Welcome to ‘Anxiety Stories!’ I (Laura of The Mindful Mom Blographer), started Anxiety Stories after I read Brene’ Brown’s book ‘Daring Greatly’. In the book, Brown talks extensively about shame, which is something I think many people who suffer from anxiety feel – as well as feeling alone.
We all know there is a mental health stigma in today’s society. So how can we remove that stigma? By removing people’s shame, and let them know they’re not alone.
Anxiety is a lot more common than people realize – I know this from all the comments and DMs I get whenever I get vulnerable about my anxiety experiences. Yet still, the stigma!
My hope with Anxiety Stories is that we can normalize anxiety by showing people’s stories from all walks of life. I ask that each person who conducts an interview be willing to be a little bit vulnerable, and each person who reads these interviews holds the interviewee in a loving space, knowing they’ve put themselves out there for a good cause.
*If you are dealing with anxiety or another type of mental illness, please talk with a
Tell us a little bit about yourself! Who are you? Where are you from? What types of things do you enjoy doing?
My name is Laura, and I am the owner of this blog! I am just your normal girl from Minnesota, who enjoys spending time with my family and friends, spending time outside, taking photos, reading, cuddling with my cat, attending musicals (or listening to Broadway musical soundtracks), and more!
What does the anxiety you experience look like (obsessive thoughts, extreme worry, intrusive thoughts, anxiety disorder, etc)?
I have been experiencing anxiety since I was a little girl. I always hated change, and because of that, I felt the need to attempt to control as many situations as possible, especially the ones that made me uncomfortable.
When I was in high school, I started experiencing panic attacks for the first time. My very first panic attack was during a band concert (yes, right during the smack dab middle of it). I had been experiencing massive anxiety prior to that about throwing up in public. I don’t know where that came from, because, knock on wood, I’ve never experienced that before. I think it stemmed from having a lack of control.
After that panic attack, I ended up seeing a therapist for the first time. I didn’t love the therapist, but at the time I was too young to know you could switch until you found one. I was mostly focused on getting through each session so I could ‘graduate’ so I wouldn’t have to go any more. It was also during this time I was put on my first round of zoloft.
As I worked through the anxiety during that time, I enjoyed a few years free of debilitating anxiety. I was able to go off my meds, and I wasn’t seeing a therapist or psychologist. Looking back, it wasn’t that I was free of anxiety, but I was able to manage on my own.
Fast forward to when I got pregnant with my son. During that time, my husband and I sold our condo, moved into temporary housing, bought a house, moved out of temporary housing and into our house, my husband started a new job, and then my son was born.
Needless to say, my anxiety shot through the roof.
After my son was born, I experienced horrible postpartum anxiety which turned into rage. It was terrible. I also started experiencing panic attacks (again), and intrusive thoughts for the first time. My intrusive thoughts were terrifying, especially at first because I didn’t know what they were or what was happening. I legitimately thought I was going crazy. It was terrifying, frustrating, and made me feel like an unfit mother. Who was I to raise a kid when I couldn’t even figure my own stuff out?
I also experience obsessive thoughts with my anxiety – meaning – I literally sit and obsess over whatever it is that I am anxious about, so my mind never gets a break. It is exhausting (which in turns amps up the anxiety).
Since then, I have taken drastic measures to try and work through my anxiety.
Do you see a therapist/psychologist?
Yes. I am currently seeing my therapist on an as needed basis, and a psychologist for medication management, as I am currently on
Do you take medication for the anxiety?
Yes, I take Zoloft for my anxiety.
How long have you been dealing with anxiety?
For as long as I can remember, as I mentioned above. But as I’ve gone through my life, the anxiety has manifested itself in a variety of different ways. I keep thinking I work through, and then it manifests itself in a different way each time.
What are some triggers for the anxiety you experience?
One of my main triggers is health issues. My cousin died when we were both 22 of a super rare and aggressive cancer that came out of nowhere. That experienced has obviously stuck with me, so anytime I have some unexplained health condition (even something as simple as a pulled muscle), my mind’s default response is the worst case scenario, and I can spend days analyzing and obsessing over the littlest symptoms.
Another trigger is death. I believe it also stems off of my cousin’s death that I mentioned above. I’ve always been uncomfortable around death, and instead of looking at it for what it is, I try to avoid talking about it or dealing with it. So when it comes around, my anxiety has a field day.
Lately, I’ve noticed one of my triggers is new experiences that make me uncomfortable or vulnerable. I’ve noticed that the uncomfortableness of the new situation triggers my mind to go into fight or flight response, and my anxiety ramps up.
Another trigger is having set expectations. I have found that when I have set expectations about how something is supposed to go, if it doesn’t go that way (and let’s be honest, it usually doesn’t go the way the mind think it is going to go), my anxiety freaks out – probably due to a lack of control among other reasons. I’ve really tried to not set expectations to help avoid this trigger.
Finally, and this took a long time for me to figure out, but triggers such as sugar, caffeine, lack of sleep, low blood sugar, lack of outdoor time and exercise, etc., all can trigger my anxiety. I also have hormonal triggers due to my menstrual cycle.
Have you ever dealt with the dreaded anxiety spiral?
Yes. The spiral is a terrible thing to have to deal with and be in. It usually starts with something small, and then as my mind gets ramped up, I start to obsess over those anxious thoughts, and if I don’t intervene with some of my tricks to pull myself up, I’m down in the hole. Sometimes this can happen in a matter of a few minutes, all the way up to a few days.
Do you experience panic attacks?
Yes. Often, when I’m at the bottom of a spiral is when I have a panic attack.
As I’ve already mentioned, my panic attacks have looked different throughout the course of my life. They first started as intense nausea to the latest ‘versions’ being that I’m dying or going crazy.
The last big one I had my husband was gone, and I was laying in bed reading a book. At the time, the panic attack seemingly came out of nowhere. My body felt like all the life was draining out of me, and I was convinced I was dying and that my son, who was 2 at the time, would wake up and come in and find me dead. Of course, those thoughts and worries only made it worse.
Funny enough, my son DID end up coming in to ask for some water, and that kind of interrupted the anxious thought spiral I was deep down into. I was able to at least distract myself to get him some water and put him back to bed, and then focus on calming myself further.
What are some things you do while you’re having a panic attack or are in an anxiety spiral to help pull yourself out of it?
One trick that my therapist told me, and one that I have used multiple times, is to either jump in a super cold shower, or hold on to ice cubes for as long as you possible can. Both methods cause your brain to shift gears and focus on the cold instead of the panic or anxiety. And, depending on how much cold you are dealing with, often when your body reacts to cold, your first reaction is to gasp and take a breathe. Which, when you’re dealing with a panic attack, is not a bad thing!
I also try to incorporate mindfulness by using my senses to focus on:
- 5 things I see
- 4 things I hear
- 3 things I feel
- 2 things I smell
- 1 thing I taste
Sometimes this works, and sometimes I’m too far into the spiral. Usually though, after doing the cold shower/ice cube trick, I’m able to focus on the mindfulness.
Finally, journaling has really helped me through a spiral. I’m able to slow down my brain by writing every thought I’m having down, as a brain dump of sorts.
From there, I’m able to fact check any anxious thought, or start working through each one individually.
What are some preventative measures that you take to help prevent the anxiety you experience?
What I put in my body: As I mentioned above, I have cut out caffeine completely, and have seriously cut back on sugar. Both are major triggers for my anxiety. On the topic of diet, I also try to eat an anti-inflammatory diet, based on research I’ve done from anxiety experts. This means very little gluten and dairy.
Vitamins and supplements: I’ve also started taking some supplements such as omega-3s, magnesium, and a multivitamin with B vitamins included. ***With all
Get outside, be mindful, be grateful: I’ve tried making outdoor time and exercising a priority. Mindfulness and meditation have also been added to my life. I practice gratitude (almost) daily, and journal frequently. Insight Timer is a great resource for free meditations if you’re looking to get into it.
Get some light: In the winter months, I have started using a daylight lamp (again – talk to your doctor as these can sometimes make mental health symptoms worse. I had this cleared with my psychologist as well before using). This has helped with my energy and overall mood.
Screen-free time: I also try to limit the amount of time I spend on electronics and social media, although running a blog sometimes makes that difficult. Instead, I spend that time doing things that match my values such as spending time with friends and family, reading, photography, and more.
For tips on how to detox from social media, check out my post on that here.
Declutter: My family and I have limited the amount of clutter we have in our house (we have gotten rid of over 140 boxes of stuff and sold countless more), as physical clutter has been shown to cause anxiety.
For decluttering tips, check out my decluttering posts here.
Acupuncture: I have been going to acupuncture for years, and it is a great help with anxiety. I go to
Get spiritual: At the beginning of 2018, I was going through some health issues and my anxiety was at an all time high for MONTHS. More than once, I spiraled a few times. While talking to my therapist and my fear of ill health and death, the topic of spirituality came up. It was also around this time that I started reading more and more books about anxiety, and oftentimes, spirituality is a key piece in these books. So, I started learning and exploring about what I believe in, and deepened my level of spirituality. If you’re looking for a good place to start, Gabrielle Bernstein has some great books on the topic.
Talk about it: Finally, I try to be open about it as much as possible. I find that when I keep my anxiety bottled up, that only fuels the fire and makes it worse. By talking about it, admitting that I’m experiencing it, and surrendering to it (my therapist said I needed to get that tattooed onto my forehead), makes it a lot less powerful and a heck of a lot more manageable.
Whether you talk to a friend, partner, or a therapist, it doesn’t matter! As long as it is someone you feel comfortable with and who helps you through the anxious moments.
This all may seem like a lot, but this isn’t my first rodeo. This has taken years and years of exploring, trial and error, and most of all, years of anxiety to get to this point. And I’m still not 100% anxiety free. I still have good days and bad days. If you’re just starting out, why not try one or two things at a time and see how they work for you. What works for me won’t necessarily work for you, and vice versa.
What are some of your favorite anxiety resources (websites, books, etc) that other people could reference if they’re struggling as well?
My favorite, favorite, favorite resource is the book The Chemistry of Calm by Henry Emmons MD. I can’t recommend this book enough. The author focuses on an all-around holistic approach to managing your anxiety from diet, exercise, mindfulness, meditation, and more. He also talks about how our brains are operating, and how the methods he talk about support the brain and body to reduce anxious episodes.
Another great anxiety book is First, We Make the Beast Beautiful by Sarah Wilson. This is a firsthand account from someone who has dealt with tons of anxiety and mental illness, and share things (often backed up with data) she has done that has helped. It also is interesting reading about her journey and how she has come through.
Two podcasts that I love listening to when I’m feeling anxious are The Lively Show and Oprah’s Super Soul Sundays. Both dive into the spiritual realm of things, but listening to these really helps ground me.
Why do you think the mental health stigma exists? Why are people afraid to talk about their mental illness?
As I said in this post, there are a couple of reasons why I believe there is still a mental illness stigma even though they are so incredibly common.
The first reason is because I think we fear what we don’t understand. And when we don’t understand what is going on with ourselves, it can be scary and we want to just shut it down. Or, if we do try to explain it to someone else who may not be familiar with mental illness (or uncomfortable by them), if they react in what we perceive as a negative way, their reaction could make us feel embarrassed, isolated, and shamed. So we keep our struggles tucked away inside, for fear of what is bothering us, for fear of what we don’t ourselves understand, and for fear of how other people are going to react.
The second reason, in some ways, stems off from the first reason, and that is that we don’t want to feel different from others. You know that wonderful connection with someone when you first realize you have something in common? We as humans crave that connection. So when we have something going on inside of us that we fear could be something that makes us different (whether this knowing is conscious or not), it can make us hold on to the things that are bothering us.
And if there is one thing I’ve learned (maybe one of the biggest things I’ve learned) about my anxiety, it is that by holding on to it and trying suppress or fight it only gives it fuel and makes it a lot worse.
The third and final reason I think there is a stigma around mental illness has to do with us not wanting to deal with the illness ourselves. When we are physically sick with a cold, what do we try to do? We try to do whatever we can to get rid of it, because we hate feeling uncomfortable and sick. The same can be said (at least in my experience) about mental illness.
When I’m feeling really anxious, it is uncomfortable and I don’t like it. So my first reaction is to try and do whatever I can to ‘fix it’ or ‘make it go away’. But I’ve had to learn, (and it took me YEARS), that illnesses, physical or mental, don’t always work like that. And while we can do things to make us more comfortable, sometimes we just have to go through them and be uncomfortable for a little while.
So when we’re dealing with a mental illness, we don’t want to talk about it because that can confirm to ourselves that it is real, which makes it much harder to suppress it.
Brene’ Brown has a great book called Daring Greatly which talks about being vulnerable and how keeping shame and embarrassment inside can be incredibly damaging. It also talks about how we, as someone who may be on the receiving end of another being vulnerable by sharing something with us, can react so as not to magnify the shame. It’s a wonderful book, and I would highly recommend reading it. I think it can help with the mental health stigma and other struggles we as humans deal with on a daily basis!
Thank you for reading!
Want to share your own anxiety story? Check out the guidelines here!
Want to read more Anxiety Stories? Check out the other interviews here.