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WHEW.

Guys! I took off the month of August. It was a brutal month, wasn’t it? And while I’m new to the world of blogging, I felt like I needed to step back and take care of my brain. That probably doesn’t sound like it bodes well for this blog as a whole, but while I wasn’t writing (or thinking of anything to write), I was dealing a lot with anxiety, panic attacks, and intrusive thoughts.

I’ve written about it before and I openly share the details of my mental health journey on Instagram, but for those of you who maybe don’t follow me or don’t happen to catch when I story or post about them, then you may not know that I have anxiety, depression, and I have a past with an eating disorder.

All of these things were bits of myself I tried to hide for a long time. I flatly ignored my triggers, tried to “power through” depressive and anxious episodes, and I kept quiet in an effort to save space for those who “needed it”. I let myself become a safe place for others, which felt great, but I let my own safe place get smaller and fall by the wayside in the process. I cannot effectively help people the way I would like to without taking care of myself first.

If this sounds familiar to you, perhaps it’s time that you also take a step back and think about how much you’re doing for others vs how much you’re doing for yourself.

Some questions I would recommend asking yourself are things like have you taken care of your own mental health in a way that benefits you? Are you taking enough time to properly care for yourself? When was the last time you sat down and checked in with your mental health and wellbeing? How well do you listen to others, and is it better or worse than how well you listen to your own self?

I struggled with all of this. I wanted others to be happy because it made me *feel* happy, but it didn’t make me *become* happy. I was running on empty and trying to keep going without bothering to look for a gas station.

This summer has really been pivotal for me.

I have slowly but surely begun to create healthy boundaries that benefit both myself and those around me.

I vocalized my needs as well as my wants.

I started going to a therapist.

I stopped shaming myself for my relationship to food and I started finding ways to exercise that didn’t send me into a spiral of gaining defined muscle and losing weight.

I learned to screen out the conversations that I could have with others that didn’t make me feel emotionally hungover.

Let me first say that this isn’t how to cure anxiety. I think curing anxiety is unrealistic. It’s more like these are the things I am doing while learning how to manage my anxiety — after all, we actually do need anxiety to survive. It’s the thing that alerts us to real and present danger.

Let me also say that this isn’t a comprehensive list and there are countless ways to deal with anxiety. This is just simply the things that I do that I find to be particularly beneficial.

Okay. Allow me to dive in.

THERAPY. THERAPY. THERAPY.

Say it again: THERAPY!!

I want to acknowledge that this feels ableist of me to include here — I know that some people simply cannot afford to just go to therapy. I know some people live in remote areas without access to a therapist or a counselor. I also know that some people are just plain not ready to be in therapy.

For me, therapy has introduced new concepts and ways of thinking to my life that I would have never become familiar with on my own. The most important example being the concept of intuitive eating. I will write a dedicated blog post about that later, but please click that link to learn more about it!

My therapist has helped me with marital problems, PTSD from sexual assault, eating disorders, body image, work life, and walking through my childhood. We talk about our hobbies, our passions, and our dogs. I’m not going to delve into the specifics much here, but therapists are really there for you to talk to about anything.

If you’re looking for a therapist, I would ask the following questions:

  • Do I want a therapist that is secular or religious?
  • Is gender a factor that I want to take into account when choosing a therapist?
  • Is EMDR something that I want to try?
  • Do I want to pay out of pocket? or Does this therapist offer a sliding scale if I cannot afford their hourly rate? This is common!
  • Do I want to see a psychiatrist, psychologist (here’s the difference), or a LMSW (licensed master social worker)?
  • Do I want to go to a physical office, or do I want to have a remote relationship with my therapist?

For my criteria, I desired a therapist who was female, specialized in PTSD, secular (non-religious), and “affordable” (mine is $100/hr). Again, I absolutely understand that this is not feasible for all people. That being said, many therapists offer sliding-scale payment based on income and there are so many therapists who will work with you on cost.

If location is an issue, look into online-only programs from places like Talkspace, BetterHelp, or Regain. Click here for more info on online therapy platforms.

CBD

Yes, it’s that great. Yes, it works.

BUT — please, please, please — do your research. The CBD market isn’t always very well-regulated and you may not get exactly what you’re bargaining for if you do not purchase your CBD through a trusted brand or grower/maker.

Oral tincture from Charlotte’s Web CBD

For oral use, I use Charlotte’s Web. This is not sponsored. I just really love their products and I’ve been using them for the last two and a half years. Even my dog Jet uses their CBD dog treats for his anxiety! I also use my friend Chasity (@raddatattchazz on Instagram) and her partner Derek’s CBD salve and lip balm. She also makes tinctures which are ingestible and will occasionally sell CBD cartridges for vape pens.

I don’t have a whole else lot to say about CBD other than when I first began taking CBD oil it was for sleep anxiety. We’d had an attempted break-in at our old house a few years ago, and it completely shattered my perspective of safety and comfort in my own home. I couldn’t fall asleep, and I spent many nights googling “will I ever sleep again after a break-in?”

CBD topical salve and lip balm that I get from my friend Chasity who grows it on her property in southwestern Colorado

Yes. Yes you will, past Abbey. You’ll be just fine.

A WEIGHTED BLANKET

Growing up, I would ask my mom before bed to tuck me into my comforter so tight that I couldn’t move. I wanted that snugness to carry me into sleep. As most children do, I craved safety and this made me feel safe. This is why, more or less, a weighted blanket has been absolutely, 100% life-changing goodness for me. It gives me that just-snuggled-into-bed-by-my-mom feeling, only I’m 27 and I can tuck myself in.

Weighted blanket in action — pupper-approved

For those of you unfamiliar with the concept of a weighted blanket, allow me to fill you in. It’s a lightweight, usually-cotton quilted fabric, encasing glass beads that add anywhere from 5-25 lbs. If you’re looking at getting one, you want to get a blanket that is 10% of your body weight. The feeling that you get from being covered by a weighted blanket is very similar to the feeling that babies get from being swaddled: safe, comfortable, and snuggled up.

This is the exact weighted blanket that both Jake and I have. We have our own twin-sized blankets because I got mine first before he decided he wanted one too. And, honestly, since we sleep in a king-sized bed, I’m glad that we have our own! Two twin-sized beds = one king sized bed and the added benefit of never fighting over the covers. It’s perfect.

This combined with the CBD oil… I have never slept better. Sleep anxiety, who!? Again, I wish I could go back in time and tell the Me of the Past that I sleep so well these days.

BOUNDARIES

This one is tricky because I thought I had good boundaries until I’d receive a text from someone or an invitation to somewhere or a phone call from someone that *I know* needs something from me because I always give them what they want regardless of if I want to or not. It would send me into a sick, spiraling panic. Instead of saying no, or not answering the text or phone call, I’d give more space to more people that didn’t deserve it and leaving little or no space for myself.

Initially, I thought the concept of setting boundaries would spike my anxiety. This kind of anxiety stemmed from my wrongful idea that people were thinking I was lame for staying in on a Friday night to go to bed early, or that they were thinking I was a bad friend for not helping them, or just for missing out. FOMO is so real.

Once I got more comfortable with setting boundaries, I was able to comfortably and healthily attend events, communicate my feelings with people who had taken advantage of me in the past, and reminded myself that I don’t always need to be in the action to be happy. I was no longer the Yes Man. Saying no once in a while helped me say yes and fully put myself into the things that matter.

Boundaries are not just for social settings, either. I went to a new doctor this year for my annual physical and for the first time, I asked her to not tell me my weight because I’m in eating disorder recovery and it’s actually harmful for me to know. She happily obliged, and I left the office feeling accomplished instead of anxious.

For you, boundaries will likely be different than mine. It may be asking out-of-town family members to stay in a nearby hotel when they come to visit. It could be telling your mom that she can’t tell you how your body should look. Maybe it’s breaking up with a significant other that doesn’t value your body and your consent.

MEDITATION

Mmmmmmmmhmmmm.

A lot like CBD, it’s just one of those tried-and-true methods that people use for anxiety. Meditation is cheap (*cough* free *cough*) and easy as pie.

Back in my days of sleep anxiety, I’d lie awake in bed for anywhere from 3-4 hours just staring at the ceiling. Sometimes I’d sit up in bed and stare at the closed bedroom door, get up, lock it, jiggle the handle, sit back in bed, and stare at it some more. Sometimes I’d walk to the front door, the back door, check the locks, check the security lights, check the doors again, and go back to bed where I’d repeat my bedroom door lock process again.

At this point, I wasn’t fully aware of assisted meditation apps like Insight Timer (which is free and what I use) or Headspace (there’s a free and paid version). I used this video by guided meditation group The Honest Guys for months. It’s so gentle, peaceful, and relaxing. To this day, I’ll send this video to people who have a hard time with insomnia and anxiety disorders when they ask what I recommend.

Meditation can be as short as a few minutes or as long as you want them to be. Guided meditations are a perfect jumping-off point for beginners, especially if you’re unsure of how or where to start.

I love Insight Timer as a meditation app because I can search hyper-specific meditations like “in the car” or “five minutes” or “panic attack emergency” (which I’ve used). I’m sure Headspace is the same, I just hate that I feel like I’m missing out if I don’t pay.

SOME FINAL THOUGHTS:

Let me say one last thing about mental health in general before I sign off on this. There’s so much to be said and so many stories to be told. The more we share our journeys and our stories about anxiety, depression, PTSD, and mental health and wellness, the more we normalize it. And just because you think you don’t suffer as much as someone you know doesn’t mean that your suffering is less important.

Far too often do people choose not to share their stories because they’re afraid that it’ll make them unemployable, unlovable, and incapable of carrying on a “normal” life. I understand that. I work with children, and I hid my anxiety and depression from my bosses for years. I didn’t want them to think that because I have a mental illness, I’d be incompetent. It’s just not true. But I understand the feeling.

You’re valued and loved. You’re capable. Your story matters more than you’re likely aware of, regardless of how much or little you’ve suffered. You aren’t weak, life is just plain hard.

-A

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Posted by:Abbey Chiavario

Abbey is a DIY enthusiast and artist based out of Nashville, TN.

2 replies on “My Five-Piece Anxiety Toolkit

  1. Thanks for your openness and honesty. Love you girl! Saw your mom-in-law at a birthday party yesterday. The qorld gets smaller! Love you!

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