My Anxiety Story and What I Do To Manage Anxiety
Back in 2009 life was going well for me. I was Active Duty Air Force stationed in beautiful Okinawa Japan. My work life was good, home life was good, and I felt my spiritual life was pretty on point. Fast forward to September of that same year, I found out with a 5 days’ notice that I would be deploying for a 6-month tour thousands of miles away from home.
This began what felt like a whirlwind in my life, much of which I can’t remember because I believe I’ve blocked it out. What I do remember is the day I said goodbye to my husband, my 5-year-old son who would be starting kindergarten in a week, and my 3-year-old baby girl who had no clue what was going on. That was a hard few days.
I knew that when I joined the military that deployment was a likely possibility, so I’m not complaining about that at all. I just didn’t think it would happen so fast and would be during such a precious time in my children’s lives. In hindsight, I think leaving so fast was maybe the best thing for me. I didn’t have as much time to sulk about it.
Anyway, I did my time like I’d signed up to do, and I tried to do the best job I could while I was away. I eventually made it back home safely praise the Lord, but I wasn’t the same me. I remember the night at the airport when my family picked me up, my baby girl looked at me like she knew me but didn’t know me. My son did not want to let me go and I remember my husband commenting about how thin I looked when I returned. This deployment had taken a toll on my mental and physical health, to say the least.
Some weeks past and I tried very hard to adjust to being back to my regular life, but I don’t think I was doing a very good job it. This all became very clear one day in the middle of the Base Exchange. I was just shopping along with my family when suddenly I could not feel my feet, then my hands started to go numb and sweat. My mouth felt like I had literally stuffed it with cotton balls and I immediately went into a dream-like state, you know like when you receive some terrible or shocking news that you just can’t believe? I told my husband to ask the store to call the ambulance because I didn’t feel well. I had never experienced anything like this before and I was scared.
I was taken from the store on a stretcher, I think back on this and laugh and I’m like “how embarrassing” ha! But hey, better safe than sorry I guess. I went to the doctor and they determined I was as healthy as a horse but kept me overnight for observation. They let me know I had experienced my first panic attack. This is when I knew for sure I wasn’t mentally ok. I hadn’t dealt with the stress of the deployment process and I hadn’t transitioned well back into my normal life.
From this point I was anxious, all the time anxious. I felt like I was walking around with a dark cloud of anxiety and fear over my head. I didn’t really want to leave home except to work. I was afraid to go to the store in fear that the same thing would happen. I didn’t even really want to workout because exercise can cause the same feeling like anxiety and panic in the body.
These feeling of severe anxiety and fear lasted for several months and by this time I had already decided I was going to be separating from the military. My husband thankfully landed a job back stateside and would be leaving before the kids and I would. This is when I knew I needed to get myself together, if not for anything else but to be able to take care of my kids.
I started reading everything I could about anxiety, panic, and depression. I also began seeing a behavioral therapist, I knew that I wanted to take the holistic approach to overcome this anxiety without medication, the therapist really helped with that.
A lot of the information I read leads me to the fact that anxiety and panic can be relieved by lifestyle changes which lead me back to exercise and healthy living. I began to implement a regular running routine, I ran at least 3 miles a day every day. This was a time for me to clear my head and burn off some pinned-up energy.
Honestly maintaining my running routine was not easy, as I mentioned earlier exercise brings on similar feelings of anxiety and panic. Sweating, elevated heart rate, shortness of breath, these are all things I felt during a panic attack and while running and serval times I wanted to quit and a few times mid-run I did.
The behavioral therapist I was seeing taught me that every time I leave a safe situation out of fear, it only reinforces the fact that I am in danger when I am not. So even though I would feel these feelings while running I kept going and reminded myself that I was safe, and running is good for me and it is beneficial to me and not harmful.
After practicing this strategy for a while, the fear and anxiety started to lessen while running. I also used this strategy during other stressful situations and it really has helped. Changing my diet and cutting back on caffeine, unhealthy foods and sugar also helped me a ton. Even until this day when I feel my anxiety creeping up, it reminds me that I need to cut back on the caffeine and get my diet in check.
My spiritual life took a beating during my deployment. I want to be honest here, so I’ll admit I was angry with God. I didn’t understand why he would separate a mother from her family. But now I know and believe that God has a purpose for my life and it is never to harm me but to prosper me and make me stronger. I began to build my relationship with God and had a desire to know him and serve him that was stronger than ever.
I began to read my bible and remind myself of all of God’s promises. I fasted (refraining from eating for a period to seek God) and I prayed. I did this for a week and I believe that doing this was the thing that really gave me the breakthrough I needed to cope with and manage anxiety. God can truly deliver us from anything.
I am so grateful for all the things I have learned through this experience. Do I ever get anxious now? Yes! But now I know how to manage it and I know it does not have to control my life. Part of the reason I started this blog was to share things that have helped me and get open and honest about anxiety and let people know they are not alone.
Disclaimer: If you are experiencing extreme Anxiety that is affecting your daily life, be sure to contact your doctor or mental health professional for help. These are only tools that I use and not a substitute for a doctor's advice or treatment.