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How I Discovered the Importance of Slowing Down & Breathing

It's 11:51pm on a Saturday night and I'm wide awake. I shouldn't be, because I've been awake since 7am and am currently sick and fighting a pretty bad cold so this lack of sleep is definitely not what I need. I had the plans to go to bed early but my anxiety had other plans (so did the fire alarm in my apartment building but that's a story for another day.)

As I sit here in my bed wrapped in my weighted blanket hoping that it helps calm me down, I realized that the topic of stress and anxiety and something that I seldom talk about here on Northern Prepster, yet as a college student, both of those things have a fairly large presence in my life, so I want to talk about it.

I don't usually share posts like this because they are very personal, but I want to be transparent on here and know that as many of my readers are college students and as we prepare to head into finals season (aka stress city), that maybe sharing my experience with stress and anxiety and how I've learned to cope with it will be beneficial for others. 

I am an avid over thinker, master of indecisiveness and borderline perfectionist so naturally, being anxious and getting stressed out over the little things is nothing new for me. I worry a lot, about things that I can control, and things that I can not control. I get nervous easily, whether it's before an exam, meeting someone new, or just for small everyday occurrences. 

While stress is no stranger to my life, I've always done a good job at managing it. Growing up I was a very active individual and exercise and sports served as a huge stress reliever. As I got older, blogging and writing became a creative outlet from stress and anxiety, as did golf. 

I acknowledged that I was stressed and anxious and I made an effort to do something to reduce those feelings. My anxiety has always been a mental thing; over thinking, indecisiveness, and constantly seeking approval. But this past summer, it started to have physical effects on me, too.

I worked as a summer day camp counselor this past summer which means that I spent the majority of my eight hour shifts outside in the central Ohio heat. 

One morning I walked into the staff room to grab my water bottle, tried to take a sip, before realizing that I couldn't swallow. I didn't think anything of it at first and assumed that I was just moving too fast for my mind and body, but when I came back 30 minutes later and still couldn't swallow, I started to worry. 

I texted my mom and explained to her what was happening, hoping she would have a quick fix or an answer. But she didn't. At this point, I was starting to worry that something was seriously wrong with my throat. Why couldn't I drink my water? I was running around with children in 90ยบ heat in full sun and knew I was thirsty but I just couldn't bring myself to swallow. 

Lunch rolled around and I assumed that I would be fine and able to swallow food but I was wrong. I then had to explain to my supervisor what was going on and he sent me home for the rest of the day because it wasn't safe for me to be outside in the heat with no food or water in my system.

When I got home, my mom and I made a few calls to doctors and the initial "diagnosis" was that my throat was just having a bad reaction to a medication that I had stopped taking. This seemed like a perfectly valid reason to me and I went about my day assuming everything would be fine in a couple of days once my throat calmed down. 

Fast forward to a week later and I was still having trouble swallowing. By this time, it's safe to say I was freaking out and thinking that something was seriously wrong. I ending up meeting with a gastroenterologist who told me that it wasn't a reaction to stopping the medication and diagnosed me with dysphagia (the medical term meaning difficulty swallowing) and ordered for me to schedule a modified barium swallow test at the hospital. 

Because I'm me, I went home and immediately googled what a modified barium swallow test entailed and after learning that I would have to swallow some kind of barium paste (mmm yummy) while an x-ray machine watched the mechanics of my throat to determine what was going wrong that I was having so much difficulty swallowing.

I knew that if I was asked to swallow something on command, I wouldn't be able to, so I told my parents to hold off on scheduling the procedure and asked for two more weeks to try to figure out what was going on. 

It was a week later that I was talking about this with one of my friends when she sent me an article she found that was titled "How Anxiety Causes Trouble Swallowing." I had never thought that the problem might be entirely inside my head but after reading the article and thinking that someone had wrote it just for me, I realized that the problem was all mental.

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In short, my mind was focusing so much on swallowing, which is something our bodies normally do automatically, that I was psyching myself out and telling myself that I couldn't do it. My mind was so focused on not choking that it overcomplicated a natural reflex. 

Per the recommendation of my doctor, I met with a psychologist who helped me find ways to help reduce my anxiety and gave me tips on what to do if I ever feel really anxious. One of the biggest things that I've discovered helps reduce my anxiety is running. When I start to feel anxious or if I can feel an anxiety attack coming on, I just put my headphones in and go to the gym and run because for those 30 minutes, the only thing I have to think about is putting one foot in front of the other.

I also learned the importance of breathing. Deep breathes help bring me back down to earth when my mind is moving a mile a minute. I also invested in a weighted blanket which has made a big difference, too. It helps me fall asleep faster at night and it makes me feel secure (like someone is hugging me, which is something that calms me down so quickly). 

There are still times when my nerves get the better of me and I have difficultly swallowing but thankfully, I've learned that when that happens, it's just my body's way of telling me I need to slow down and breathe. 

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If you find yourself stressed, or it feels like your mind is running a marathon, don't underestimate how much three deep breathes can do for you. 

xoxo,
Ri

2 comments

  1. Great post Riley, I certainly have my share of anxious moments, even at age 60, but I've now learned how to manage those moments through breathing. But i'm definitely sharing this great post with someone I know who will benefit from the read. Well done to you for sharing. Love to your Dad.

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  2. Great post Riley. As a middle age Women, I also experience these same issues. It’s nice to know I’m not alone. Breathing exercises and yoga have been beneficial to me. Love your post ❤️

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