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How I Healed My Life-Long Anxiety

Are you someone who has been struggling with anxiety for years now? Well, maybe this story will finally help you to heal from it. 

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Anxiety was just a part of who I was because I’d experienced it my whole life. With a lot of knowledge and commitment, I healed my anxiety. My hope is that by sharing my own story, I can help others do the same. Healing anxiety is possible for anyone who wants it badly enough.

My Story

Anxious thoughts started in my earliest memories of childhood. I would lay in bed at age 5 or 6 having thoughts that someone would break-in. If my dad was traveling for work, I’d stare at the clock with a knot in my stomach hoping he’d get home safely. My internal anxiety made me a shy kid. When guests came over, I would literally hide under tables or have a death grip around my mom’s leg. The world was a scary place for me.

Of course, now I understand my steady diet of ice cream, cookies, and processed foods played a major role in this, but more on that later.

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I developed the ability to channel my anxiety. It became a positive, functional tool like it is for most textbook overachievers. I was a straight-A student and a star athlete. I could never relax until every assignment was done. My room was spotless. I was organized. I won awards.

But inside I was a mess.

After college, I moved to New York City for grad school. This is when my anxiety started spiraling out of control. My chest was tight almost every waking moment. My sleep was terrible. I was lucky to fall asleep and if I did, I’d only stay asleep for a few hours before I’d wake up unable to fall back asleep.

I was still doing well in school because studying had so long been a way I soothed my internal anxiety. But other parts of my life were suffering like personal relationships and my work at my externship. I was struggling to keep it all together and turned to partying to numb what I was unable to cope with.

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My second year in New York, suddenly I found out my mom needed to get open-heart surgery. My anxiety went through the roof. I was drinking too much and started using drugs, but I rationalized it as part of normal grad school behavior. Anyone who’s used anything to cover anxiety knows that it only adds fuel to the fire. I spent most of the week in a familiar cycle of studying and working, being hungover, and repeating it. It’s hard to believe I was that person but I knew nothing else.

Eventually, I had my first panic attack.

I was sitting on my bed getting ready to meet a friend. My heart started pounding out of my chest and my hands and feet went completely numb. I tried to calm myself down but I couldn’t. Before I knew it I was full-on hyperventilating.

Consciously I knew I was having a panic attack, but the surge of adrenaline was no match for rational thought.

I considered calling 9-11.

My hands shook and I could barely put on shoes as I got myself ready for the hospital. I was convinced I was dying.

If you’ve ever had a panic attack, you have one thing on your mind: not having another one. Two weeks later I was sitting across from a psychiatrist who diagnosed me with panic disorder and handed me two prescriptions. One for an SSRI and another for a benzodiazepine.

Back then, I was being taught and bought into the “broken brain” model of conventional psychology. Medication just seemed necessary to me at that time. I spent 4 years taking them every day. I convinced myself I would need them my whole life.

One day, during a YouTube binge, I came across Dr. Natasha Campbell McBride. She was talking about her book Gut and Psychology Syndrome. It was the first time I was hearing about the microbiome and how it influenced behavior. They say when the student is ready the teacher appears. I was ready. Her work sent me down a rabbit hole of obsessive learning that changed my own mindset and the way I treat clients forever.

I couldn’t unlearn what I was learning.

By then I had finished up my Ph.D. and started working in the field. In a decade of school, I’d never heard of anything I was learning on my own. The microbiome, gut-brain axis, probiotics, and inflammation were all completely new to me. All of a sudden I’m learning that 70% of serotonin is made in the gut and bugs in our gut influence our moods. To say my mind was blown was an understatement.

I was armed with a new understanding that anxiety is not a disorder but a symptom with a root cause looking to be corrected.


Physical vs. Mental Anxiety

I think its important to address the difference between physical and mental anxiety.

Mental anxiety is a normal adaptive human response to a threat. It’s a quick fight or flight response when we are in danger that has helped us to evolve. Today, this kind of anxiety looks like nerves before a presentation or anxious jittery feelings before a date. It’s short, sweet, and appropriate to the experience.

Then there’s physical anxiety.

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Dr Nicole LePera
Dr. LePera views mental and physical struggles from a whole person perspective and works to identify the underlying physical and emotional causes. She understands that balance is an integral part of wellness and empowers individuals to heal themselves, supporting them on their wellness journeys. Dr. LePera founded the Mindful Healing Center in Center City Philadelphia. She recently expanded her work online creating a platform for teaching these often overlooked components of mental wellness to individuals and practitioners around the world.
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