The first time I remember not being anxious was after a 12 step meeting. My shoulders were relaxed. This had never happened before, I was certain. It was after an adult children of alcoholics meeting.
I found 12 step meetings really helpful in my early recovery, because I could be real there about what was really going on, and because of the structure (no crosstalk) no-one could try and rescue me. I attended almost one meeting per day. At the time it was the only place I could be real about the intense memories and feelings I was experiencing.
I shared my first flashbacks and some very intense things in meetings in those days, so much so that afterward, people would come up to me with the ‘are you all rrriiiight…” and a pitying tone to their voice like they were pretty sure I was a complete basket case. I always took no more than my share of the time, normally about 10 minutes per person, and could get a lot done in that time. I’d always say (and feel) “yes, of course, I just got it out and had a cry, of course I’m all right.” And I was. I refused to let them pity me. I was just having a feeling, and I’d expressed it fully, and could move on to being calm.
This is the first thing I learned about anxiety and other strong feeling states, that being direct and honest about it in a safe space makes all the difference.
Ramping down the hyperarrousal
The second thing for me was the strong link for me and perhaps other survivors between anger and anxiety/fear, which is so big a part of being a survivor of childhood sexual assault that I wrote quite a bit about it in my post on night fears, so I’ll just refer you there.
PTSD is an anxiety disorder. I don’t think of it as a mental illness, but as a nervous system injury. Anyone who went through what I went through, with the lack of support that I had, would have it. The trauma is the cause. My nervous system was set on fear, legitimately, so high and for so long, that it got stuck that way, among other things. Anything that ramps down the PTSD hyperarousal is a good thing.
Physical solutions help a lot more than you’d think.
Exercise: I can often manage my anxiety best by looking after it in completely physical ways. Walking for exercise, which gets the good endorphin benefits without getting me adrenalized the way more active exercise or classes do, helps a lot.
Food: Eating whatever I feel like and whenever I am hungry (and stopping when I’m full) seems to reduce any anxiety my mind and body has about there not being enough food available, and if I’m consistent about it, it helps keep me calm. Stress-eating can calm me down, but is more of a band-aid thing. Consistently meeting my body’s needs ramps down my anxiety.
Sleep: I play all kinds of tricks to help me sleep, but hypnosis has been the most effective. I particularly like a cd called ‘deep sleep with medical hypnosis‘ and listen to two of the tracks from it (healing sleep and deep sleep) back to back almost every night. Safe routines are good.
Medication: I know nothing about medication for anxiety. I’ve never taken any for my PTSD. However I have taken chamomile tea, skullcap, and melatonin to help me sleep. The thing I pull out if I’m desperate is one of the old school antihistamines (not the no-drowsy kinds) which works but makes me groggy in the morning. I also almost never consume caffeine, aside from the occasional chocolate.
However, vitamins help my anxiety. I take two multivitamins, six fish oil capsules, a vitamin D3 and a low dose coated aspirin daily. Since I’ve been doing that I feel a lot better. Apparently, there is some research to show that physical and emotional pain are connected. I take the aspirin because apparently when you are over 40 it is recommended to reduce inflammation, but I think it helps my mind ramp down too, by reducing my aches and pains. Pain is a sign that something is wrong, after all.
Safe touch: Curling up with my wife, skin to skin, reduces my anxiety. Petting my dog reduces my anxiety. Hugs that last more than 10 seconds apparently release positive chemicals in the body. Getting a foot rub reduces my anxiety.
Writing it down
Writing: Other than feeling the feelings when they come up, as fully as possible, I haven’t found a lot of mind/emotional things that work, other than journalling. I’ve journalled at night, and in the morning, artists way style where you write non stop for 3 pages, and both help clear out worries and obsessive thoughts. I’ve gotten up in the middle of the night when I’ve had a nightmare and written in this blog. It helps.