Let’s talk about anxiety. It’s irrational. It’s toxic. It can take hold of your thoughts. It can make you feel helpless.
It’s not always what you expect. When we think of anxiety, it’s often imagined as a dramatic physical and visible reaction to something; think of hyperventilating into paper bags, sweating palms, break downs with flowing tears and general panic.
It can be much more internal than that. My chest tightens, my heart almost palpitates, my breathing feels laboured and my scalp tingles. I can almost feel stress coursing through my veins and it feels like poison.
What’s wrong with me? Why isn’t my body working? Why am I reacting this way? Why am I so sensitive? Why aren’t I stronger?
Of all the issues with my health, anxiety was the last thing I expected to have such damaging consequences on my hair.
Treating my own Anxiety
I want to reiterate that I am most definitely not an expert in this field. I don’t have professional training and I don’t proclaim to know the answer to banishing anxiety forever. In fact, for me, it’s just another aspect of my well being that I accept I will be managing for the rest of my life, just like my hair loss.
Of course this is counter productive because stress worsens hair loss. It worsens your body’s ability to heal itself. It creates new issues that need to be resolved.
It’s because of this, I don’t ever really think that I will ever completely eliminate anxiety because who knows what else my body will decide to throw at me? No one knows how life will unfold. However, I have developed some techniques and treatments I believe helped ease my own anxiety and now I can use them whenever I experience it again.
What I Have Learned About Anxiety
The biggest thing I’ve learned about my own anxiety is that it is a learned behaviour. Now, I don’t mean that we purposely learn anxiety, in the same way we train ourselves to learn habits.
What I mean, and especially in my case, is that I experienced a trigger and then reacted to that trigger, which worsened over time into anxiety. My triggers are anything that I know in turn will cause me to lose hair. An example would be; smelling a synthetic fragrance, which would then lead to a sensitive reaction and hair loss. Immediately I would feel a very familiar tightening of my chest, my heart beating faster and my breathing becoming shallow. A split second reaction. One that felt immediate and uncontrollable.
Once I realised that my anxiety was a learned behaviour, stemming from other factors, I could make a conscious effort to treat myself.
I’d like to quickly point out that there are varying degrees of anxiety, low levels of which can be felt by everyone, anytime for any reason. As I’m not a professional I can’t ascertain exactly what level I’ve experienced, but it was bad enough to negatively affect my life, have repercusions that were visible to my physical health and on a unspoken level, my mental well-being. If you believe that your anxiety is affecting you in a way that impacts your life, then seek out help, whether it be from friends, family or a professional.
While I’ve worked through my anxiety alone, I did use information and cues taken from others. There is absolutely no shame in seeking professional help for any condition, whether it be mental or physical. I just can’t speak to my own experiences because I never sought professional help for anxiety specifically.
What I do recommend, is that whoever you seek out, you are comfortable with them. If you don’t feel comfortable with them you will never trust them to heal you. You will never be able to open up to them honestly about your symptoms.
I also recommend finding someone committed to treating you. They’re not treating anxiety. They’re treating you and your anxiety. Your experience with anxiety is going to be different to someone else’s.
Identifying the Trigger
As I said before, I have triggers that always have the same end result; I lose my hair. The fact is though you can’t change these things if you can’t identify them and why they are triggering you. No amount of help from professionals can help you with this unless you are completely honest with yourself. It doesn’t matter if you think it shouldn’t be affecting you mentally. It doesn’t matter if you think you should be more resilient. The first step is admitting the trigger is affecting you. It also doesn’t matter if it is. Everyone is different. Everyone has different tolerance levels and it doesn’t make you weak.
Removing the Trigger
If you can pinpoint your trigger, then determine whether you can remove it from your life, or remove yourself from being around that trigger. Of course this isn’t always so simple. Your trigger could be work, a situation or even a person in your life. I’m not saying completely eliminate the trigger at all costs. I’m not saying you have to become a hermit (though some days I felt like that was my only relief) but you can always minimize your exposure. For me this meant changing my habits at work and at home. I’d purposely go to a park for lunch to be out of the office, listen to music through earphones to avoid listening to what seemed to be endless chitchat, worked from home whenever possible, started later or left earlier if possible. At home I kept to myself, increased my exercise regime and eliminated all fragrances and toxins so I only had to deal with the ones at work. I even started Gone Swatching xo and Beneath the Hair as an outlet.
Working on your entire body when you’re fighting to be mentally healthy seems like a huge task but if you’re physically healthy, it will aid your mental health too. At the peak of my anxiety, I was also struggling with my physical health and that contributed more to it. At my healthiest, my diet is full of fresh fruit and vegetables, my chemical load is low and my liver and kidneys are functioning well. I have my ways of keeping myself healthy but you have to find your own way. If that means addressing your diet, sleep patterns and exercise regime then that’s what it takes.
Speaking of exercise, everyone will recommend exercising as way of easing your anxiety and I will always agree. What I will say though is that you need to find a form of exercise that suits you. I’d never play a team sport, or even go for a run. I love yoga and pilates, but I prefer doing it alone rather than going to classes. It doesn’t matter what form or exercise it is, as long as it raises your heart rate and therefore has the run on benefits on your cortisol and serotonin then it will help your anxiety.
While diet and exercise are the best changes you can make, we all know that it isn’t always possible. This is where supplements come in. If you go on the internet, you’ll find copious articles recommending supplements and yes I use supplements too. I don’t believe that popping a supplement will be the answer though. It says so in the name. It’s a supplement. Use it to boost what efforts you’re making to ease your anxiety and that way you’ll never be reliant on them. You should always consult a professional you trust because medications and supplements will affect everyone differently. If taking supplements isn’t your ideal treatment, you don’t always need to take them in tablet form. Consider taking herbs in the form of tea. This can dilute the strength and it can also become a self-care ritual that can help ease your stress.
If you look at social media, the term ‘self-care’ comes across as well .. a little over indulgent and pretentious. Self-care isn’t instagram picture perfect, or Facebook status worthy.
There are small every day routines I chose to improve my well-being. Spending a little extra time applying makeup and skincare make me feel good. Why? Well I feel better when I think my skin looks healthy. Other things include playing with my cat, blogging, listening to music, photography, writing, yoga, watching movies, singing, crystals and sometimes silence is all I want. I love silence. I also love alone time. The list is endless.
I had to consider what daily choices were hurting my recovery. I had to actively stop eating foods I loved because of the extreme reaction to them. I stopped using fragrances, even essential oils in some of my favourite skincare.
It means I protect myself from situations that cause me anxiety. I often avoid situations like the ground level of a department store which is going to reek of perfume, or sitting outside at a cafe with smokers.
To begin with, I even completely avoided explaining to anyone that I lose hair. Not everyone understands what living with sensitivities means and I didn’t want anyone to know I was different.
Self-care also means being kind to yourself. At first, I had to find ways to avoid thinking anxious thoughts but eventually I changed my way of thinking. Not to mention, the stronger you become mentally, those periods of anxiety become smaller and smaller, until they’re barely moments in your day.
You don’t have to be a positive, happy little rainbow every waking hour, but you do have to believe and again make choices that are good for you and will give your body the best chance to heal. You have to give yourself time to recover. Nothing happens overnight.
Another way I like to care for myself is to take the time to do things that matter to me.
Just think … out of your day, how much time is dedicated to someone else? Whether that be making someone else richer, caring for loved ones or volunteering time and effort for nothing in return. These are all worthy causes that deserve your time but if your whole day is taken up by someone else’s needs, ask yourself why you aren’t worthy of your own time? How much time will you dedicate to yourself?
Obviously everyone has their own lives, their own desires and their own drive. I’m not saying don’t work, or forget your responsibilities. I do encourage you to honestly talk to yourself about what does make you happy. Just find what you enjoy and never feel guilty about taking the time for yourself.
I have to say there is nothing more satisfying than working on something that you love and seeing progress. Seeing that you’ve achieved something, or that you’ve created something that started as nothing more than a thought in your mind. When you’re focused on creating something that makes you truly happy you can spend hours at a time being lost in your own little world.
I personally love photography, dancing, singing and writing. All these things I can develop and I’ll likely never be the best but if I enjoy it, then it’s never a waste of time. I can’t tell you the countless times I’ve lost myself in my own imagination, creating stories.
Creation can take on many, many forms and everyone finds satisfaction in something different.
Meditation/Mantras/Manifestation and finally Belief
Call this what you want, but I do strongly believe in the benefits of mediation.
If you feel silly or don’t even know where to start with meditating, then go to classes. Research it. Use props you’re comfortable with. I started meditating with a candle. I’d focus on the flame rather than trying to force myself not to think. I also use breathing techniques and I’ve recently discovered a true love for crystals.
If you really don’t like meditating try an activity, that forces you to concentrate on something outside of your own thoughts. I prefer writing, sketching or photography.
In the times that I really needed to quiet my mind and I didn’t have time to myself, I would close my eyes and mediate on the train ride into work. Even 15-20 minutes (though the train ride was a lot longer than this!) of quieting my mind and therefore the doubt, the worry and the stress was enough to help a little.
I also do really believe in the power of manifesting belief. Find a mantra that works for you and repeat it so it becomes ingrained in your beliefs. The one that resonates with me is:
Changing Your Notion of Anxiety
Now the reason I’ve chosen this mantra is because of an article I read. I want to apologise because I can’t find where I read this article but it definitely helped me and I hope to explain effectively.
If you think back to an anxiety attack, how do you think of it? It feels irrational and detrimental right? In that moment, you’re fighting your bodies reaction, because you don’t want to show the stress; it’s socially unacceptable, it’s not the appropriate time, you don’t want to appear weak or you simply don’t want to feel that way.
Ask yourself why your body is reacting that way to begin with. On a physical level it’s because your brain has been exposed to something, a situation or trigger that it deems as a threat to you. It has released the hormone cortisol in an effort to prepare the rest of your body to either fight or flight.
Instead of believing your reaction to stress is irrational and detrimental to yourself, try to think of it as your body as trying to warn you that you shouldn’t be in that situation. In fact it is. It is a well researched survival instinct that is meant to keep us alive in dire situations. The problem is now our environments have changed and we no longer have an outlet for the unused cortisol.
Your body is not your enemy. It’s not fighting you.
It doesn’t want you to be in that moment. What it is trying to do for you, isn’t negative. It isn’t detrimental. On the very basis that it is a survival instinct, then isn’t it protecting you? This was the biggest turning point of my own anxiety. Every time I felt anxiety come on, I reminded myself that it was my body trying to protect me from a situation it did not want me to endure.
This was easier for me to believe and train myself to believe because my body had already demonstrated this with it’s extreme sensitivity to chemicals and certain foods. It doesn’t seem any different to me that my brain would act in the same way, by instead sending messages to the rest of my body that indicated I was in a toxic situation.
I tell myself this anytime I feel anxiety. Anytime my scalp starts to tingle because something has triggered a sensitive reaction. Anytime I’m angry or frustrated at my body for being so sensitive. Anytime I doubt that I’ll ever stop losing hair. Anytime I’m feeling weak and tired. Anytime I fear that I’ll never feel healthy again.
This is where the belief comes in. Every day is a new day and there are some days where I can’t manage my anxiety and I fall into a crying heap. It sets me back, yes but it doesn’t undo all my hard work. Every day I feel a little stronger, a little wiser. I’ve learnt something. Eventually the anxiety attacks become smaller. They have less impact. Finally, I can stop an anxiety attack. Then one day I haven’t felt anxious at all. Then another and another.
That doesn’t mean I’ll never have another anxiety attack, but as I just proved to myself, I have the power to not let them overpower me.
Never disregard your bodies ability to heal itself. Give your body the best you can and it will return in kind.