I always got stressed out easily, but when my Lyme symptoms started I began to get intense anxiety and panic attacks seemingly out of the blue. It was really scary because I had no idea how to manage it at the time. I have created a toolbox of strategies that have helped me when it comes on:
Meditation helps me to get out of my head for a while and pay more attention to my breath and the sensations in my body. It helps me to break the cycle of negative thoughts racing through my head. I sometimes still have trouble quieting my thoughts, but I am getting better and can see a difference. I think it really helps to start off with guided meditations. I really like Tara Brach , David Ji, and Madeline Rinehart (which you can find on youtube.) I know a lot of people like the apps Headspace and Calm. You can find a list of meditation apps here. Sometimes I just want to sit or lie down and listen to meditation music for a while (you can find this on youtube. I usually try out different ones.) Everyone is different, but I prefer guided meditations and music since I have a lot of trouble quieting my mind, especially when I’m anxious!
If I have the energy, I also do “walking meditations” where I take a walk in a park and pay attention to my surroundings. By engaging all my senses, I can get out of my head and focus on the present. I listen to the birds/water, feel the sun on my skin, take my time looking at trees, flowers, and plants, and smell the fresh air. I find nature to be very calming!
I usually combine meditation with breathwork. I don’t do anything fancy- I breathe in to the count of 4, hold my breath to the count of 4, and breathe out to the count of 4. This gives me something to focus on, and immediately calms my body down. (You can ask a friend to count for you over the phone too! I have done this for friends before and I have a friend that once did it for me in the middle of the night when I was having a panic attack- it works!)
2) Epsom Salt Baths
I take Epsom salt baths almost every night. Epsom salt contains magnesium, which can relax your muscles and calm the nervous system. By taking a bath, you can absorb the magnesium through your skin. Epsom salt baths, especially combined with essential oils (see below), are one of my favorite, easy, and enjoyable remedies for anxiety. I use this one.
3) Essential Oils
I am a big fan of essential oils. I started using them regularly a couple of years ago to help my symptoms, and quickly realized that they are just as effective at helping emotional symptoms as helping physical symptoms. My favorite go-to oils for anxiety are:
Lavender- lavender oil has sedative, calming and antidepressive properties. I put a few drops in Epsom salt baths, use a roll-on on the bottom of my feet before bed, or diffuse it.
Vetiver- vetiver has a grounding effect and soothes and supports the nervous system. I combine a few drops with lavender oil in salt baths, put a couple of drops on the bottom of my feet, or diffuse it.
Ylang Ylang- this is one of my favorite oils! I think it smells SO good! It has sedative and calming properties. I usually combine this with lavender oil in a bath. Or I combine it with lavender oil (and a carrier oil- I use coconut oil) on a cotton ball and apply it to pressure points.
Frankincense- this is another one of my favorites! It has natural anti-depressant and sedative qualities and helps quiet the mind. I usually diffuse it or apply it topically (mixed with a carrier oil) and apply it to my neck, shoulders, and chest.
Note: For brands, I really like DoTERRA, Young Living, and Living Libations.
4) Infrared Sauna
Before I was diagnosed, and didn’t understand where my anxiety was coming from, I would immediately head to a yoga studio near my apartment for a 30-minute infrared sauna session. Now I have a portable one I keep at home. You can read more about my infrared sauna here. I have been using this one for two years and I love it! Studies have shown that infrared saunas help with anxiety, depression, and fatigue. I finish every sauna session feeling more relaxed and in a better mood!
Grounding (or earthing) is walking barefoot on the earth. It has been proven to decrease stress levels and regulate cortisol levels. I live in a city and it’s hard for me to ground every day, but when I can I go to the park and stand or walk barefoot (or sit on a blanket with the soles of my feet on the ground.) Walking barefoot on the sand is great too! I usually feel more energetic, more balanced, and less anxious immediately after. If you can’t walk barefoot on the ground, I find that just being in nature can calm anxiety! In fact, studies have shown that “forest bathing” (walking in a forest) promotes lower concentrations of cortisol, lower pulse rate, lower blood pressure, greater parasympathetic nerve activity, and lower sympathetic nerve activity than do city environments.
If you aren’t able to ground as much as you want to, another option is a grounding mat that you can keep on your bed as you sleep or under your desk. I have this one that I sleep with. I have had my mat for a few months now. It didn’t completely get rid of my anxiety, but I do find that I can sleep through the night more often (before, I would sometimes wake up in the middle of the night with anxiety or panic attacks.)
Studies have shown that yoga helps anxiety. I used to do yoga 3-4 times a week to keep my stress levels low before I got really sick, but once my symptoms got intense I had to give up all exercise. Now that I have more energy, I can sometimes do short yoga sequences or a few poses. Here is a list of yoga poses that reduce anxiety. I also really like the app Down Dog- it’s free and lets you choose the level (beginner, intermediate, etc), type of yoga (quick flow, full practice, restorative, etc.), the length (10-45 min) and has music options too! I find moving my body any way I can helps anxiety.
When I feel anxiety coming on, I immediately start writing out all the thoughts that are in my head. It doesn’t have to make sense. I find writing therapeutic and it helps me get out all of the anxious thoughts that are circling around in my head. I usually feel a lot better when I’m done.
*You can incorporate a few of these remedies at the same time. For example, I will take an Epsom salt bath with essential oils, play relaxing meditation music in the background, and do breathing exercises all at once.