No Wellness Wankery

84: My anxiety breakthroughs! How I manage and thrive with anxiety 13 years after diagnosis

October 24, 2023 Lyndi Cohen
No Wellness Wankery
84: My anxiety breakthroughs! How I manage and thrive with anxiety 13 years after diagnosis
Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

I was told by my doctor that I had clinical anxiety back in 2010 and the diagnosis came as a complete shock. But now, I can see that the writing was on the wall.

For months, I had stopped wanting to socialise. When someone would text me asking to hang, I’d see it as a burden. Everything felt like a chore, I didn’t want to do anything.

But I'm happy to say, things have changed A LOT since 2010.

The anxiety I was experiencing went from out of control, to manageable, to mild and now finally has disappeared. 

I knew something was finally different when instead of staring at the back of my eyelids, my brain racing like a treadmill on top speed, I fell asleep. No dread. No angst. No catastrophising. No over analysing. It was the first time in decades.

And it wasn’t a one off either, but a succession of nights. The only other time my anxiety had disappeared was during my previous pregnancy, and here, pregnant with my second it was happening again. Was it hormones? A coincidence? Was alcohol causing my anxiety?

Let's unpack my anxiety breakthroughs along my journey from diagnosis to thriving.

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Lyndi Cohen:

Hello, hello to this week's episode of no Wellness Wankery. It's just me today, lindy, because I wanted this to be an intimate conversation. I have been diagnosed with anxiety when I was 21, 21 years old and, honestly, I think I've been struggling with it for a few years prior to getting diagnosed and now I'm 33, so 12 years after diagnosis and I finally feel like I have a handle on my anxiety. Now this is just a fleeting moment, but what I would say is that I have progressively gotten more and more of a handle on my anxiety and I wanted to share the breakthroughs that I've had from 12 years of trying to work out what it is that's causing my anxiety and what to do about it. So, if you have anxiety or you have a loved one with anxiety, I hope this episode is helpful. Let's start from the very beginning. How did I get to be diagnosed with anxiety? Well, it was part of my hitting rock bottom. Sadly, and I hate that, I had to wait until I hit rock bottom, but I did. It was the moment that I also realised that something needed to change with my relationship with food, dieting and all that. I was standing in a clothing shop trying to find clothes so I could go to a friend's 21st and nothing fit me and I hated the person I saw looking back at me. I had to that point I remember feeling quite isolated from my friends. In fact, I went through a bit of a friendship breakdown with my closest friends from university, so much so that when I went to graduation with them, we didn't even talk, and I was a 21 year old with deep social anxiety. I hopped in the car after trying all those outfits that I couldn't find anything that looked that I thought looked okay. I drove directly to my, my GP, and I waited for the first appointment. I just waited and I waited and eventually I got in to go and see the GP and I told him what I'd been feeling and I talked about my relationship with food and my body and my weight, and he prescribed me a diet. He said here's a diet my wife is having some success with. Why don't you give it a crack? And in that moment I thought, oh shit, I need a new GP. And that was also a brilliant moment for me to go. Instead of thinking I was the problem, I realised no, this is not right. This is not right. I'm coming to you at my rock bottom and you're suggesting a diet. No, sir, we are not playing this game. But he also did say it also sounds like you have clinical anxiety. So I did a questionnaire, filled out some questions about how I was feeling and on that questionnaire revealed that I actually had quite extreme anxiety, was very unmanaged and running rampant, which I guess could explain why I was lying in bed at night for hours on end, unable to turn off my monkey mind and actually just fall asleep. It's the reason why I was having these breakdowns in my relationship Relationships. Really, it was why I was isolating myself from the people around me who cared about me and it's the reason why I was struggling. So my diagnosis came out to be social anxiety and I, if you'd met me growing up, you go. This is a really confident, friendly human. Yet I, here I was with the social anxiety diagnosis, which didn't feel like it stacked up at the time. But also, this is the end of adolescence and I was like, eh, probably could be a thing. I'm making light of it now. But after walking out of that doctors, I was a ball of tears. I drove immediately to go and tell my parents. They did not get it. They didn't even want to talk about it. I think they felt ashamed, which made me feel more ashamed Luckily, my mom and my dad, who was alive at the time. They did come a long way in their perspective of mental health, but that certainly didn't help and I felt more alone than ever, and I guess that's when I realized, lindy, you're going to have to do this recovery thing by pulling together the pieces that you need, and so this I want to share the pieces that I ended up pulling together and how amazing it ended up being. The first thing that I want to talk about, the first breakthrough was medication. So for me to get out of that rock bottom place that I was, I did need to take medication to get there, and I just wanted to spell any shame that you might feel about taking medication and let you know if you have any mental health condition. It is totally acceptable and essential at times to take medication. You wouldn't question someone who had asthma oh, do you really need your ventilant? Do you really need your puffer? You wouldn't question them. And yet somehow, when it comes to conditions of the brain, we get all shamy around it and we think, no, you don't need to be medicated. Some people will not need to be. But if your doctor is recommending medication, I just want you to be open minded that we're not going to allow stigma around medication to stop us getting that support. What medication did for me is really lightened the load. It meant that instead of feeling like I was drowning which was the feeling that I had that everything was too hard, it was too overwhelming. I felt utterly hopeless. I felt so alone. I felt like I just couldn't dig myself out of this hole. So it took a slight edge off that feeling and really it was just a slight edge. It wasn't transformative, but it did just help me go all right. Now I can see a little bit clearer about, maybe, the things I need to do. Next, there was a bit of a period where I had to come on to the medication and there are some strange side effects that some medications give you. I was on Zoloft. I ended up on a very light dose. I ended up working up to the highest dose by you know, a few years into my medication, and this is something I did in support with my doctor. What I can tell you about medication is you have to be so consistent with it. You cannot not take your medication on one day. You cannot miss it by a few hours. Your brain, your essence, your energy is depending on you to be consistent with that medication and it's really can be something that can help you get to where you need to be. Some people might need to be on medication for the rest of their lives. Some people will not. It is purely down to those hormones and the neurotransmitters bubbling around in our brain as to who you are and what you need. Please listen to your doctor on this advice, but I just wanted to alleviate any hesitations that you had about taking medication that it can be part of the solution. Number two, the other thing that made a huge difference for me was talk therapy, and you know you know, you've heard this where it goes. Let's go see a counselor, a psychologist, a psychiatrist, whatever kind of person that you need to go and speak to is so useful. Now, now I have spoken to many, many of these people in my lifetime and I've got to tell you it's like dating maybe not quite as hard as dating, but think about it like dating, because what we're looking for is the right kind of fit. You might head on over, have a first consultation with a mental health care professional and go. You know what? We didn't really click. I don't know if they get me. I feel like I had to justify myself. Or maybe they made you, they brought out more symptoms. Sometimes that can happen and if so, I think that just might not be the right person for you. And I know it's sucky, because now you've gone along to that first consultation, you've paid the money, you've gone through your whole shabille spiel, you're going, you've gone through your whole story and you're gonna have to do it again with someone else. But it is so worth finding the right person that you can connect to, because it is so enjoyable and I don't know why, but to go into a session and to have the ability to talk about yourself for a full hour and not feel guilty and not feel like you're there. So you have to, like, listen to the other person. You know, because speaking to friends is great and I think it is part of the equation. But sometimes when you talk to a friend you got, I've been feeling like this they throw in advice, just do this. Or they say, oh, here's my story, and next thing you know you're talking about their, their grandma's pudding. You know, it's just nice to have someone who's going to allow the conversation to stay around you and who has the skills and the experience to be able to go. Oh, these, these are some thought patterns I noticed you doing. Can you see these thought patterns? Because, becoming aware of this faulty thinking in our brain, sometimes we've learned a way of thinking of, you know, walking through the world that isn't quite correct. If someone else can point them out to us and do it in a way that feels very non-judgmental, then that can be an incredibly helpful thing. I know certainly was for me to go. Ah, okay, I'm black and white thinking or I'm catastrophizing. So let's talk about CBT cognitive behavioral therapy which is one form of practice that you can do. I also did gestalt therapy. There are different kinds of approaches and different therapists will have different approaches, but CBT for me was incredibly useful and especially if you've got a history of disordered eating, of body image struggles, I find CBT can also be wonderful and the research will back me up on this. Now, in terms of finding the right mental health care professional, there is two thoughts in my mind. One is that you've got to think about going to a counselor, a psychologist like Jim for your brain. You wouldn't judge the fact that you need to go to the gym to exercise your muscles to get strong. The same is true for your brain. When you go and you have these chats and you learn these new skills, you're basically giving your brain a chance to fire and create new neural pathways to allow new thoughts, new ways of being in the world to emerge. It's incredibly useful. So let's not have any stigma related to the idea of talking to someone. In fact, many of the world's most successful people often have someone that they can talk to. You. It's Barack Obama or Beyonce. They certainly have people that they are talking to who are helping them get that edge and ability to function in their day. We all need that little bit of help, so you don't need to wait until you're drowning before you go and make an appointment. The other thing to let you know is that sometimes I think it's useful to have someone who's perhaps the same age as you or identify similarly to you. One of the first psychologists I ever saw was a joint session with my parents and she was more my parents age and I kept feeling like in all these consults. My parents were paying for it, by the way. At this point they were helping me get my my feedback on the road, and so, as a result, they chose a psychologist. But I always kept feeling like she had my parents side, like she kept kind of going no, I think, I think this is right. I was trying to say, listen, I think these food rules that I've been given my entire life are unhelpful. And she kind of sided with my parents saying I think this is the way to go. So I found that really challenging. Later on I'd had, I'd have other psychologists and counsellors who were more similarly age to me and I felt like they really understood me. Now that I'm getting a bit older, I don't think you necessarily need to get someone who's the same age as you, but it's more about having a like minded individual. It's someone who, irrespective of their age or gender or identity, can really go. I hear you and I'm going to hold space for you and that is, I think, really powerful. In the beginning, if you're at that point where I was, where it's like a rock bottom moment, I needed a lot of support mentally to be able to get myself out of that. So that meant quite regular sessions. It could be, you know, a few times a week or once a week. Eventually, as you start to feel a little bit more breathing room, like you're not drowning anymore, you might find that those sessions start to get a little bit less frequent. Well, that's certainly the case for me and many of my friends who I know C-psychiatrist or psychologists. And then you kind of go into a bit more of like a maintenance plan where I might just have something in the diary every so often so I can come in and I know I've always got you on tap, so if I go through a little crisis I can come in and we can get that support together. Now, all of this can be expensive. I mentioned that when I was younger my parents would pay for it. I certainly am a fully fledged adult these days, so I certainly pay for all my stuff. That way In Australia you can go to your GP and you can get a mental health care plan. You can get five sessions at a time. That's going to help subsidize these sessions, and then every time that you do five sessions you are going to have to go back to your GP get another mental health care plan. They're going to do a review. You can go to bulk billing places for your GP to help reduce the costs and you can look around for different kinds of mental health care professionals who might not be as exorbitantly costed. You know, a psychiatrist, a psychologist may have higher price tags, but ultimately I think this is something that is very worthwhile investing in All right. Number three the third thing that was super important that only took a little bit later for me was exercise, and I know you've heard it before and I know it's super boring, but I tell you what we need to disconnect the idea that exercise is about punishing ourselves for eating, that it's about weight loss, that it's about burning calories, because as long as we do that, it's always going to be tethered to our relationship with food instead of being able to serve us from the mental health benefits that we need to be able to do. I go on a daily mental health walk. Now, in my dieting years, a walk was not burning enough calories for me. I couldn't justify it. Why would I bother? That's a waste of time. If I'm not sweating, it doesn't count. I had all these silly, outdated rules Without realizing that all movement is good movement. All movement makes your brain tick in a better way Once I've gotten my morning mental health walk and for me I found that at least if I did it in the morning, then I got more headspace for the rest of the day. But honestly, I take my mental health walk at 11 pm if that's when I needed it and that's how I could get it. But having that mental health walk or whatever that looks like for you as part of your calendar was so important Now for me. Growing up, my parents would be like you have to go exercise and if you eat you have to go exercise. So disconnecting that was really quite tricky. But it started with me just doing small bits of movement and exercise, not tracking what I was doing. That was really important. In the beginning I used to obsessively track calories or how long I went for or how many kilometers I did. This was really more about did I feel good while doing it? And this is this very important point that you'll hear me often talk about. We have to stick within the enjoyment zone. That is the only important zone when it comes to exercising. Like, screw the heart rate zone, screw the fat burn zone. Enjoyment zone. Am I enjoying it Now as your relationship with food and exercise gets better, you might find that you naturally do go back to doing more high intensity stuff. I certainly did, but in the beginning I definitely had to just embrace that gentle movement, whether it was yoga or going for a slow walk with my dog who wants to sniff every bloody tree, and that was just what I absolutely needed. But it needs to be consistent and you need to maybe think about exercise just in the same way you do medication or seeing a counselor. We need to do it regularly, consistently. I personally think it's something you need every single day Gentle, slow, enjoyable, whatever it is but it is medication for your brain. It is so important and I hope you start to work on that enjoyable relationship with exercise because it's something you so deserve. Number four and this is something I've been talking about a lot more recently is alcohol and coming to terms with how much alcohol was impacting my anxiety. Now, if you haven't heard this story, basically I felt pregnant and poof. My crippling anxiety disappeared and I thought oh, it's hormone related, that's it, and I must just really like being pregnant. While other women were struggling to like themselves or feel good, while being pregnant I was my happiest best self and I thought is this how other people live, just free from anxiety, not questioning everything they do? Or say I had my baby and the anxiety came back, but so did my drinking of alcohol. So then I had my second baby, or got pregnant again. Same thing happens pregnant, loved it, zero anxiety, except this time what happens is after I gave birth I said right, we're gonna do an alcohol free experiment, I'm gonna see what it's like, how my brain functions without alcohol. Because I started drinking alcohol probably from the age of 16. By the time I was diagnosed with anxiety when I was 21, I was drinking a lot like a lot like five days a week, kind of thing. Now anyone would go, well, yeah, that's gonna muck with your mental health. It wasn't super clear to me at the time, but now I can go, yeah, yeah, no doubt that was having a huge impact. But the thing is now in like my 30s I was having maybe five drinks of alcohol a week, which is well below the guidelines, the recommendations, but I was still having this very intense anxiety. So I just didn't realize that having a few standard drinks a week was having such a huge influence on my anxiety. But now that I'm six months into well, 14 months, almost 15 months into an alcohol-free experiment where I'm just not drinking alcohol to see how I feel, and my anxiety has not come back, I still feel so good, I still feel so excited that this could potentially be my new life without alcohol, without anxiety, and it feels like such a worthy trade-off. I think, oh, my goodness, it doesn't feel like I'm missing out on anything because I have gained so much. I've gained so much headspace. I do not doubt the things that I say, and you know what it is. I've realized Before, when I was drinking alcohol, I'd do all these things that I felt quite ashamed of, and I thought, I realized, that almost all of the things that I felt embarrassed or ashamed about, almost all of them, could be linked back to drinking alcohol. If I said something that was embarrassing or shameful, I was often drinking alcohol, and dumb things that I did or relationships that I fractured, I was drinking alcohol, and so once I pulled back on the booze, I could go oh okay, that was booze me, that wasn't me me, that wasn't normal sober me, and it's almost like I finally was able to forgive myself for those things that I'd done and, as a result, I didn't ruminate as, and keep thinking about how much of a screw-up I was. In fact, when those negative, anxious thoughts came in, I could see them for what they are. Thank you to that CBT that I had done all those years ago. I could file those thoughts away and go. You know what that was, what it was, and this is the thinking. I could explain the thinking. It made sense. I file it away and it would stay in the file. It wouldn't come back out and dance around my brain, it would stay where it was and I could finally go to sleep. It has been absolutely lovely. Now I do talk about this a lot because I do have a product now called booze break that I want you to know about, because I wish someone had told me during my anxious years going hey, have you ever just stopped to think about this thing that is so socially acceptable that we do all the time could be having a huge influence on your mental health. I did not think about it. It did not cross my mind. So I'm just allowing it to cross your mind and I think the thing I really want to point out to you, because once I started to notice this. I looked into the research. Just having a few standard drinks in the week, that is enough to totally wreak havoc With your neurotransmitters, specifically things like dopamine, serotonin and something called gabba. So it reduces your inhibitions, which we know. Once you start drinking, you just say the first thing that comes to your mind there's no like. Should I say that, or should I not say that? It just comes out. So if you've got social anxiety, it's drinking alcohols like throwing gasoline on your anxiety. It might temporarily make you feel better when you have it, but the withdrawal symptoms of any drug Are the exact opposite of how it makes you feel when you first have it. So how does alcohol make us feel? Makes us feel confident and anxious, anxiety free and cool, calm? How does it make us feel when we're withdrawing from it? Ie hungover and hangovers can last for days. What makes us feel? Anxious and stressed and the opposite of confident, which is so self doubting and worrying about yourself. And then you end up drinking again To escape those feelings and you get stuck in this vicious cycle and these impacts in your brain. It can actually change your brain, rewire your brain, and these impacts can be quite long lasting. So you might go. Well, I drank on the weekend but now is Wednesday, like surely I'm not still feeling the side effects. Actually, the changes to your brain last for after two to six months after your last drink kind of wild to think about. So in boost break, what it is is an audio guide to help you create that healthier relationship with alcohol. It does require you to go through a period of not drinking alcohol and the point of that is to realize this is how good it feels to not drink alcohol, so that we do not need to operate from that perception of why shouldn't drink alcohol I really want to, but I know I shouldn't but rather what you start to notice, you go I can drink alcohol but I don't want to, because why would I want to give up this feeling? So give boost break ago. And if you like listening to podcasts like this one, you're gonna love boost break and you can listen to the first episode of it totally free to see if it's something you're gonna like. Check out episode 78 you can just scroll in of no one in the no one's wankery podcast. You're gonna find that is the the, the beginning of Boos breaks. You can listen to that episode for free. Or you can check out boost break by going to my booze break dot com and you can check it out. What's included? We're talking about things like what do you say to people when you say you're not drinking? Or how am I going to deal with my partner because they drink alcohol? How do I pull back from alcohol and not end up comfort eating? Will I lose weight? We go through all those very big, important things to help you feel guided on your booze break. The other thing you can do is you can send me a dm on instagram I'm at nude underscore nutritionist, please follow me if you're not and you can send me a dm that says booze break and I'll send you that link as well. And you can also just write it Boos break underneath any of my posts. And also, if you're curious, we've got the single booze quiz to work out what is your drinking personality. Except you can reveal some important insights about how you consume alcohol and then what we can do about that. Once we know that, if you want to do that quiz, you can just write me the words booze quiz, either as a dm or commenting on one of my instagram posts, and I'll send you that quiz. Now, the fifth thing that had a really big impact on my anxiety, my mental health, was tracking my period. I talk about this in episode 71 of this podcast, so if you have listened to it, please go and have a listen. But what that did for me was it really helped me realise that there is a natural fluctuation that happens with my anxiety and my mood during the month, depending on what day I am of my period. So from day 18 to 21, as I'm getting closer to my period, I do get more anxious. I do get a little bit more questioning of myself. I might be that's the time I'm most likely to be tempted to go on a diet, and just becoming really aware of these things is very useful. As a result, I go oh okay, it's day 25. I'm having a bit more of an anxious day. Oh, no, no, that makes sense. Then I stopped thinking I'm the fault and I start just going oh, it's a hormone related thing. You know what? Maybe in a few days we're going to feel better. I'm able to cut myself more slack. In fact, I went through a period where I was diorising exactly when my period was, so that that week before my period, when I was my most anxious and vulnerable self. I wasn't putting much on my plate, I was not doing heavy lifting, I wasn't doing podcast recording, I wasn't doing videos. I wasn't doing stuff that might make me feel a little more anxious. You might want to do the same if you notice there is that link for you in your anxiety, your depressive symptoms or your mental health during your month. The other thing I would highly recommend you do is speak to your doctor about it. Just this week I went to go and speak to my obstetrician and talk about what is the contraception options for me to have a bit more progesterone. I'm not getting as many of these symptoms when I get my period. There are things that we can do and tinker and be mindful of so that we can reduce the intensity of that monthly hormonal cycle. Also, if you're going through menopause, just knowing as well there are so many hormones surging through your body which can make you feel quite crazy. I think knowing that when you have those peaks, those births anger or frustration or anxiety and you're getting those feelings I think recognizing oh, this is hormonal can allow you to cut yourself the slack that you deserve. Number six and this is the last one, and the last big one was prioritizing sleep. Now, oh, I know it's boring, because we've heard this one and it's blur. In my book, your weight is not the problem, which, if you haven't read, I really really do hope that you do go and read it. If you like the podcast, you're going to freaking adore the book your weight is not the problem, but in the book, I introduce you to this idea of the hierarchy of healthy habits. I explain how sleep is the bottom of the pyramid, because it is such an essential pillar of health. Now, we all want to talk about superfoods and all the things fandango, things we could try, but if you're not getting quality sleep, it's really hard to turn up as your best self. It's like why are we comfort eating If you're really tired? It makes so much sense because if your body's not getting energy from sleep, it's going to crave energy in some form, and food is such an easy access point. So, anyway, sleep incredibly important. The challenge is, though, if you've got an anxious brain, is that we can get into this pattern of being wired but tired, so we're awake at night. We feel wired but we're so tired, but we can't sleep because the anxiety is keeping us awake, so it is a bit of a chicken and egg situation. You need to get better sleep, so your anxiety is better, but the anxiety means you can't sleep. Oh, my goodness, I know, I've been there. It's a real. It's a really hard thing to do, but putting in some of well doing almost all the things on this list simultaneously allowed me to get to the point that my sleep got better. As a result, my anxiety got even better. You might be able to go or I am going to prioritize sleep. That is something that isn't within my control. If you can, please just try. Go to bed at the same time each night. That's more important than waking up at the same time each morning, because if we set a go to sleep alarm, then at least we know we're getting those important hours of shut eye that we absolutely need to function at our best. Now I'm just going to end on saying this that ultimately, I think, when it comes to our mental health, there isn't just one lever that we can pull. It is a combination of all these little things that we're going to be doing, actually big things, and when done in tandem, you may get that relief, that precious relief from the anxiety, from the symptoms, from feeling like the world is too hard and too complicated. I know that feeling. I want you to know you don't have to keep feeling like that. I'm sorry that this is the cards that you've been dealt, but no, there is a pathway out of it. There are things that you can do, taking it one little thing at a time. There are six things you can do here. Just do one, pick one, get that under your belt and then you can add in another one. You're going to start to feel better, and I really hope you do, because you so deserve that. Anyway, guys, thank you so much for listening to today's episode. I hope it's been helpful. If you know someone who's going through an anxious period, perhaps this is an episode that you can share with them. Anyway, I'll see you next week on the no Wellness Wankery podcast.

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