That breathless feeling
My first panic attack came out of nowhere and left me breathless and scared in a bathroom cubicle – I felt helpless. I’m not exactly sure where my anxiety originates from, but I’ve learned to treat it like a sort of character trait – I’m free-spirited, funny, creative – and anxious. Because I have chronic anxiety and panic attacks, despite taking medication, I had to find a way to deal with anxiety to get my life back. It may sound crazy, but not only have I learned tricks to control my anxiety, I’ve found that dealing with my condition has made me a healthier person.
According to BeyondBlue, anxiety disorders affect around 3.2 million Australians aged 16 to 85. What’s more, women are twice as likely to be affected as men. Anxiety disorders develop from a complex set of risk factors, including genetics, brain chemistry, personality, and life events.
“Anxiety can be a positive trait,” says psychiatrist Dr Megan Schabbing. “Someone who worries about being on time or performing at a high level often excels in various aspects of life, both professionally and personally.” She adds that while anxiety is known to trigger excessive worrying and racing thoughts, both can actually help a person function at a higher level. Dr Schabbing does caution that anxiety should not be a green light to act on grandiose plans – or use it as an excuse for misbehaving. The key is to seek medical treatment first, because – as I discovered – medication and therapy can play a huge role in managing anxiety.
Anxiety makes me exercise
Like a lot of people, I find that anxiety makes me feel jumpy and energised. I can deal with this one of two ways: Let my legs shake and mind race while I overthink everything, or I can use that jolt of energy to my advantage. Whether I’m at work, home, or my kid’s soccer practise, there is always a healthy way to channel anxiety. If I’m working, I might grab my water bottle and take the long way to the kitchen to get my steps in. If I’m home, I jump on my exercise bike, take the dog for a long walk, or grab my free weights. Moving eases anxiety and is good for my overall health, keeping me in shape.
“Exercise can combat anxiety because it helps to distract a person and provides an outlet to release stress in a positive way,” says Dr Schabbing. Plus, exercise triggers the release of endorphins, which activate the body’s opiate receptors, causing an analgesic effect.
Anxiety has made me more creative
When my 12-year-old son was much younger, I would ease my anxiety by joining him to build with Legos, colour-in, or sculpt with Play-Doh. Focusing on those tiny, bright bricks or shading in a cartoon character with a coloured pencil distracted me and calmed me down. These days, I’m not ashamed to say I own adult colouring books and have sat at the kitchen counter during bouts of anxiety with my trusty coloured pencils. I also write, paint with watercolours, and spend time colour coordinating my closet and bookshelves.
“Engaging in a soothing activity like knitting or colouring is extremely helpful,” says Dr Schabbing. “The repetitive motions, exercised during an art project, engages parts of the cerebral cortex while relaxing the brain’s fear center.”
Dr Schabbing also recommends journaling or even light housework like doing laundry. “The key is that, when you fill your brain with other activities and thoughts, the anxiety is no longer able to take control of your mind.”