Learning to Cope with my Anxiety without Alcohol | Guest Post by Kate Adermann
As far back as I can remember, I struggled with panic attacks and generalized anxiety. The only place where I found solitude and quiet was at the bottom of a bottle, but that inevitably stopped working in my early 20s. My alcoholism ended up making my anxiety profoundly worse because now, I had to constantly worry about getting money for my next drink and having enough to drink in the morning to avoid getting the shakes. My alcoholism trapped me inside of my own head, I couldn’t sober up and I couldn’t stay drunk enough. It led me down a road that was so torturous and dark that I attempted to end my own life on multiple occasions. Despite how badly I was hurting, I am one of the lucky ones who was blessed with a way out of alcoholism. With this new sober life at my fingertips, I had to find ways to cope with my anxiety without a drink.
Mindful meditation was the first activity I tried while in detox that silenced the racing thoughts in my head and completely alleviated my anxiety. My alcohol withdrawals were raging in full force and I was getting ready to give up until a woman in the detox invited me to join her meditation group. She began by instructing us to take slow, deep breaths. We were to inhale for five seconds, hold it for two, and exhale to the count of six. I could feel the tension I was holding in my shoulders be released, and it was impossible to focus on the thoughts in my head while focusing on my breathing. By the end of the meditation, despite being in withdrawal, I felt immensely better. I continue to do meditation on a daily basis. My favorite time to lay down and practice mindfulness is when I’m ready to fall asleep. In the past, my insomnia was terrible and my anxiety was at its peak before bed. Today I am able to fall asleep easily and quickly if I simply take a little time to listen to a mediation.
In the past, I was never the type to go to the gym or lift weights, but I found fitness methods which I enjoyed that helped enhance my mental health and relieve my anxiety. Two of my favorite forms of exercise are taking nature walks and swimming. Both are low-impact, so I don’t have to stress about the number of calories I burn or deal with next-day soreness. I can also do both in an outside setting away from all the athletes in the gym, so I don’t feel pressure to move faster or burn a certain number of calories. When I take nature walks, I either go to the beach or explore a new park or hiking trail that I haven’t been to before. Studies have shown that spending time in nature can help improve mental health and overall well-being. For me, it helps calm my anxiety when I am surrounded by fresh air and warm sunlight. Swimming, like walking, is best done outdoors in my opinion! Whether it is at the beach or an outdoor pool, swimming always helps to relax my body and calm my mind. Like nature walks, swimming can boost mental health by decreasing stress, lowering anxiety, and reducing depression.
A few months into sobriety, I began to keep a small journal on my bedside table. Each night, depending on how I feel, I write. Sometimes I simply write about my day – other times I write down the things I am grateful for. Putting my thoughts and emotions down on paper helps me work through them and express myself in a healthy way. I don’t have to worry about judgment from others or being misunderstood because my journal is private and unfiltered. Making a gratitude list helps me put my life into perspective. When suffering from anxiety, it is easy to focus on the negative things in life. Keeping a gratitude list helps me recognize and focus on the multitude of blessings that I have today. Although gratitude may seem simple and minuscule, it actually changes the brain to significantly help with anxiety and depression. When I have gratitude, I have a positive outlook on life. It helps remind me that anxiety is something I can control and that I have a life worth living. Despite the challenges I faced in my past, I am able to cope with my anxiety on a daily basis without alcohol. That in itself is a wholesale miracle. In addition, I actually want to live today. I want to experience all the things this life as to offer to me. Simply wanting to live is a far greater gift than I could have ever imagined.
Kate is a passionate writer, dog mom, and nature enthusiast. She enjoys writing about mental health and addiction to spread awareness and shatter the stigma that so frequently surrounds mental health.