(If you know someone who is struggling with their mental health, please send this to them. It could be the difference-maker in their lives.)
Sixteen years ago, a therapist strongly encouraged me to see a psychiatrist. I couldn’t sleep, and I was persistently anxious.
Wanting to be “strong enough to not need medication,” I resisted at first. As sleepless nights further ratcheted up anxiety in my body, desperation pushed me to go to the psychiatrist she recommended.
The medication helped… I could sleep again. And, though I wasn’t trying to, I lost twenty pounds. That’s when I realized how much anxiety had been affecting every area of my life. With the medication, I slept better, felt better, and enjoyed my life more for the next six years.
When The Medication Stops Working
Then, after a series of stressful events, the medication stopped working.
Two years later, anxiety swallowed me whole, leaving me with suicidal thoughts every day. Life felt hard, and I didn’t know why I couldn’t just feel better. After trying several combinations of medications, I found myself sitting across from a doctor who asked me, “Has it occurred to you that you come from a family that suffers from mental illness?”
Unable to process the words mental illness, my body tensed, and I started looking for the exit. The idea of mental illness felt like a moral failing of some sort. Anxiety, sure, but not mental illness.
Words Are Powerful
I still don’t like the word illness. It feels disempowering, like I’m somehow defective. Words are powerful, and so I took the words a part and found—
Ill-at-ease… in my mental state.
I was definitely not at ease, mentally, physically, or spiritually. I needed help, and so I kept searching.
A few years later, I found my way into a weeklong intensive for survivors and came face-to-face with my childhood. As difficult as it was, facing the truth of my upbringing gave me access to deep compassion for myself, which has extended outward.
When We Find Wellness Inside, The Outside Takes Care Of Itself
Now, when I’m experiencing moments of high anxiety, even panic, I do my best to—
- Pause and notice where I’m feeling the sensation in my body.
- Pay attention to what is actually happening… in the moment.
- Appreciate myself for the alert, which always has some merit.
- Remind myself that I’ve got myself, that I’m safe.
- Zoom out, and remember that the trees, ocean, mountains, and even my lungs all work beautifully without my having to make it happen. There is a higher power at work.
This process, which is fueled by a few key practices (see below), has led me to waking up most days eager for the adventures ahead, knowing that everything is happening for me, not to me.
In all honesty, I don’t always like what’s happening. I didn’t like witnessing my father-in-law lose his battle to cancer. No one wanted that, and sometimes it feels like more than we can handle, which is why we need these top ten strategies for combating anxiety—
- Exercise. I found exercise through sports when I was fourteen. It has been my saving grace ever since. The endorphins, along with the good feeling of taking care of myself, reduces stress and increases positive self-talk.
- Therapy. Finding the right therapist takes time, patience, and courage. And, it’s worth the effort. I interviewed six or seven therapists in the eight months before I found a magnificent one.
- Journal. It’s difficult to formulate a relationship with yourself if you never spend any time getting to know yourself. Journaling helps me hear myself. Julie Cameron has an excellent book to help you with the writing process, she calls it morning pages.
- Guided meditation. Since the start of COVID, I spend at least fifteen minutes under a blanket, listening to a guided meditation, every afternoon. The process helps calm my nervous system.
- Time in nature. Just over a year ago, I started going for an early morning stroll. Along the way, I touch trees, and say hello to my neighbors. The impact on my mental health over time has been huge.
- Zoom out. Every night, I sit on my meditation pillow, light a candle, and review my day, acknowledging when I stood (and failed to stand) in my values, thank God for the miracles, and ask for help where I need it. When I’m done, I blow out the candle.
- Connection. Multiple long-term studies have proven that meaningful connections are the difference-maker in health and happiness. In 2021, we started looking for a home in Lewes, DE, a place we’ve always connected with ease. In April of 2022, we bought a home there.
- Social media. Unchecked, our brains compare our successes to our perceptions of what others are doing. When no one comments on our posts, it’s too easy to believe the negative story our brains tell us. It’s exhausting, which is why I now limit myself to thirty minutes a day, improving my energy and creativity measurably.
- Airplane mode. Whether it’s email, text messages, social media, or a call, the phone is generally a stimulating device. For that reason, I have found that putting my phone on airplane mode at 8pm helps my mind and body be more at ease in the evenings.
- Peace & Plenty. The world tells us to hurry up, not to miss out, and to make it all happen… now. It’s taxing on our nervous system and limits our ability to see our own peaceful path. Before saying “yes”, consider asking, “Can I do it peacefully?” If not, work at saying, “no,” or “not now.” It’s not easy, and I don’t always get it right.
We can all use a little support with our mental wellness these days. If you know someone who is struggling, please forward this to them. It could be the difference-maker in their lives–and yours!
Go ahead… test any one of the strategies for thirty days, and then tell me how it went.
Here’s to your greatness,
Misti Burmeister has been facilitating communication that results in trust and connection for nearly 20 years, increasing engagement and productivity across generations. Make sure your communication is coming across the way you intend, visit https://www.MistiBurmeister.com