrunningsquad, and tag me @ashleysrokosz so that I can give you a digital high five! We’ve got such a great group of women encouraging each other to show up and care for themselves, and it’s just so lovely.
#2 Plan rest into your schedule
I think you can tell from the long story of my life above that I’ve never been much of a rest person. I think I hold a belief that it’s lazy, which it’s TOTALLY NOT.
You were not meant to work 24/7, 365 days a year, for your entire life.
Even Mother Nature rests in the winter, and it’s necessary before her growth explosion and socialization that happens in spring and summer. Why do we think we can be smarter than Mother Nature?
Resting, and not working every minute of every day, is necessary so that you don’t burn yourself out. More on that in the next tip, and how stress affects everything about your hormones.
I’ve started to set up what are called “guardrails” around my daily schedule. Things that I need to do to keep my anxious feelings at bay.
Some of my guardrails include:
- getting showered, dressed, and doing my makeup and hair in as relaxed an environment as I can manage, while still getting my 6 year old to school on time
- a nap around 3 pm, 2-3 times per week
- making dinner and having family time in as calm a way as possible (4-7 pm is the worst time of day for my anxiety). This means that our son isn’t in a million after school activities, and that’s A-OK with me!
- having a relaxed work day, and designing my business so that I can move my to-do list around depending on how I’m feeling
- not planning major events, like photo shoots or social events, during the week before/beginning of my monthly cycle (more on this below), if I can help it and have the choice
What you need to do to feel calm might be very different from me. I’m an introvert, so being around people, whether I’m anxious or not, always depletes me. But maybe you’re an extrovert, and getting out and being in public is necessary for you to feel calm! You and my husband would get along great ;)
Everyone is different, so start to take notice of a few things during your day that makes you feel calm. Things that if you don’t do them, you feel anxious. Do more of those things, and guard the time that you would normally do them with as much seriousness as the security around the Queen’s jewellery collection.
#3 Balance your hormones
If you’re a woman reading this, I can’t even explain to you how important your hormones are to feeling calm and grounded. And I don’t just mean your sex hormones, but also your stress and metabolism hormones, as they’re all connected.
It’s the most beautiful thing ever to be a woman (we can make babies if we want to!), but it’s also a curse for many of us. Every month can be a never ending cycle of feeling the best we’ve ever felt (when we ovulate), only to be plunged into a pit of cravings, severe mood swings, anxiety, and depression a week or two later (just before or at the start of our cycle).
You’re also not completely immune to these cycle fluctuations if you’re in menopause, as your body can still change throughout the month.
For me, my hormones are paramount to keeping my anxiety at bay.
When I first had my hormones tested shortly after Aleks was born, my Naturopathic Doctor said “I don’t doubt that 50-75% of your anxiety is caused by your hormones”. I know from clinical and personal experience that she was completely right.
I can’t make any specific recommendations for you on what you might need to do balance your hormones, as there are SO many things to take into consideration, including your entire medical history and life experiences.
I personally needed to increase my progesterone level to feel calm, it’s literally like a light switch turning my anxiety symptoms on and off depending on how high or low it is. And balancing your sex hormone levels requires your other hormones to be balanced, too.
What I highly recommend is seeing a Naturopathic Doctor or Functional Medical Doctor (or another licensed practitioner, like some Health Coaches or Holistic Nutritionists) who specialize in female hormones. Start with a Google search, but I find asking your other health providers or friends for recommendations is the best place to start.
Ideally, I’d suggest testing that includes:
- cortisol and other adrenal hormone testing
- thyroid testing, including T3 and T4
- progesterone, estrogen, and testosterone levels
- Vitamin D levels, especially if you suffer from depression (seasonal or not)
This kind of testing can be accomplished with a DUTCH hormone test + regular blood lab draws, or other similar tests available to only qualified practitioners as listed above.
Depending on your results, the practitioner will make several recommendations for nutritional or herbal supplementation, essential oils, dietary changes, and lifestyle changes.
I was told after my results that the best case scenario would be me going on a vacation for 3 months, having all my meals brought to me, and sleeping or spending most of the day laying down … and I had a 1 year old at home. So yeah, that didn’t happen.
My hormone levels are still not as optimal as I’d like them to be (I’m still having symptoms, albeit way less severe than a few years ago), however, when I use specific protocols, they’re a million times better than they used to be!
I personally use MyFlo, and it’s been helpful to see when I’m feeling certain feelings each month, and to know that it’s not that I’m crazy, it’s my hormones! Then I can better support them based on recommendations right in the app, including different foods to eat, and what kind of exercise might fit the part of your cycle that you’re in right now.
#4 CBD oil
I had never really smoked pot in high school or college, and I don’t like feeling out of control or high, so I never looked at medical marijuana as a solution until I reached my wits end last year. I didn’t want to go back on the prescription meds with all their side effects, but I knew I needed something.
Turns out, CBD has been a complete game changer for me.
CBD is an active component from the marijuana plant. It’s non-psychoactive, unlike it’s counterpart THC, which is what makes you feel high when you smoke pot. You don’t feel high when you take CDB.
As of the writing of this blog post, marijuana has just become legal where I live in Canada. You can order it online, and soon there will be stores, much like liquor stores, that will be licensed to sell it.
I’ve had my medical marijuana prescription for almost a year at this point, so I’ve had lots of time to experiment. I choose to use a CBD oil, which is CBD extract in a base of liquid coconut oil, so that I can control the dosage and repeat it’s effects day in, day out, without worrying about variations that can come with smoking it (like temperature of a vape device or how deeply you inhale, things which can affect how much CBD/THC you absorb).
It took me a good 3-4 months of tweaking my dosage and times I take my CBD oil to get into a good rhythm, but now that I’ve figured it out, it’s been nothing short of miraculous.
There are so many things to share about CBD oil, so I wrote an entirely separate blog post on the subject of CBD, including:
- what is CBD oil
- the difference between CBD and THC
- how it works in the body
- how it affects bodily symptoms, specifically pain, digestion, and anxiety
- the difference between prescription and non-prescription marijuana
- different ways to take it
- CBD oil versus copaiba essential oil (read more about that below)
- how to get your own prescription for medical marijuana by working with your medical doctor
- what brand I use and trust
Again, I can’t say enough good things about CBD oil and how it’s helped my anxiety, and that’s coming from a complete skeptic. Sometimes you need to hit your lowest of lows to open your mind and try something new!
#5 Copaiba essential oil
Copaiba essential oil is an essential oil distilled from the sap of the copaiba tree, which grows in the Amazon rainforest.
Many have touted copaiba as a marijuana free version of CBD oil, as it works similarly in the body. So if you’re against marijuana, but would like an all-natural relief of anxious feelings, copaiba will be right up your alley!
To learn exactly how copaiba essential oil differs from CBD oil, and my experience with both, click here to read the sister post to this one.
Now that my anxiety symptoms are under control, I use both CBD and copaiba on a daily basis. I use my CBD oil first thing in the morning, and it’s effects last about 6-8 hours, wearing off around 4 pm. That’s when I switch to copaiba, because I’ve found that when I take a second dose of CBD, my body can’t wind down as early as I want to for a solid night of sleep.
To learn exactly how I use both my CBD and copaiba together, click here to read the science-packed article with matching guidebook.
Just last month, doTERRA released Copaiba softgels, meaning it’s even easier to take copaiba internally to support anxious feelings without having to carry around your regular full bottle OR making up veggie caps (sometimes can be messy). They’re great to travel with, and are super convenient to take on the go.
I have a very sensitive digestive system (which often times can trigger my anxiety), and copaiba has never upset my stomach, which is a small miracle in and of itself! So no need to worry about taking it with food, you should be fine.
The best part about copaiba is that it works faster in my system than CBD, so I can start to feel it’s effects in about 15 minutes, as opposed to 45 minutes with CBD. This has to do with how the compounds in both CBD and copaiba are metabolized in the body, and you can click here to read more about that.
Plus, because it’s effects wear off sooner, I can repeat a dosage more often, especially when I’m in anxiety provoking situations (like being in public around a lot of people!), without fear of getting too much of an effect.
#6 Restoring a healthy digestive system
It’s lovely but so frustrating that ALL parts of the human body are connected, and the connection between our digestive system and our mind is one of the strongest of all.
There’s a nerve that runs directly from the entirely of the digestive tract to the brain called the vagus nerve, which carries information of what’s going on in your esophagus, stomach, intestines, and colon to the brain, so that the brain can make decisions of what to do about negative situations that maybe happening.
If any parts of your digestive system are being stimulated in a negative way, it’s going to negatively stimulate your brain.
For example, let’s say that your digestive system creates inflammation when you eat gluten. The compounds that are created when the inflammation process starts triggers a whole cascade of events that happens locally in that area, but also get communicated to the brain. Your brain then might choose for you to become anxious or depressed or any other host of feelings.
Like when you eat sugar. It’s your digestive system that breaks it down, but that sends a signal to the brain to feel happy, and when your brain feels happy, it wants more of whatever made it feel happy. That’s why you might crave sugar! It’s been shown to be more addictive than cocaine 🙄.
95% of serotonin in our body is made in our gut, and serotonin is our feel good chemical in our brain. Not enough serotonin being made in the gut, because your gut is inflamed and can’t work properly = not enough serotonin in the brain = you not feeling happy.
Again, this is not an easy situation to fix, and there might be various causes as to why your gut might not be as happy and healthy as you need it to be to feel happy and healthy in your brain, but here are some common things to consider (again, with the help of a qualified practitioner):
food allergies, especially to gluten, eggs, and dairy
unbalanced levels of bacteria (might show up as chronic yeast infections)
optimizing stomach acid levels (which can be low due to chronic stress)
leaky gut and/or Celiac disease
Irritable Bowel Syndrome
Some remedies to consider includes digestive enzymes or herbal tinctures, probiotics, L-glutamine, marshmallow root, aloe vera, essential oils (fabulous for IBS!), and changing your diet to remove irritants.
#7 Avoid stimulants
I love the smell, taste, and idea of coffee, but if I were to drink it? You might as well get a ladder out now, since you’ll be peeling me off the ceiling. I kid you not.
I’ve noticed that when my anxiety is high, I can’t even drink black tea, and sometimes not even green tea or eat dark chocolate. There are days that need to be ZERO caffeine days.
This is also seasonal, with green tea being my preference to drink during the summer, when I want a lighter hit of just enough caffeine to be insanely productive but without the jitters (what I call the sweet spot). Once the weather gets cold, I start craving black tea again.
So if you have high anxiety, but you NEED a hit of caffeine (most likely because your adrenals are fatigued, so your hormones need major support), try a nice green tea. If you hate green tea, try a flavoured version or a good quality loose leaf version if you think it tastes like dirt, which some lower quality brands totally can.
I also avoid sugar or other stimulants, and when my anxiety is really high, I can’t even watch dramatic movies. Comedies only most of the time over here, or Friends, Seinfeld, or The Office episodes that I’ve seen about a million times (so there are no surprises), and are lighthearted enough to make me smile when I maybe haven’t in days.
And movies AT the movie theatre? Forget it, too overwhelming and emotional 99% of the time. As annoying as it is to my husband that I’m not his constant companion at the movie theatre, it’s no help if we spend about a million dollars on tickets and snacks, only for me to have to leave 15 minutes in.
I just wait for most movies to come out on iTunes, and we have a date night on our couch. It’s better than nothing (and we can fool around immediately after … or during , which is apparently frowned on in public 😜).
So there you have it, the 7 things I’ve changed in the last year that have allowed me to live a (mostly) normal life again, without being controlled 24/7 by my anxiety!
I know how it feels when you’re in the thick of it, so if you can’t even fathom doing a thing from this list right now, that’s OK. Bookmark it for later.
If someone in your life is suffering, do them a favour and pass this article onto them. They might want help, but might not know how to ask or even what to ask for. The most important part is to just be there for them.
Do the simple things that might be hard, like brining them food when they can’t cook, or getting their groceries. Maybe even pick their kids up from school or offer to take them to their hockey practice or soccer game.
When I’m anxious AF, I just want to hide in my house, and out in public is the LAST place I want to be. Anything you can do to help them with their everyday errands is a great place to start.
And sometimes it’s as simple as sending them a text that says “No need to reply, I know you might be having a bad day. I just wanted to know that I’m thinking of you.”
If you’re suffering, my heart goes out to you. I know how it feels, and I see you working so hard just to get through the day. It will get better, and it won’t last forever. Ask for help, even if it’s terrifying, and know that yes, the world WILL miss you if you’re not here in it.