By Mina Phillips
In 2012 I sat, in an exhausted daze, on an airplane headed from San Francisco to New Zealand; home. In Washington a few days earlier, I had experienced my first panic attack whilst sitting on a tram and since then my mind had entered a constant state of imagining worst case scenarios. Over the next five days I lost my appetite, struggled to sleep and often felt breathless. It was a point I had allowed myself to get to. I had ignored my own wellbeing, failed to set boundaries and I had self-talked myself into the ground. So I made a decision. I got on a plane back to New Zealand, caught up on some sleep and searched for tools to help me feel better, forgive and change.
I began researching wellbeing and positive thinking. Desperate for relief from anxiety, I started putting what I learnt into practice. Nearly six years later I am panic attack free and in love with life. Below are the top ten things that helped me, and continue to help me today.
- “To the stars through adversity”
Whilst in the US, I came across a Latin proverb, “ad astra per aspera” meaning, “to the stars through adversity”. This became my mantra. Struggling with anxiety and panic attacks was rough, exhausting and often left me feeling hopeless. However, in the end it taught me to look after myself, respect those who are kind and be extremely thankful for the people who stick by me. I know I never would have made it to the happy place that I’m in now if those hard times hadn’t pushed me to work for it.
- Asking for help
I went to my doctor who recommended counselling and breathing therapy. She gave me a list on which I found and contacted a Cognitive Behavioural Therapist. My therapist gave me useful strategies to help cope with anxiety and stop it from having power over me. My anxiety lessened within a couple of sessions. I also visited a breathing therapist who taught me breathing techniques. These quickly helped to reduce and eventually end my panic attacks.
Getting to sleep can be hard with anxiety but I very quickly found that getting enough of it cut my worry in half. I try to stick to a routine that gets me into a rested mind-set before I go to bed; something comforting along the lines of chamomile tea, a good book to focus my mind (not a thriller) and if need be, some breathing exercises.
Food and dietary supplements strongly influence my mood. When my diet is off balance and I have not been taking supplements, like magnesium and B12, I can truly feel the difference and stress is more likely to get the better of me. I try to educate myself on foods and the nutrients they provide. I also get regular blood tests to ensure my vitamin and mineral intake is optimum.
When I prioritise exercising 3+ times a week my mood lifts, my body feels lighter and I feel physically and mentally resilient. Initially I found the increased adrenaline that comes with high-energy exercises uncomfortably like an oncoming panic attack. Starting off with yoga worked well for me – now I’m dancing, surfing and skateboarding!
- Positive thinking
I experienced a huge shift when I started becoming aware of how my thoughts were affecting my wellbeing. I was constantly beating myself up over things, imagining worst case scenarios and convincing myself that I was not good enough. When I became aware of these thoughts I started challenging them until my thoughts became more empowering.
When I am surrounded by stress I feel stressed. It’s simple. Whether it is the people around me, traffic, the workplace or the overwhelming world that is social media, my mind takes it on. Getting out in nature is such a good way to let my mind settle and feel the calm in the world.
- Having an outlet
For me this is anything creative such as writing, dancing, photography or playing the piano. As someone who used to struggle to acknowledge how I was feeling or why I was feeling that way, having a creative outlet helped me process what I was going through and then let it go.
- Taking time out
My husband and I recently went “glamping” in a remote area where there was no reception. With no internet we suddenly had so much time to spend together, to catch up on sleep, read books, stargaze and simply soak up life. I am so much more capable of thinking straight when I disconnect for a bit and enjoy being where I am in life!
- Learning to be assertive
The anxiety I experienced at eighteen was always connected to a fear of losing control and feeling powerless. For a long time I did believe that I was powerless against how other people chose to treat me. I have no doubt that I would still struggle with anxiety today had I not learned the importance of drawing a line and knowing when someone has crossed it. When they do, I now consider the situation and approach the person calmly. If they are not prepared to change their behaviour towards me I am now always ready to take a step back or walk away from them entirely.
Rumi says, “The wound is the place where the light enters you.” I am a better person for having struggled with anxiety. As a result I am more compassionate, care for my wellbeing and see every knock as a push in the right direction. Anxiety does not have to be a daily struggle. It can be a daily reminder that it’s time for a change, to treat ourselves better and to grow.
Mina Phillips lives in New Zealand where she spends her nights studying journalism and writing conscious travel articles, and her days working with children. She is passionate about balanced living, human rights and animal welfare.