Good afternoon, friends. Before I jump into this week’s Self-Care subject, I wanted to take a moment and apologise for not having written a segment of this series since July.
Truth be told, life has been rather unpredictable this year, and most of it had left me feeling quite a bit uninspired. As I struggled with my own depression and negatively impactful mental health, I merely couldn’t find the strength to help myself, let alone find the words to help others. With that said, I’ve realised some new things about myself and the things that have kept me from living my best life. A life that is determined to make the most of every moment even in the face of terrible fear. One day, I hope to sit down and chat with you about that.
In the meantime, I am ready to return to Self-Care Sundays and hope that you shall join me. Let’s live our best lives together, shall we?
My Current Battles with Anxiety
Today, I wanted to focus on something that has been a huge challenge for me in 2019: experiencing extremely uncomfortable moments of anxiety in my own home.
I am someone who has Bipolar Disorder as well as Major Anxiety Disorder and PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder), among other shite. All of that can be a concoction for the utmost horrid of mental health days. I’ve noticed that ever since Azizi (one of my elder kitties) got sick and almost died last year, my anxiety as it pertains to the cats has been significantly heightened. This has then been spilling over into other parts of my life.
At the beginning of August, I applied to a programme at a local-ish university that is one of the best for its given subject in the entire country. I won’t find out if I’ve been accepted or not until October. The simple act of waiting for an acceptance or rejection letter is one of the things that triggers my anxiety lately.
In May, I strapped myself into the bucket seat of determination in terms of my career as an author. For the first time in years, I felt determined to put one hundred percent of my efforts into writing the stories that I wanted to tell and then working my arse off to get them published. The constant concern of “being good enough” to get published or worrying if anyone will ever bother to read my super convoluted dark fantasy stories would trigger some of the most debilitating bouts of anxiety for me. This one likes to sprout up like a weed every time that I sit down to write, which has forced me into some of the worst Writer’s Block episodes I’ve had in about five years. Because of that, my personal deadlines ended up dissipating into dust as my story sits untouched (I finally began to remedy this after getting my laptop a few days ago; it feels so fucking nice to be able to write again, even if the stories are piles of hot messes at the moment).
Other more minor things that have been aggravating Their Majesty, The Royal Anxiety Monster include: my physical health and how dependent weight loss is on the quality of my heart, trying to find financial stability with being what is essentially a freelance writer, dating, and my cats getting older.
As you can see, there are plenty of ingredients here for a ripe recipe of anxiety-ridden disasters. So, when things get so bloody difficult, how the hell can someone cope through the infectious feelings of anxiousness or hot-blooded anxiety attacks altogether?
While I don’t have an Iron Chef’s ability at creating a master remedy to my moments of anxiety, I have found a few things along the way that tend to help lessen the effects of anxiousness when they occur, or that help me focus and calm down from an incredibly immobilising anxiety attack.
Okay, so this one may not seem like such a brain-buster of an idea, but as someone who also has OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder) with things being neat, tidy, and dust-free, there is a majestic sort of power that comes with the wonderfully simple act of cleaning.
When I feel that uncomfortable pit in the centre of my stomach and then a weird buzzing sensation going through my veins, I know that I’m experiencing some sort of anxiety, more so if there are some hindrances to my breathing. I’m aware that if I don’t do something about it relatively quickly, it’ll turn into an attack and knock me the fuck out, so to speak. Most of the time, anxiety will sprout up on me due to subconscious thoughts that are buried away because I’m just not ready to tackle them head on for whatever reason.
When this occurs, I stop doing whatever I’m busy with in the moment (it’s usually reading or watching serials), and I go searching for something to clean or tidy-up. After a couple of years of dealing with this, I’ve found that vacuuming is the easiest task to get started, so I like to start there. The vacuum is loud enough to help drown out some of my own thoughts that begin pilfering my sense of peace. Plus, I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t fun to chase down the kitties all around the house with the vacuum on occasion in a very weird version of tag.
If that isn’t enough, then I will clean my kitchen. That one tends to do the trick every single time since we have a relatively large kitchen. I’ll put in my favourite music and scrub down the countertops, mop, do dishes (if there’s any that hasn’t been done already), and this usually leads me down to my second coping method. Also, I feel the need to say that if doesn’t matter if the kitchen is already pretty spotless. I’ll clean that shite anyway.
I don’t normally dust things due to my allergies and asthma, so Sir Besty tends to take over that activity. But if none of the other cleaning tactics work, then I will begin to do more hardcore chores. This is where I must be careful because putting too much strain on my heart can really fuck me up. I’m lucky in that I don’t have to resort to this that often at all, at least thus far.
Growing up in an Asian-Polynesian house, cooking had always been a family event for me and my parents, and for my mum specifically; it was her trick to unwinding and boiling the stress of her day away (this always led to massive fucking feasts, but she cooks like a Culinary Goddess, so I didn’t mind so much). I think because of those dynamics, cooking is an activity I can turn to whenever I’m feeling extremely anxious but have run out of things to clean.
My favourite things to cook when I’m stressed are the meals that I grew up with, such as fried egg and potato curry, chicken or beef keema, spicy stir-fried noodles with veggies, kichadi (Indian rice porridge), mutton and potato curry, various sorts of soups, and more. The more complicated the recipe is, the more inclined I’ll be at serving it up (now that I’m vegetarian, however, creating meatless variations of these requires quite a bit of imagination).
There are a few reasons why cooking helps with my anxiety that go beyond the nostalgia factor. Firstly, it’s requires me to satisfy my OCD quirks. For example, I have a white board in my office that’s in the room beside the kitchen (big open doorway allows me to see it clearly from said kitchen). Before I cook, I’ll make a full list of all the ingredients that I’ll need, broken down by whatever dishes I’m in the mood for. By doing this, I’m satisfying a big part of my mental health and one that usually leads to triggers of anxiety and discomfort itself. It’s equivalent to a breathing exercise for me, and I do take deep, slow breathes while I write the list down. It’s sort of like killing two spiders with one swipe of the ninja sword (yes, I’ve done this before and it’s best if you don’t ask, trust me).
Secondly, I like to put in a comforting and familiar show or film on my iPad as I prep the ingredients (washing, chopping, peeling, etc). This helps me because the sounds of whatever is playing provides a background element for me to concentrate on if my mind starts to wander away from the ingredient prepping. I have an overactive brain whose favourite pastime is rumination. As such, I almost always have music or noise in the background throughout my day, even if it’s very soft.
Lastly, most of the dishes that I know how to make have a particular process to them that is time sensitive. When I get into the mode of physically cooking the dish or dishes, it allows me to completely check out of everything else around me, including my feelings of anxiety. Often by the time my meal is complete, the anxiousness is completely gone.
#3: Seclusion & Safety
The next three are specifically for anxiety attacks and first one is the most important one for me: secluding myself into a safe space.
Whenever I get hit with an unbearable anxiety attack, the first thing I do is go sit in my safe place. I have re-arranged my entire bedroom—my safe place—to accommodate me when I’m in dire need of seclusion. There is the living area part, and then the actual bed part of it. Each one has its own purpose.
If my anxiety attack is one that doesn’t feel strong enough to make me sick to my stomach and incapacitate me, I usually sit on the floor with my back to my bed and work on breathing exercises. There is a book cart next to my bed with owned books that I plan on reading soon, and while I’m doing breathing exercises, I pull one or two out of the cart and hold it. I’ll brush my fingers along the pages or feel out the covers. This allows my brain to focus on the physical sensations of what I’m holding, allowing me to separate myself mentally from the strong anxiousness that is riddling me. It also helps alleviate a bit of my paranoia so that the anxiety attack doesn’t turn in to a panic attack.
If the attack is one that I can feel shall make me sick to my stomach and possibly even make it nigh impossible for me to leave my bedroom, I’ll move the cat couch and sit with my back against the wall, cuddled up by the couch. There’s a Scooby-Doo blanket I’ve had since I was a kid that I like to drape over my legs so that I have something comforting with happy memories next to me. Occasionally if I can muster the brain energy, I’ll think about those memories to sway my mind away from what I’m physically feeling. Once more, I partake in breathing exercises to help focus my increased pulse and other symptoms. Usually by this point, Kheb (my kitty) will notice something is wrong and comes to join me on the floor. He does this about ninety-five percent of the time and his presence instantly helps me feel better.
For an intensely unpredictable anxiety attack, where I can feel myself transitioning into a full-blown panic attack, I will further seclude myself by sitting in my closet. Luckily for me, it’s a walk-in closet and not too cramped. I sit on the floor with my back against the corner and just wait out the attack. I have a 3DS and some anime magazines in there. In case if the attacks go away but for whatever reason I am unable to feel safe enough to leave, I have a good distraction tool. I also keep bottled water, granola bars, and blankets in there.
Having a space that is safest for you is imperative for dealing with anxiety attacks at home. It doesn’t have too be anything huge or spectacular either, nor does it have to be indoors. It can be anywhere that you feel shall bring you the most comfort. That’s key!
#4: Headphones & Music
In addition to the above, I like to put on my headphones, so I’m isolated with my senses as well, and I’ll listen to music that I find to be very calming.
If there is a specific reason behind my anxiety attack, then I try to match the music to help combat the thoughts and feelings that caused me to have the attack initially. For example, if my attack is caused from insecurities or feelings of inadequacy (doesn’t happen often, but it’s not super rare either), then I like to listen to music that always leaves me feeling like a total badass. For me, this usually entails 80s metal music (stuff by Scorpions is a great one).
Aside from that, I do have a generic playlist with music on it that I will listen to, which consists of classical songs by Vivaldi, Mozart, and more, or video game musical scores. That’s the one I turn to when I want to take my time and calm down with particular care. If I just need the attack to stop as soon as humanly possible, for any reason, then I listen to one specific song on repeat until I’m back to being okay, which is “再臨：片翼の天使～Advent: One-Winged Angel～,” or Sephiroth’s theme song from Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children anime film. I know it’s quite geeky, but it’s a supremely badass song and I’m not ashamed of the fact that it helps me get through my anxiety. Besides, anyone who’s been following me a while, shall know of my love (i.e.: obsession) for Sephiroth. Another good song is “S.O.S.” by Weaver, which is the opening song from Poco’s Udon World. It’s so wholesome, upbeat, and feel-good.
I highly recommend that you try out listening to music with your earphones or headphones when you have an anxiety attack. Between that, being in a safe space, and the breathing exercises, it should make a positive difference.
Finally, on this list is a bit of an unconventional tactic: drinking coffee. For folks who aren’t necessarily a fan of coffee, you can try a cup of hot tea, and see if it has the same effect. I haven’t tried it with herbal tea so I can’t attest to it myself.
I have atrocious asthma, but because of how difficult it is to get a proper health insurance plan in the States and the cost of asthma medications, I haven’t had proper asthma medicine to help me during attacks in about three years. When I’m having a severe asthma attack, I brew a cup of hot coffee and take sips of it without adding anything to it (straight black). The caffeine that’s in coffee helps open the airways that are closed during an asthma attack.
My reason for using coffee during an anxiety attack is because when I get anxiety attacks, I struggle a lot with breathing normally. The coffee helps me in ways that are akin to when I’m having an asthma attack. It helps me breathe better and the heat from holding the hot mug in my palms is a very calming and comforting feeling. Breathing in the steam from it is also a great way to help make those breathing exercises more efficient.
Since I’ve been drinking coffee for so damn long, I don’t get the jitters that are typically associated with it anymore. If you are prone to jitters, then this tactic may not be the right one for you as it can amplify your pulse and either make your anxiety attack worse or intensify the symptoms. As I’ve mentioned above, I have never tried herbal tea, but that could be a good alternative. Another option is trying out hot milo!
Those are some of the things that I like to do when my anxiety gets out-of-hand. Additionally, remember to drink plenty of water! If you’ve tried these before, let me know how they fared for you. Or if you have some coping techniques of your own, please share them in the comments! I’m sure they will be quite helpful to others out there.
Anxiety is a terrible beast, but we don’t have to be controlled by it. All you need is a bit of patience, a willingness for some trial-and-error, and the desire to live a better life with your own sense of joy. Know you aren’t alone and if you ever need a friend to chat with, my ear is always available to you. ♥
Thank you so much for visiting me today! I appreciate your support. I wish you a lovely day ahead.
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