Last Friday was like any other day at Botanica; the unexpected can happen.
We have a gentleman in his 80’s who comes to us on a regular basis to collect a tonic for a chronic lung condition.
He also happens to have chronic anxiety.
Californian Poppy soothes his nerves but we have been unable to obtain any for a few weeks, it had sold out.
There must be a lot of anxious people out there.
As he leaned on the counter I noticed his breathing was laboured. Not only by his lung condition but by the sensation of not having enough breath that comes with feeling panic and anxiety. I asked if he would like to come to another room and have a chat. I am no therapist or counsellor but I wanted to help, if only a little.
We sat down, face to face, his breathing was shallow and sharp. He was anxious like he is every day; leaving the house, meeting people, facing the world. He said he gets anxious about everything. I told him there is a name for that, ‘generalised’ or ‘free floating anxiety,’ it is common and nothing to feel ashamed of. First thing out of the way –
don’t feel bad about feeling bad
I asked him to put his hands over his tummy and try if he could to do just 3 breaths, as deeply as his condition allowed and through the nose. There was a change. We were easy in each others company, perhaps he felt a kindred spirit. I said it might not be hard to recover and cope with this anxiety. We could try something.
I told him I knew how it felt to be anxious. It is common. Through the ages the great and the good have suffered with periods of anxiety and depression. Abraham Lincoln was referred to by his friends as the most depressed person they had ever seen. On one occasion he was so overcome with melancholia he collapsed, and here was a man of greatness and power. The president of America. He was assumed to have written the poem published in 1838 “The Suicide’s Soliloquy,”-
Hell! What is hell to one like me
Who pleasures never knew;
By friends consigned to misery,
By hope deserted too?
In the hope he might not feel so alone I explained that after a tragic event I had a condition I found out later was called Globus Hystericus. Sounds crazy right? A feeling of a lump in the throat brought on by anxiety where the throat muscles tighten and cause an unnerving sensation. It is extremely common and often those with it will gulp a lot and clear their throat, feeling there is something in the way. I explained that a therapy I was taught 12 years ago, EFT (Emotional Freedom Technique) completely cured it in half an hour. Known as ‘acupuncture without the needles’, it involves tapping on energy points on the body whilst verbalising an affirmation. Easyjet now includes tapping in their ‘Fear of Flying’ course to help frightened flyers regain their confidence. At the time I had no faith it would help, in all honesty I thought it was quackery and only agreed to be practiced on as I was on a training course in Dorset in alternative therapies – we had to take part – some of those on offer crazier than the way I was feeling with this annoying ‘lump’ in my throat. I was wrong on all counts. The EFT worked.
I asked this dear man if he would like to practice a little EFT. Tapping on specific meridian points on the body while using his particular affirmation – “Even though I have this anxiety, I completely and deeply love and accept myself.” It is pretty hard to say that out loud to someone you hardly know! We said it together and he followed the tapping points I was doing, tapping on himself.
Bless him, we did one round, perhaps 7 minutes in length.
I asked him to stop and just breathe normally. I asked him how he felt. He nearly fell asleep he said. Relaxed. Breathing gently and looking very serene. When we started on a scale of how bad he felt out of 10 it was an 8. It was now negligible.
He sat on the sofa in the shop while I wrote down simple instructions and gave him an easy to follow print out of how to practice the technique morning and evening. He was surprised how quickly he felt calm and as he walked out of the shop a little girl spoke to him and he engaged happily. I told him whenever he walks by and is feeling a bit off to come in and see me. A different man left the shop.
Today, the 10th of October is World Mental Health Day.
800,000 people die every year from suicide globally, that is 1 person every 40 seconds.
Suicide rates in young men have soared in recent years.
We need to wake up.
As a society we MUST accept that feelings of sadness, despair, anxiety and depression MUST be allowed and are part of life. We must not feel too ashamed to share our feelings for fear of seeming weak and useless. It is a lie, and one that causes untold misery. When I heard someone else tell me last week that when depressed she felt there was still a stigma I told her that this change. She suffered doubly because the shame of feeling depressed was piled on top of her already sad state at that time. It is wholly wrong and in no way helps someone recover.
On a basic level we must listen and support those with conditions where mental health is fragile. Do away with feeling not as perfect as your neighbour or work colleague or flatmate or friend at university. You are you and unique and special. We are fragile beings and need to support one another and be allowed to meander the hills and troughs in life. We know that tragedy, loss, relationship breakup and hurt can contribute to these negative feelings but perfectionism and pressure just piles on more weight. Let up and let be. It starts young; pressures from parents, schools, media, friends, from ourselves etc!
A problem shared may not always be a problem halved or solved but it is good to talk, to write your feelings down, to walk out your troubles, to eat to support your nervous system, to keep your gut healthy, the link between poor gut health and depression is too strong to ignore. The link between inflammation and depression is also strong and must be addressed. Herbs like St Johns Wort (studies show it to be as effective as Prozac), Ashwagandha and Holy Basil can often help as can ReMag magnesium, probiotics and B vitamins. For more information on mental health matters please see Kelly Brogan MD and Mad in America.
Above all, the stigma has to stop.
There is light at the end of a seemingly very dark tunnel.
“All the world is full of suffering. It is also full of overcoming.” – Helen Keller
Written by Naomi Murray