Full disclosure: I stole the title of this post from a meme I saw on Instagram and it described me so well that I knew I had to write a post about it. If you know the original author, please let me know so I can give him/her credit.
I think anyone who experiences chronic anxiety can relate to the feeling of wanting to be a carefree soul drifting through life without a worry in the world. Maybe even to the point where you’re having panic attacks about your inability to be free and your relentless sense of worry. I know I do.
I’ve always wanted to be a hippie of sorts – swaying my arms around to the sound of Fleetwood Mac coming out of my record player, walking around with a smile on my face and the infectious charm of being comfortable in my own skin. I always wanted to be the type of person who lived to travel the world and always sought out new experiences without being paralyzed by my fear-ridden mind. Sadly, all of that wanting only made me worry more. It made me feel inadequate. I was caught in a paradox of trying to be a free-spirit and by trying to be a free-spirit I was getting further and further away from it.
One day I realized that maybe the key to being free from worry and managing my anxiety was altering my response to triggers. Maybe being a free-spirit meant embracing my fears, worries, and panic attacks without guilt. Maybe it meant letting them manifest instead of trying to bury them. Maybe it meant letting them guide me, inspire me, and push me instead of inhibiting me.
Over the years, I’ve come up with go-to ways to manage my responses to feelings of anxiety. Take special note to the fact that I’m not saying I’ve overcome anxiety. I’m saying that I’ve found ways “to manage my responses to feelings of anxiety.” I don’t think my anxiety will ever fully go away. It’s hard-wired into who I am and the way I process the world, but I’ve stopped being afraid of that. I no longer push myself further into a panic by entertaining these thoughts and feelings. I no longer get worried and paranoid that I’m crazy. I no longer let it rule my life. I no longer view anxiety as a negative experience – I embrace it.
Every person is different. We all have different experiences and different triggers, so naturally, we all have different ways of coping. My methods won’t work for everyone, but I wanted to share some of the main things that I’ve done to help change my experience and relationship with anxiety. Read on for my advice on how to be a free-spirit even though you had a panic attack 3 minutes ago.
Find The Medication That’s Right For You
For the longest time, I was against using medication to manage my anxiety. I started taking medication for depression and anxiety in high school and I absolutely hated it. After being on it for 2 months, I felt like a robot – like I hadn’t been presently living my life. So instead of telling my doctor about the experiences I was having, I decided to go off of it and told him that I did not want to rely on medication to manage my “feelings.” However, knowing what I know now, I wish I would have told him about my experiences on that specific medication and I wish he would have tried harder to understand why I went off of it.
It wasn’t until the end of college when I started to experience intense anxiety and episodes of depersonalization that I finally decided I wanted to seek medical aid again. I went to my new doctor and explained my history and why I was distrustful of medication. His response was that he understood my reasoning and would respect my decision to go through this without medication, but just like he would never recommend an epileptic patient to go without medication or a kidney failure patient to go without dialysis, he would never recommend that a patient with chronic anxiety and depression go without treatment. He said that medication is not meant to save you. When you find the right medication, it is like someone throwing you a life vest when you’re drowning in an ocean. You still have to work tirelessly, but it’s there to aid in your journey back to shore.
I worked with my doctor and finally found a fit for me and it truly changed my life. I was drowning before – having panic attacks and feeling disconnected from reality. I went so long dealing with chronic anxiety that it became my normal and my mental health was deteriorating as a result. My anxiety didn’t fully go away, but my medication became a flicker of light in a very dark place. It made my journey manageable. It allowed me to process my experiences and feelings without completely shutting down. I remember what life was like before I found the right medication and I know what life is like now and I would never go back to before.
I’m not saying that you should go on medication if it’s not right for you or it’s not something you want. Like I said earlier everyone is different, but if your considering it or had experiences like mine where you felt worse on it, try talking to your doctor about those experiences. Maybe there’s another course of action you can work on together.
Decide That Your Thoughts Don’t Mean as Much as You Think They Do
This has been huge for me. There’s a podcast I listened to on NPR a couple of years ago – Invisibilia. They put out an episode called Dark Thoughts that really put things into perspective for me. The host, Alix Spiegel, outlined three different ways of understanding and processing our thoughts.
- The traditional understanding of thoughts – the Freudian way. Where it’s believed that all our thoughts are connected to some subconscious reality and instead of ignoring them we should heavily analyze them to uncover some hidden meaning.
- Cognitive Behavioral Therapy which does not believe that the thoughts in our head are necessarily indicative of anything deep about us. It suggests that our thoughts, specifically, the automatic negative ones, aren’t based in reality and therefore shouldn’t matter.
- A new wave of therapy that argues that we take our thoughts too seriously and that our dark thoughts often have absolutely “nothing to do with us” and no meaning at all. So instead of deeply analyzing them or trying to find ways to convince ourselves that they’re not based in reality, we should simply ignore them.
The third has been hugely influential on how I manage my responses to anxiety by showing me that I have control of where I place my focus.
You see when the average person experiences what I would consider an anxiety-inducing thought, they think “huh, weird” and then move on with their day. Those of us with anxiety walk around every day with those paralyzing thoughts right in front of our face. We fixate on them and then we slowly shape our reality and existence around those thoughts. This way of thinking tells me that I can choose to view those paralyzing thoughts as just that and nothing more. I can let those thoughts flutter in and say “well that’s a scary thought isn’t it” and then move onto the next thought of “what color should I paint my nails?”.
This way of thinking didn’t come naturally at first and it didn’t/doesn’t always work. Sometimes my anxiety’s like “oh nah, you thought you could just push me away… think again bitch.” But after years of reminding myself that my thoughts don’t really mean as much as I think they do, that they are just thoughts, just synapses firing in my brain, and that I don’t have to pay attention to them if I don’t want to, I slowly started seeing them naturally float away on their own. I would be cooking dinner and then all of a sudden my brain would go:
- “You’re never going to be happy.”
- “You’re not safe. The world isn’t safe. There are murderers and rapists everywhere. You should never leave your home.”
- “No one will ever love you and you’re going to die alone.”
- “You haven’t checked in on your family in a while. You’re a terrible sister/daughter. What if they die unexpectedly and you haven’t talked to them in months?”
- “Your time is running out. YOUR TIME IS RUNNING OUT.”
But I would remind myself that they are just thoughts – weird places my mind likes to go to and I would tell myself “hey, it’s okay! It’s just a thought. Keep cooking and it will go away.” And it did.
If you’re struggling with anxiety and troubling thoughts, this is one of those tricks that it can’t hurt to try. If you find it’s not working, then open up and talk to a doctor or friend or stranger about it. Just because this doesn’t work for you doesn’t mean nothing ever will.
If you want to listen to the full episode of Invisibilia, you can find it here.
Rub Some Oil On It
Alright, there is a lot of controversy surrounding Essential Oils. I use to be quite the non-believer and even planned on writing a piece titled “Your Essential Oils Smell Like Ass!” when I first launched this blog. Unfortunately, I made the decision to be a strong non-believer before even trying them – shame on me!
I have since tried them and can honestly say that I think they do have some mystical magical powers. DM me for more details on how doTerra’s Deep Blue saved my feet after a three-day music festival. Jk, don’t DM me but hear me out.
I was initially intrigued by them when I learned that they can have effects on your mood. So, I purchased oils that were said to provide calming effects, evoke productivity and focus, and uplift and energize. Well two months and 12 oils later, I think it’s safe I’m a fully converted believer. There are studies that showcase the science behind them, some of which I have linked above, but I’m sure there are still many ways to argue that essential oils are nothing more than overpriced placebos. That’s a somewhat valid argument, the research is mixed, but my stance is this – I don’t really care.
Here’s my reasoning:
- When I’m feeling unmotivated and unproductive and I reach for my InTune blend to diffuse in the hopes that it helps focus me, that’s one step I already took towards achieving my goal.
- When I’m feeling tired in the morning and I sniff my Peppermint and Wild Orange oil to help wake me, that’s one step I took to get out of bed and get moving for the day.
- When I’m feeling extremely anxious and I run and grab my Zen blend (Serenity + Balance), that’s an active decision I made to manage my response to anxiety. Instead of letting my anxiety manifest, I took a moment to meditate – to sit silently as I roll the oil on my temples and sniff the aroma.
Essential oils have worked for me in managing my initial response to feelings of anxiety. Research and health benefits aside, they have helped me create a safe place for myself to relax, breathe, and calm my heart rate. They have given me that extra push I need to get out of bed, get moving, and be productive. So, if you’re at all intrigued by the idea of them, give them a try. You never know if they will work for you. Plus, they can help with so many things beyond anxiety as well. Don’t get me started on doTerra’s DigestZen – literally a miracle in a bottle but I digress.
I want to reiterate that these are a few things that worked for me and they may not work for everyone. However, if you’re anything like me and trying to find a balance between being an anxiety consumed paranoid and an aspiring free-spirit, consider practicing these steps to help manage your response to anxiety. Also, remember that “free-spirits” are known for proudly dancing to the beat of their own drum. So if playing your drum means reading or writing blogs about being a free-spirit, overthinking just a bit too much, nervously laughing, rubbing essential oils all over your body and screaming fix me, or none of the above, just remember to play your beat loud and dance as hard as you can. The key to being a free-spirit is owning your flaws without guilt and wearing them proud.
Disclaimer: I am not a licensed medical professional. My advice comes from personal research and experience. If you are looking to make any major changes or need medical advice, please consult your doctor.