Did You Know?
According to The Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA)
Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the U.S., affecting 40 million adults in the United States age 18 and older, or 19.1% of the population every year.
Anxiety disorders are highly treatable, yet only 36.9% of those suffering receive treatment.
People with an anxiety disorder are three to five times more likely to go to the doctor and six times more likely to be hospitalized for psychiatric disorders than those who do not suffer from anxiety disorders.
While anxiety is a serious problem and something to pay attention to because it’s affecting our lives so much, we have also been using it as a blanket statement. We call anxiety anything from a slight discomfort in our stomach before a big event to panic attacks.
I’d like today to look at anxiety through the lens of nervous system dysregulation. This article is less about addressing each disorder in particular (panic disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, agoraphobia, specific phobia, social anxiety disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and separation anxiety disorder) and more about looking at the level of sympathetic nervous system activation, and ways in which we regulate that.
I’m aware that severe forms of anxiety (that I’ve mentioned above) cannot be reduced ONLY by using lifestyle changes and that there are other factors at play that affect or cause the disorder (such as genetics, neurochemical imbalances, deep trauma, life transitions, family circumstances, environmental circumstances, etc.).
However, with this article I’d like to empower you, the reader, to look at all the things you CAN change in your life to make a difference in how you feel, because no matter which disorder we are looking at, they can ALL benefit from lifestyle adjustments, and those are often under our control.
No matter how chaotic life is, and no matter which cards we were dealt, we still have agency and the option to choose differently.
Beyond clinical anxiety
We will be looking at anxiety through the lens of nervous system dysregulation. Our bodies are designed with two major nervous system pathways that adapt us to how we react to the environment: the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems. The sympathetic system controls “fight-or-flight” responses. In other words, this system prepares the body for strenuous physical activity. The parasympathetic system regulates “rest and digest” functions. In other words, this system controls essential bodily functions while one is sitting quietly reading a book (Ref 1).
They both hold great significance in our lives and are beneficial. However, our modern lifestyle has made one more activated than the other, and we find ourselves in constant fight or flight response with no knowledge or tools to restore the balance.
So today, I’d like to talk more about how microdosing, combined with other practical tools that helped me reduce some of my anxiety symptoms. These tools are easy to use and accessible to anyone. And the best part is that they are empowering because once you start using them and notice the difference, you realize that you have more control over your life than you thought, and it all starts from within, without needing to change everyone or everything around you.
I’d like to acknowledge that it’s OK to feel anxious from time to time. Our minds, bodies and emotions have evolved to respond well to environmental factors.
What’s NOT ok is when this state is a constant feeling, when we don’t know how to calibrate our minds, bodies and emotions. It’s NOT ok when we are not aware of the ways in which we compensate to mask our anxiety and how that creates even more problems in our lives.
How anxiety manifested in my life
I was constantly waking up with a pit in my stomach. Before I even got out of bed, I was already feeling the sensations in my body. I always thought it was normal to wake up thinking about my day ahead, planning, preparing and ruminating over improbable scenarios trying to find the best solutions to any curveballs my day would throw at me. I used to be one of those high-functioning anxious people, one of those people that worked hard 12h a day and found so much pleasure in it. I used to be proud of my detailed-oriented nature, ambitious, always well-prepared for everything, and calm on the outside, but always on the verge of losing it.
I truly believed that it was NORMAL. I believed that if I didn’t prepare for life, it would take me by surprise, and I would miss making the most out of it. I was so wrong! Now I know that the exact opposite is true. I am more prepared for life when I’m relaxed when I’m present, and when I am still. Being so consumed all the time with what could go wrong and trying to solve it in my head was taking m away from being in the present moment, feeling into what was happening right now, and making decisions based on real-time facts.
What did it take to change my beliefs around that?
It all started with my curiosity about microdosing. I was interested because of its potential to increase focus and creativity, and at the time, I was working a job that was not making me happy, and I wanted to change something for myself.
So, I started microdosing. It increased these sensations in my body; I felt on fire, focused, and energized but also a bit more anxious. And I didn't even realize it at the time because the way it manifested was by making me even more productive! And the hard-working side of me LOOOOOVED it! I started working on my passion project Odin, the micro-dosing journal, making my website, immersing myself more in the psychedelic space, meeting new people, etc. LIFE WAS EXCITING, and I was THRIVING, and I just loved the surge of energy and creativity. Who wouldn’t?
But it wasn't October 2020 when I woke up one day with VERTIGO! It was so bad I couldn't even walk 2 steps without throwing up. The doctor said it was just stress, and all I needed to do was rest.
That was the worst piece of news I got. During the next few days, my fears surfaced like dragons, consuming me every second:
“What if I am not relevant anymore at my job, and they will replace me?”
“What about all my projects? They will be delayed, and I’ll miss the opportunities.”
“What if no one will come and visit me?” “I’m just all alone in this, far away from my family.”
“What am I going to do with my time all day? Life is so boring when I can’t work.”
I started planning how to catch up with my work after I got better, which only worsened my state. My body NEEDED rest, and I was still keeping my parasympathetic nervous system activated, ruminating, planning, and mitigating risks.
And because I was so debilitated, I couldn't watch anything; I couldn't walk or sit up, I couldn't eat much. All I could do was listen to music and podcasts while laying down. And that in small amounts.
The only thing left to do was to practice mindful meditation or play with breathing patterns to calm my nervous system.
And that was the start of my process of SLOWING DOWN!
What a blessing in disguise!
For two long weeks, every day, I would practise different types of breathing exercises inspired by Andrew Huberman:
1. Physiological sigh
Inhale through the nose, filling up your lungs,
Hold your breath for a bit
Squeeze another short inhale through your nose
Exhale through the mouth
2. Tension and expansion
When breathing, mentally scan your body slowly from the crown of your head to your toes and notice sensations, emotional tone, temperature change, contraction or expansion in various areas of your body.
3. Box breathing
Lie down and close your eyes.
Inhale through your nose for 5 seconds, hold your breath for five seconds, exhale for 5 seconds and hold again for 5 seconds.
Continue for up to 10 minutes.
Take a few additional minutes to be still and focus on how your body feels.
Take a deep breath in through your nose and exhale through your nose
On your exhale, make a humming or buzzing sound
You can play with various tonalities, creating a song.
5. Breath focus
Notice how it feels when you inhale and exhale normally. Take a slow, deep breath through your nose into your belly.
Notice your belly and upper body expanding.
Exhale in whatever way is most comfortable for you, sighing if you wish.
Do this for several minutes, paying attention to the rise and fall of your belly.
Imagine your inhale washing over you like a gentle wave.
Imagine your exhale carrying negative and upsetting thoughts and energy away from you.
When you get distracted, gently bring your attention to your breath and words.
Practice this technique for up to 20 minutes daily when you can.
What was my anxiety it costing me?
After recovering from my vertigo, a new understanding emerged; all this time, I had been running around, working a lot, staying busy, and chasing new things, not just as a way to release my anxiety but also because I truly believed that this was the ONLY way to access, excitement, love, fulfilment, and joy!
I couldn’t have been more wrong! It turns out that the opposite was true; being still, resting and creating space in my life was the ONLY way to get what I had been looking for all along.
Microdosing and breathing techniques
This life event changed the way I approached microdosing, too. Even though I was microdosing intentionally, creating a morning ritual around microdosing, by grounding myself, setting an intention and paying more attention to myself throughout the day; I was still very focused on discovering something new about myself. I was still searching for new sides of myself to emerge, to explore. And while that’s ok, it still has an energetic push towards getting somewhere.
So, I tried a different approach to slow down and not search for anything. I just tried to attune to what was there, to be fully present and connect to what was happening in real-time: thoughts, emotions, and sensations.
All the breathing techniques I practised came in handy while navigating my microdosing journey. It made it so much easier to spot sensation patterns, map out my body's tensions, and use my breath to create more space in those tight areas.
If you’d like to learn more about how you can use breathing and microdosing to bring more stillness and space into your life and release some of the underlying anxiety you are feeling, let's talk.
If you are struggling to manage your anxiety,
>>> LET"S WORK TOGETHER! <<<