May is Mental Health Awareness Month, and it always gets me reflecting on my own mental health journey. So, I decided to go back and read my previous May blog posts. It was quite the experience, like taking a trip down memory lane and realizing how far I've come.
One quote from my January 2019 blog really struck me:
"Learning to surrender came after I figured out how to manage anxiety. I use the word 'manage' very loosely, by the way."
Even back then, I knew that managing anxiety was a work in progress. I hadn't quite mastered it, but I had developed some skills and habits to coexist with it.
Let's face it, anxiety isn't something you just cure like a common cold or heal like a wound. When you're dealing with anxiety, you try anything and everything to see what works for you. It's been over 8 years since a medical professional diagnosed me with generalized anxiety disorder, and it feels like a lifetime ago. Having a label for it initially felt good, it gave me direction. But, do you ever really "fix" anxiety?" No.
It's alarming to see how many Americans struggle with anxiety today. There are so many more classifications and diagnoses for it now compared to back in 1980 when the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Disorders) first published many of these categories. Interestingly, that's around the same time the first anti-anxiety drugs were hitting the market. Coincidence?
Anxiety has become the most common mental illness in America, affecting both adults and children in staggering numbers. Our modern lifestyle, with its fast pace and high stress, certainly doesn't help. But here's the silver lining: there's more awareness than ever before. People are talking about anxiety, getting diagnosed, and seeking treatment. Free resources are available all over the internet. However, despite all this progress, not everyone seeks help for various reasons.
Anxiety in children is especially worrisome for me as a parent. I see my own kids struggling with it, and we have frequent discussions about how it makes them feel and what they can do when it starts creeping in. But here's the thing: we often focus too much on why anxiety happens and how to make it go away. What I've learned and what I emphasize with my children is to worry less about the why and focus more on listening to their bodies.
Anxiety manifests itself physically, which makes it very real and not "just in your head." You have to listen to your body and what it is telling you. I have found combining these two strategies gives me the best results.
Talk Therapy: Unpacking what's going on in my head through therapy has been crucial. Sometimes we delve into childhood experiences to understand the role they played. Sometimes we discuss the stress of the day. It's an ongoing process, and finding the right therapist is key (trust me on this one!). If therapy is not for you, find a trusted friend or family member to "talk things out with." All they have to do is listen. You would be surprised how much impact that can have. Internalizing is your enemy - you have to talk about it!
Unearthing the Root Cause: When I began to meticulously observe my physical symptoms, I started gaining insight into how my body was reacting to anxiety. I found myself eager to explore the root cause of these reactions. It's clear that the mind-body connection plays a significant role in this dynamic. This interconnection, in essence, is what it's all about. However, the question remained - are there other contributing factors at play? Factors that could be exacerbating the anxiety, piling on to make the situation worse. It became important to me to identify these.
In fact, the past four years have been a deep dive into understanding how my body works and how my brain and gut are connected. It's fascinating to see how it's all interconnected—mind, body, gut, brain—everything! And when you throw middle-age menopause into the mix, well, let's just say it's been quite the adventure.
I'm deeply passionate about this subject and have been lucky to find invaluable resources. Starting out, I tackled it solo, peeling back the first layer of understanding. The rest of my journey has been guided by expert resources including therapists, integrative physicians, functional doctors, and naturopathic MDs. Check out the resources page on my website.
As we leave the 'official' Mental Health Awareness Month behind and stride into the rest of the year, remember this: it's not just about getting through the day, but owning the day! Tune in to your body, let your mind wander, and dig deep into what makes you, you. In doing so, we're not just 'managing' anxiety - we're taking back the reins. So, keep on keeping on, my friends and always, always consider that your friends, family, friends and neighbors all have their own struggles like you. Never hurts to share a kind word or offer to help.
Stay tuned for part two coming soon. After so much trial and error I will share my work and tools I possess for effectively managing anxiety and overall health. It's not a one size fits all but it I believe in the power of paying it forward.