A Toolkit for Dealing with Anxiety

Anxiety affects 40 million adults in the United States, or roughly 18.1% of the population. Yet less than 40% of those suffering get treatment. Although it’s the most common mental illness in the US, the label of “mental illness” alone keeps many people from putting a label on how they feel. In Spanish we call itnervios,” but it’s a term that has come to signify anything from PTSD and seizures to panic attacks and fear.  “Nervios” is dissociative and instead of asking why it’s happening as a culture we tend to accept it as a overarching recurring phenomenon. This makes it extremely difficult to get help since we generally don’t even have the language to express how we feel and since mental health therapy is still considered taboo in a lot of Latino families.

I’ve been “nerviosa,” since I can remember. I’ve always been plagued with racing negative thoughts that lock me into a cycle of worry, self doubt, and sadness. But it wasn’t until the end of last year that I realized it was a real problem that I could no longer ignore. With the stressors of the current administration, the constant school shootings, the police brutality, the ICE raids, the #metoo movement, along with just living my life– it all just became to much. I realized that I needed to put a name on what was happening in order for me to know how to help myself. I know for many people it’s hard to even know where to start, so here are a few resources that have been recommended to me by friends and followers that have really improved the way I live my life and deal with my anxiety.

(If you are already under the care of a physician please make sure it’s safe for you to try anything new. I’m not a doctor these are just things that have worked for me.)

  1. Talk to a professional:

The bottom line is that to cope with your anxiety in a healthy way, you need to learn better coping mechanisms. A therapist will help you find the root of what triggers your anxiety and will teach you how to better manage your stress. One of the biggest barriers for WOC getting therapy is the cost and the idea that all therapists are old white people– they’re not. Affrdable culturally competent therapy does exist. Many counselors have a sliding scale where you can pay based on your income. Here are some good places to start:

  1. Check out these Apps:

We live in a time when so many things are accessible if you have a smartphone. Lucky for us, there are plenty of apps designed to help manage stress and anxiety. It can be a good option if therapy is out of reach for you or if you’re not sure about going that route yet. Here are a some options to choose from if you’d like to try an app.

  • Headspace (IOS / Android): A guided meditation app
  • Booster buddy (IOS / Android) Helps improve wellness journey through positive habits.
  • Happify (IOS / Android): Helps you feel happier with fields of positive psychology, mindfulness and cognitive behavioural therapy.
  • Pacifica  (IOS / Android): Tracking mood and thoughts with cognitive behavioural therapy and meditation.
  • Self-Help for Anxiety Management (IOS / Android): An app that helps you learn more about your anxiety and create your own tailored self help kit.
  • Mindshift (IOS / Android): Focuses on issues for teens and young adults
  1. Make a list of self care items:

This seems silly but when you’re in a dark place it helps to have a reminder. When I really get stuck I stop taking my vitamins, I stop exercising, and I don’t even go outside. Making a list of the things you need to do each day helps a lot. Plus it feels pretty good to check everything off and see that you’ve made progress. Many of the apps help with this as well.

  1. Drink plenty of water:

Believe it or not dehydration is a persistent problem in today’s society– there is a high statistical probability that you’re dehydrated right now as you’re reading this. In fact, dehydration can cause anxiety as well as many of the triggers that lead to panic attacks since a dehydrated body cannot function properly. Our brains are 85% water! The physical symptoms of anxiety are bad enough you don’t need to add dehydration to the mix, set a reminder and you can calculate how much water you should be drinking here.

  1. Stay away from sugar:

According to Psychology Today excessive sugar intake does not cause anxiety but it does worsen the symptoms by impairing the body’s ability to cope with stress. This is tough because when I’m feeling stressed the first thing I reach for is a cookie. If you need a sugar fix try to go the natural route with fruit, carrots, or my favorite is plain yogurt with raw honey or maple syrup and almond butter.

  1. Lay off the caffeine:

When you’re feeling worn out reaching for a coffee or an energy drink seems like a good way to go. Don’t do it! Caffeine actually stimulates your body’s fight or flight response and if you’re already feeling anxious it can make relaxing a lot more difficult. If you can’t cut it out completely try green tea or other herbal teas with minimal caffeine levels.  

  1. Drink a green drink:

When I’m feeling drained the brain fog and lack of motivation are unreal. I started drinking Orac-Energy Greens and it gives me a big burst of energy even when I’m feeling sad and moody. The Super Green Drink from Trader Joes and Green Superfood from Amazing Grass are also high quality and reasonably priced options.

  1. Go outside:

Reduced sunlight exposure causes our serotonin levels to drop and can sometimes cause Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). When you’re not feeling 100% it’s easy to withdraw and stay where you feel safe, unfortunately this can make symptoms worse. When I’m feeling particularly crappy I try to spend at least 20 minutes outdoors soaking up some sun and it really does help.

  1. Exercise:

Studies show that exercise is an effective fatigue reducer. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of American it is also great at “improving alertness and concentration, and at enhancing overall cognitive function,” which is super useful when stress has depleted your energy and/or ability to concentrate. Be sure to ease yourself into it if you’ve been inactive for a while. It doesn’t have to be all out super physically demanding activity, do some online yoga, go for a walk, or do some stretching– any little bit helps.

  1. Watch these videos:

  1. CBD Oil/Marijuana:

Some people say smoking marijuana calms them down, some say it makes their anxiety worse. For me it’s been a huge relief but I’ve had both experiences. For me it depends on the strain, I seem to feel better with Sativa dominant hybrids but everyone is different. Just like THC-heavy products, CBD can also come in oil/greens/edibles and doesn’t have any of the effects of THC (basically, it won’t make you feel “high”). I take it in an oil orally when I’m feeling that tightness in my chest and it helps a lot.

REMINDER: If you’re on medication or have special instructions from a physician check with them first before you try anything new. Again, I’m not a doctor.

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