A few weeks ago I talked about the 5 areas where I can’t afford to be low maintenance: the routine things I need to do to stay balanced, as inspired by Dan Harris’s book 10% Happier.
In the book, Harris, an ABC news anchor, shares his personal journey, which began when he had a panic attack on the job, on live television. While anxiety isn’t (or perhaps I should say, is no longer) at the heart of my struggle, it still comes up occasionally, and (being deliberately vague here) it’s an ongoing issue for a few people I’m close to.
I recently listened to a fantastic episode of Megan’s Sorta Awesome podcast (episode 26), where Megan and Laura Tremaine discuss their personal struggles with anxiety in detail.
It’s an excellent episode. I caught myself nodding along to their stories—which was funny, because not long ago I would have dismissed several of those same ideas and interventions as ridiculous. Or at least woo-woo.
But in the past year I’ve tried—or had a front row seat to someone else trying—a handful of proactive things that definitely sounded “out there” to me, but have yielded dramatic improvements.
EMDR. This sounded bonkers to me when a therapist first suggested it. I mentioned this offhand to a friend who used to be a social worker, and she reminded me that I’d actually heard of EMDR before: Addie Zierman talks about her experience in her excellent spiritual memoir When We Were on Fire. That gave me confidence to try it.
I started EMDR last summer to unpack my own 9/11 stuff, and just wrapped it up a few weeks ago. It is definitely weird, but it also makes a strange kind of sense, and is strongly reminiscent of the reconstructive therapy my kid’s old occupational therapist does with stroke victims and others rehabilitating from brain impairments.
2. Tapping. When I first heard about tapping (on a podcast) I thought it sounded absurd. But a year later, a therapist mentioned it can be a helpful tool for leveling out anxiety. She gave me a worksheet that walked me through the steps and showed me the key pressure points.
I was highly skeptical, but when a time arose to help someone I’m close to deal with a major anxiety blow-up, we sat down and did it, and it worked. It’s been in my toolbox ever since.
My therapist also gave me tips—for my own use—on how to subtly use the technique in a public place, like an airplane.
This link to PEAT tapping goes a little further (and sounds even more out there) than my therapist recommended, but the core info is the same.
3. Meditation. I used to think this was a little too kumbaya for me, but trying it changed my mind. To quote Dan Harris: “Wrestling your mind to the ground, repeatedly hauling your attention back to the breath in the face of the inner onslaught required genuine grit. This was a badass endeavor.”
4. Supplements/essential oils. Apparently we’re all deficient in one or another key substance essential to our well-being, and I’ve pinpointed mine: I feel much better when I take a daily magnesium supplement. This isn’t new: when I was pregnant (and extremely, unhealthily jittery about my health and the baby’s), taking a daily dose transformed my spiraling anxiety into something I could live with.
I only began experimenting with essential oils last winter, but I’ve liked what I’ve seen so far. No miracle cures or anything, but if a kid is having a hard time falling asleep, a little lavender on their feet (or mine) helps tip them into dreamland, and that makes me think it’s worth exploring this path a little more. (If you have good links, hit me with them in comments.)
I’d love to hear your go-to strategies for managing anxiety or nerves, especially if you were skeptical at first.