I can still remember every detail of my first major anxiety attack. It was my junior year of high school, and I was dating a guy that I really, really liked. (As in, butterflies exploded in my stomach every time he smiled, liked). For the first time in awhile, I was feeling good about myself. It felt like I had finally found a partner who was actually a good match for me. So when he invited me to a New Years Eve party with him and his friends, I said yes right away.
And then the night of the party came around…and as we were getting ready to go, it happened. I couldn’t breathe. My whole body was shaking. My boyfriend and his friends seemed to be looking at and talking to me from miles away. In that moment, I really felt like I was going to die.
If you’ve ever had an anxiety attack, I know you’ve experienced the exact same terrifying feelings…and, the truth is, a lot of us are dealing with those sucky emotions on a regular basis.
And that’s only the cases that are diagnosed. Countless other people are battling isolated symptoms – ranging from insomnia to digestive issues to random feelings of panic or terror – without even knowing that anxiety is the root cause of their suffering.
Which is why I knew I had to speak up about my own past with anxiety…and my own journey to healing that had NOTHING to do with the most common treatment for anxiety: lots and lots of drugs…
The Beginning of My Journey Learning How to Control Anxiety
Of course, that doesn’t mean that I never tried many of the common prescriptions given to those dealing with anxiety. After that first major anxiety attack, my family took me to a psychologist who put me on anti-anxiety medication (on top of the anti-depressants I was already taking). So began my 10-year journey of testing every medication in the book.
Xanax. Ativan. Zoloft. Cymbalta. Paxil. Wellbutrin. My medicine cabinet would give Mary Poppins’ purse a run for its money.
Those pills brought down my anxiety for a short while…but, within a few weeks or months, it would climb back up again and be even worse.
In the beginning, social situations were the biggest trigger for my anxiety. And so before long, I dropped out of all school clubs. I spent the last couple years of high school hiding in a locked classroom during lunch hour. I skipped out on most social events, including prom and even my high school graduation. All just to avoid the anxiety and inevitable panic attacks that these social situations brought on.
And then my anxiety started spreading to other aspects of my life. Every time I needed to take a test, I thought I was going to puke. I even started getting obsessive about my eating, surviving on as little calories as possible. Within a few months, I went from a size 12 to a size double 0.
Social Anxiety and College Life
By the time I started college at the University of Virginia, I took all of that anxiety and paranoia with me. I chose to live in a dorm away from campus so I could avoid having classmates “dropping in” to say hi. I didn’t rush for any of the sororities, even though my school was alllll about Greek life. I even self-medicated with marijuana to get through. Every. Single. Test. (And let me tell ya’…college is full of tests).
Eventually, I found a medication that actually seemed to work…a little. When I took it, my social anxiety was there…but it was manageable. And that let me do something I’d been dreaming about for years: embrace my passion for social justice by working on a political campaign I was passionate about. I was so excited about the work, being put in charge of door-to-door canvassing only made me cringe juuuust a little. But, thanks to my new medication, I felt like I could do it. And I did! After I completed my first house visit, I was so excited, I literally wanted to scream and throw a fist-pump! For the first time in ages, I felt like my social anxiety wouldn’t hold me back.
The problem? A few months into taking that medicine, I noticed something. The longer I was on that medication, the less passionate I became…and not just about the campaign. Soon, I wasn’t passionate about, well, anything. It was like every time I swallowed a pill, it was taking away more than just my anxiety. It was stealing my energy and enthusiasm and vitality, too.
My Journey with Holistic, Alternative Treatments for Anxiety
Despite my anxiety, I made it through college…but I wasn’t happy. In fact, I was desperate for relief. Then, I stumbled upon the first step that would eventually lead me on a path of real healing: I signed up for a Masters in Social Work at Columbia University and learned about different forms of psychotherapy.
I studied Cognitive and Dialectical Behavioral Therapy, systematic approaches to changing dysfunctional emotions, behaviors, and thoughts. And the more I learned about how to logically process my fears, the more I realized I had some major issues of my own to process. I learned how to uncover the ways in which my thoughts were giving me anxiety and how to change my thinking to support a calmer, happier life.
And as I started developing a new sense of who I was, I started embracing new opportunities to grow…
…like moving to India to start a tech-based public health project. I loved what I was doing and felt valued and fulfilled. Yet, something was still missing. There was still always this “background hum” of anxiety in my mind. I was terrified of facing unknown situations or letting go of control. I wasn’t comfortable in my own skin. And any time I wasn’t being fully mindful and scanning my thoughts, I’d fall into my old, anxiety-causing thinking patterns.
Before long, this “buzzing” anxiety caught up with me…and it turned into a full-on roar.
This time, anxiety shut down my body too. Along with daily panics attacks, my hair started falling out and my hormones were totally out of whack.
But since I was in India, I wasn’t just handed a prescription for some new anti-anxiety drug and sent on my merry way. I had to put in the work to heal myself naturally. I talked to the elders that lived near me. I focused on reconnecting to nature and following the rhythms nature set. I learned to appreciate food and dove deeply into nutrition. I started studying meditation, reiki and yoga and learning about power of breathwork to rewire my body’s response to anxiety triggers.
My healing process was nothing short of miraculous. I cured my symptoms completely and threw away my medication. For good.
But that was just the beginning. Now that anxiety was out of the way, I could focus on building up other parts of my emotional health. Slowly, I learned how to truly love and accept myself, honor my values and handle difficult situations with ease. I reconnected with my inner child and rediscovered sources of abundant joyfulness and play. I also realized that we need to take a 360-degree approach to healing anxiety. No matter the cause, anxiety takes a toll and alters your mind, body and soul – and it affects your relationships, your confidence and your career. So we must address all of these factors to recover and heal completely.
What This Holistic Approach to Anxiety Could Look Like For You
“But Caitlin,” you’re probably thinking, “I can’t go to India and spend time getting to know my inner yogi. How can I apply that same holistic healing to my own busy life?”
Well, I’ve taken everything I learned from years of study and practice and turned it into a holistic system that you can follow from anywhere in the world.
What should you expect from a “holistic” approach like mine? Expect to be treated as the awesome, complex, multi-faceted human being you really are! When you come to me, I don’t just see your symptoms. I see all of you and consider all the different factors that can cause anxiety when crafting your personalized treatment. Relationship issues. Negative thought patterns. Diet and nutritional deficiencies. Over-stimulating or negative environments. I analyze and address every single one of those root causes of anxiety, plus countless others I haven’t mentioned.
And I know that this kind of whole-body approach can sound overwhelming at first, but I guide you through every step. Holistic treatment starts with figuring out the biggest, baddest factor sky-rocking your anxiety. Usually, it’s an overly demanding job, a cruddy relationship or some past trauma, but finding the root cause can be tricky sometimes. For instance, maybe you ditched a super stressful job (complete with Cruella de Vil as your boss) months ago, so you have noooo idea why you’re suddenly so anxious all the time. But those negative memories and feelings are still fresh in your mind and causing you to hold onto all kinds of icky, anxious feelings.
Regardless of what is your biggest anxiety trigger, analyzing your thought process is always my next step. We discuss the way you let others talk to you…and, in turn, how you internally repeat those negative messages. All. The. Time. So maybe you’re not bringing Cruella de Vil her morning coffee anymore, but her harsh feedback is playing on repeat in your head. And that’s making you second-guess your every decision, no matter how small, until you’re paralyzed by anxiety.
Our work doesn’t stop there, though. We’ll also look at your diet, your exercise and even how you breathe! Why is this step so important? All of those factors can easily get out of whack when you’re battling anxiety. For instance, maybe you cope with the trauma of your old job by eating foods that are high in sugar and unhealthy fats…and that only continues to feed (pun intended) your anxiety and negative feelings.
At the end of the day, anxiety is your body’s way of telling you that something is unaligned in your life. Your relationships, your diet, your environment, whatever. And like dominos, any unalignment causes even more to occur. But by the end of going through a holistic approach to healing anxiety, you’ll have all the tools you need to not only put these pieces back into the right places, but also keep them there. You’ll know how to practice mindfulness. How to keep your body calm even when your anxiety triggers pop up. And, ultimately, you’ll have a sustainable way to finally overcome anxiety without medication.
But you can only get there by looking at the full picture of your life…and that’s exactly what my holistic approach is alll about.
Questions to Ask to Start Your Holistic Healing Journey
You can start your journey of learning how to control your anxiety holistically by reflecting on the questions below, and focusing on fixing one thing aspect of your life that seems the most out of alignment. Then, you can move onto improving the next problematic area in your life (and if you feel like you need some extra guidance, don’t worry. In the coming articles, I’ll show you how to work on each one of these issues in detail!)
Now, move to a quiet, comfortable place and reflect on the following questions:
- Do I like who I am and who I am becoming?
- Do I think about my strengths as often as I do my weaknesses?
- Do I feel nourished and supported at home?
- Do I take the time to experience play and adventure?
- Do I express my true self every day?
- Do I feel like I’ve found the right livelihood?
- Have I let go of anger and grief about things that have happened in the past?
- Do I have enough money to accomplish the things that really matter to me?
- Do I have a nourishing level of health and vitality?
- Do I experience the feeling of family in my life?
- Do I have deeply loving and trust-filled friendships?
If the answer to all of these questions is a, “Heck no!”, guess what? You’ve still made progress because now you know where the nonalignment in your life is.
But now you need to picture what your life would look like if everything was aligned…and that’s even trickier than seeing what’s wrong in the first place. You’ve been living out of alignment for so long, picturing the alternative is about as easy as finding the perfect little black dress in the first store you try.
That’s one of the reasons why I developed my Personal Happiness Formula workbook. In it, I take you through the exact, step-by-step process I use with clients to create abundant clarity and joy in their lives. This way, you can define happiness in your own terms and learn what concrete, practical steps you can take to live a happier life. Learn more by clicking here.
Have you ever felt out of sync with your real self? Like you’ve hustled hard to follow all the guidelines you’ve been given for living a happy life, and yet some deeper part of you still feels rudderless or unfulfilled?
Well, this workbook will put an end to all your doubts and distresses. In it, I take you through the exact, step-by-step process I use with clients to create abundant clarity and joy in their lives.
Next Steps and What I Hope You Now Know About Treating Anxiety
If you’re currently on medication, don’t go cold turkey now. We’ve talked about the dangers of stopping abruptly.
Instead, work on your own – or with an anxiety coach like me! – to holistically resolve the root causes of your anxiety. If your anxiety is anything like mine, your “treatment” will involve a variety of things. Changing an unbalanced, inflammatory diet. Being more aware of negative, anxious thoughts and working to change them. Starting a mindfulness and meditation practice. Moving and breathing in a way that will revitalize your body. And integrating all that in a purposeful life that makes you excited to wake up every morning!
Once you start listening to what your anxiety is really trying to tell you and make whatever changes will serve your body best, you can taper off of your medication with the help of a professional and actually overcome your anxiety for good.
And let me just say. After ten years of trying medication after medication, desperate for some pill that could take all of my negative, anxious thoughts away, being able to control my own health and happiness naturally is a pretty dang magical feeling.
I can’t wait for you to be able to experience the same thing.
Can you relate to my anxiety story? Tell me in the comments!
Cheat Sheet: Beating Anxiety with Self-Talk
Are you hijacked by your anxiety? Constantly making mental lists of all the ways that you could fail – and all the things that might go wrong?
Use this Cheat Sheet to transform your negative thoughts into loving and constructive self-talk – so you can ditch your anxiety once and for all!