Looking back on my life, I was always a worrywart. I was what people would refer to as a ‘sensitive kid’; concerning myself with things that kids my age supposedly shouldn’t have, but I did. This concern, or worry, would make me anxious. I’d would worry about things like killer bees from South America making their way to Canada, getting in trouble if I didn’t follow the rules (more concerned with some kind of resulting catastrophe than punishment), or overly worrying about other people’s feelings (not worrying about how I made them feel but worrying about what they were feeling, in general or in response to different situations).
My anxiety would show up as it does for many; a sense of panic or mild panic attacks, OCD traits or an overall general sense of anxiety, a.k.a. ‘generalized anxiety disorder’ or GAD but the predominant features, the way my anxiety would raise its head, was, and still is today, as OCD and GAD depending on the situation.
Living with anxiety
My anxiety has never been crippling. For some, anxiety can be a true nightmare resulting in debilitating phobias, fear of leaving their home or being in public places, or being overly concerned about potential embarrassment or negative evaluation by others, so much so, that they avoid social situations (social anxiety disorder).
My anxiety is quieter, just below the surface for the most part, unseen by others (unless it gets a little too much to handle and then watch out! Just ask my friends), insidiously making me worry that I’m not doing enough to expand my brand and freelance work, that I should be doing more “X, Y, and Z” like so-and-so is doing, I mean look at him/her, he/she’s got it going on.
Or I’m forever chasing and saying yes to every opportunity in an attempt to prove my worth to myself, and imaginatively to others, as a way to make up for past mistakes. Being tugged in multiple, self-imposed directions, I can’t focus on any one thing, worrying that whatever I’m NOT working on, IS the very thing I should be – worry breeds worry which then distracts me from the task at hand!
Trust me, I exhaust myself more than I could ever exhaust anyone else, but I bet others would beg to differ 🙂
The things that drive my anxiety can, and do, serve me well but only when I use my powers for good. To keep things in check and regain my sanity, I’m learning to wrangle my anxiety with some attitudinal & behavioural hacks by:
- relaxing my preoccupation with details, rules, lists, order, organization & schedules
- dropping (working at it) perfectionism which can interfere with getting the project done, and sometimes even started
- incorporating more ‘play time’; leisure frees & relaxes the mind
- asking for help and delegating
- shedding my sense of rigidity & stubbornness when it comes to work and my work ethic
While bringing some awareness to my thought patterns & perceptions is crucial when it comes to managing my anxiety, other hacks include exploiting some basic biology because when all is said and done, like everyone else, I’m a being of flesh and blood and mental health is only as good as the brain that’s responsible for it.
Using safe, effective, and more importantly, proven supplements that have been shown to improve features of anxiety have gone a long way to help me. In addition to the foundational nutrition I make sure my brain gets in order to be its best, I always have a couple of supplements on hand to use as needed (of course, this isn’t advice for everyone to do the same, mental health issues of any kind need to be discussed with a medical professional).
L-theanine is an amino acid (building block of protein) found in tea leaves. Drinking tea as a way to sooth, relax and ‘calm one’s nerves’ goes beyond the simple act of taking a break from life’s daily tasks.
While tea has l-theanine, you really need to take a standardized supplement for best results since a supplement will give you a predictable & reliable dose that’s been shown to be effective.
L-theanine works to take the edge of my anxiety when it’s revving high by boosting levels of the calming neurotransmitter GABA while elevating levels of both serotonin and dopamine at the same time; two brain chemicals that regulate and enhance mood. L-theanine also helps to squash anxiety by lowering the brain-stimulating chemical glutamate (1, 2, 3)
Because caffeine also raises dopamine, stacking (taking together) l-theanine with caffeine gives me more bang for my anti-anxiety buck and is just the perfect pairing I need when things get a little frazzled.
While it’s the age old question of which came first, when it comes to my anxiety and attention span, it’s ultimately cyclical: as my anxiety grows it makes it very difficult to focus on the task in front of me. I can get caught up worrying about the other things I think I should be doing, or not doing, which only makes matters worse, or because I try to tackle too many things at once, I lose focus and start to get anxious to the point of bordering on panic….
Regardless, when it comes to focus, attention, impulse control and reward & pleasure, it’s all about the neurotransmitter dopamine; in fact, ADD is associated with lower levels of dopamine. Without enough dopamine on board, it’s more difficult to set a goal, act on that goal, keep your eye on the prize and then feel the sense of accomplishment afterwards.
Whether my anxiety is partly driven by a lack of focus or vice versa, and whether or not I have a degree of adult ADD (a very common occurrence that’s seen early adulthood, but that’s a topic for another post) I’ve found, based on what studies have shown, that boosting dopamine levels helps to curb my anxiety by quieting my mind’s distractions.
Tyrosine, another amino acid, is the building block of dopamine, which is then converted to norepinepherine and epinepherine – fancy words for adrenaline. Studies have shown that taking tyrosine as a supplement helps to raise levels of this dynamic trio of neurotransmitters, which can boost working memory during mentally demanding tasks and cognitive flexibility, all to say helping me to stay focused during those times when anxiety is trying to steal my productivity (4, 5, 6).
If you deal with anxiety, what have you found works? Leave a comment, I’d love to hear about it.