Ah, to be free. That sounds amazing to many people, but for those who suffer from anxiety, it can be terrifying. How do you free yourself from anxiety?
Looking back, I think I’ve struggled with anxiety longer than I can remember. As an infant, I would hold my breath until I passed out. When I first started school I had dizzying panic attacks that felt like I was spinning on a merry-go-round. The doctor attributed this to “an over-active imagination.” At age ten, I was diagnosed with a “nervous stomach,” and spoon fed bottles of Maalox and prescription pills to soothe my stomach aches and help untangle the knots in my gut that allow me to poop.
Around age thirteen, I began my long battle with bulimia.
Like everyone, my parents had anxieties of their own. For example, my father wouldn’t eat in front of anyone except family, or perhaps a neighbor. My beautiful mother hated the way she looked. They were both overprotective and did their best to shield me from getting hurt in any way they could. But their worries inadvertently fed mine and gave them more power. After all, how can you protect someone from an overactive imagination?
I became painfully aware of how my body felt after I ate. I was aware of how much space I took up, how my skin stretched over an unbearable fullness. I became addicted to the euphoria I felt after purging, of emptiness, of a temporary lightness. However, that euphoria only lasted until I had my next meal, or looked in the mirror. The relationship between anxiety and an eating disorder is a vicious cycle.
Everything changed for me with the death of my first love. His big, beautiful loving heart stopped suddenly due to an unknown genetic disorder, and there I stood, next to his body at his funeral on my 21st birthday. I remember the way my body felt, the deep grief tearing through my core, filling my lungs, and breaking my heart.
I had always been fearful of death, but somehow I found the courage to touch his lifeless hand. With that touch, I became profoundly aware that it wasn’t Shane lying there, but merely the vessel that had carried him through life. A lifeless shell. For the first time, I realized that instead of loving myself for who I was, I had been spending precious time hating my body, that same vessel that didn’t matter in the end. In mourning the loss of Shane’s life, his light reflected inside me and healed a deeper rift.
It is inevitable. At some point, we have all faced or will face a life-altering event that reminds us of what really matters. This was the moment I realized I had the freedom to love myself.
I didn’t magically free myself of anxiety and an eating disorder overnight. It has been a long process. Anxiety is a survival mechanism that is naturally wired into our primitive brains. This can make it difficult to manage alone. Seeking help from a professional can help you understand the root of the problem. With the help of therapists and bodyworkers, I learned new ways to cope with my stressors without the use of pharmaceuticals.
As a physical therapist, I don’t treat anxiety directly; however, as a pain specialist who has struggled with it, I believe it’s the flip side of pain. Anxiety has been found to cause and contribute to chronic pain, inflammation, and a bizarre array of other physical symptoms such as butterflies, nausea, diarrhea, and constipation to name a few. Visceral Manipulation and Myofascial Release are two different manual techniques that both explore the vast communication between the belly and the brain and how our bodies feel emotions.
After many years and much practice, I have developed a better attitude towards my own body. It’s no longer about keeping up appearances. I’m free to be me!
I hope that sharing my experience will give hope to others who may be dealing with anxiety, so they know it’s possible to be powerful, sexy and confident in your skin at any age.
Do you or someone you know have anxiety? Please share your comment below.
Here are some simple tips that calm anxiety:
- Take a deep breath.
- Breathe slowly and deeply. Try to focus slow, even breaths and quiet your mind. Deep breathing helps calm you down.
- Ground yourself.
- Practice the 3-3-3 rule; look around you and name three things you see. Then name three sounds you hear. Next move three parts of your body. This helps you bring your focus back to the present moment
- Strike a Pose. When we’re anxious we protect our heart by hunching, or bunching our shoulders up to our ears. Stand or sit up straight with your feet apart, pull your shoulders back and open your chest. Make it fun and do the shimmy.
- Reach out to a Friend. Humans are social creatures. Hanging out with friends and loved helps release the hormone oxytocin, a natural stress reliever. This effect is called ‘Tend and befriend,’ the opposite of the fight or flight response.
- Change your environment. Get outdoors. Go for a walk. Stay away from assholes.
- Write it down. Keeping a journal helps you work out your thoughts. Jotting down things you’re grateful for helps you focus on the positive.
- Bodywork. Therapeutic touch and bodywork is a great way to relieve tense muscles and improve mental well-being.
What do you do to relieve stress and anxiety?
Joyce Fishel DPT is an expert holistic physical therapist, and artist. She creatively integrates manual techniques with therapeutic movement and mindfulness, honoring the body’s natural ability to heal. Her mission is to empower women to age boldly and actively and to step bravely into the lives they desire. Through workshops and 1:1 sessions, she has inspired hundreds of women to use their imaginations, find comfort in their bodies, and move past their pain.