I know several Christians who have had to manage their clinical anxiety their whole lives, either through coping mechanisms or medication. I, however, am new to the whole “My heart-rate is up and suddenly I can’t breath what is happening?” life. At first, I felt constantly out of control. After being on medication for a while, I now have the presence of mind to hold my symptoms at arm’s length and figure out what to do.
As grateful as I am for modern medicine, it’s not a fixer-all. Ideally, medicine keeps the “flight or fight” instinct in check so that you can manage the stress in normal ways. I still have to do the heavy lifting of taking care of myself. I’m in the middle of this now, but so far I’ve found a few tried and true ways to help manage my anxiety.
While an overexposure to sunlight can lead to sunburns, and sometimes skin cancer, sunshine is still my favorite tool in my anxiety reduction arsenal. Sunlight has been proven to trigger the serotonin chemical in the brain, which is a mood booster. It also releases nitric oxide in your skin, which helps lower your blood pressure. Lower blood pressure means lower chances of my heart rate rising, which has triggered my panic mode in the past. For more facts about sunlight, check out this link.
In the wise words of Elle Woods, “Exercise gives you endorphins. Endorphins make you happy. Happy people don’t kill their husbands.”
There’s a ton of ways to crunch some exercise into your routine that have nothing to do with the gym (Broke & Healthy gives you 100 ways to do this), but my absolute favorite way of getting exercise is walking on the trails near my house. Not only am I getting my beloved sunlight, I’m giving my body a chance to get moving. As an added bonus, studies have shown that walking 30 minutes a day improves your mood AND your health.
As a Christian, my general rule of thumb is that if I spend more time talking to/about my demons than I do talking to my Lord, there’s a problem. So to keep me honest, I like to spend my walks praying to God, being honest with Him about my misgivings or struggles, as well as praising Him for making nature just so dang pretty. It’s a good way to center myself, and I immediately feel an improvement in my life when I take the time to do this.
Of course, prayer should always be coupled with a time of shutting up and listening. This is where meditation comes in. When you hear the word meditation, images of bald men sitting cross-legged and “ohm-ing” under their breath might come to mind. I swear though, it’s not that complicated. To me, meditation is simply being present in my surroundings, without letting them overwhelm me. That means paying attention to the way my hands feel while I’m washing the dishes, or following the bird songs in the distance. It’s forcing my internal monologue to take a chill pill and listening instead for what, if anything, the Lord has to tell me.
I can also use this time to focus on a Bible verse, and go over each word in a calm and measured way.
This link about walking mediation gave me some good tips for how to get started, and also helped demystify some of the whole process.
This is, without a doubt, my least favorite way of managing anxiety. But dammit, if my diet goes haywire, freaking everything goes haywire.
Too much sugar, or drinking caffeine late in the day, is a guaranteed way to MESS ME UP.
It’s not just me though (sorry everyone). There have been some studies that suggest that sugar contributes to anxiety and depression, although it isn’t a cause. The problem lies mostly with the kick sugar gives your body is inevitably followed by a crash. When your anxiety is already a swinging pendulum knocking you off balance, the push of sugar and caffeine doesn’t help.
Unfortunately, coffee and sugar are two of my favorite things, so I tend to neglect this aspect of anxiety management until it’s too late (p.s. counter-balancing the high of caffeine with an alcoholic depressant is just a really bad idea).
Don’t be like me y’all. Talk to your doctor and get your diet under control.
As I mentioned earlier, I’m still in the process of discovering different ways to manage my anxiety. Lord willing I don’t have this disorder for the rest of my life, and God sees fit to cure me. In the meantime, I’m learning how to be healthy.
How are You Managing Stress and Anxiety?
If any of you guys are dealing with anxiety or just stress, do you have any good ways of managing it? Let me know in the comments below, I’d love to hear all about it.