"I was the weird person on the Gautrain bus, eyes closed with my hands on my lap, meditating"

I never wanted to rely on medication to deal with my anxiety
I never wanted to rely on medication to deal with my anxiety

I was officially diagnosed with anxiety last year, on my birthday. It was a grim start to my day but my doctor and I had been talking about my symptoms for a while that on that day, he decided to take action and put me on antidepressants. It became the beginning of a long journey. 

We began playing around with dosages for the next couple of weeks to see what would work for me. At times it was a struggle because on some days I would sleep for hours, miss lectures and not be able to do any work.

At others, I would be up for close to 22 hours in a day barely functioning and unable to sleep except the two hours I managed to squeeze in. 

READ MORE: Could universities be fueling mental health issues?

We finally found the right dosage for me but I never wanted to rely on medication to deal with my anxiety. I felt like I was running away from the problem rather than facing it. I booked an appointment with a psychologist when I was ready to talk and figure out what was wrong. After the first session, she informed me that she didn't think my anxiety was severe enough to be on meds and wanted us to come up with ways to help deal with the core issues. 

We started off with eliminating caffeine from my diet. This wasn't easy as exam season was around the corner. Drinking highly caffeinated drinks used to help me through the exam period but I managed to cope and graduated.

But after I no longer had my therapy sessions to turn to, I had to figure out how to start managing my condition. 

First, I started telling people what I was going through so that they would give me a chance before writing off my attitude off as being rude or uninterested. That seemed to help.  After a while, I started posting on Twitter and Facebook about anxiety and how it can affect me.

I think that is how I started getting suggestions on my social media feeds that I try the Calm app. 

READ MORE: "I ran 18 races in just 6 months to beat depression"

After weeks of avoiding what felt like hints, I finally gave in and downloaded the app.

The app does not warn you that the moment you open it you will be met with sounds from nature. You will hear the soothing sounds of a river flowing, birds chirping, the wind blowing against leaves on huge trees. You will be transported to a forest you may have visited in your previous life. 

Since the music starts playing immediately when you open the app, consider using your headphones before opening it. 

I decided to try the 7 days of Calming Anxiety programme because that was my key issue. This is how it went: 

Day 1: The present 

The first day was quite exciting. As the soothing sounds continued, a soft-spoken woman introduced me to meditation. She explained it's importance, how it can help you deal with anxiety and took me through breathing exercises. I was the weird person on the Gautrain bus closing their eyes with their hands on the lap meditating. - but it was worth it.

12 minutes

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Day 2: Mind and body 

This day was dedicated to understanding how anxiety affects my body. It was about being self-aware, noticing where I hold tension in my body. The session was still heavily focused on guided-meditation (the soft-spoken woman still walked me through it).

12 minutes

Day 3: Non-reactivity 

This session was about not reacting to your anxious thought. I was reminded that I need to be aware of them without reacting. Easier said than done but helpful. It helped guide me in finding a replacement for reacting to my thoughts, like taking a few deep breathes to refocus. 

Day 4: Noting 

I became aware that the past few days had been leading me to this moment. It was about taking note of my thoughts and assessing where they came from. It helped me move on without answering to the thoughts themselves. This meant less stress because I didn't have the time to over-think. 

READ MORE: Coping techniques for when you can't get to a therapist?

Day 5 and 6: Nature of change & pausing 

These two sessions were a challenge. I missed day 5 so I thought I would squeeze in both sessions in one day right before I went to bed. I had 30 minutes to spare so, I thought I could manage. Needless to say, I fell asleep and forfeited both. 

Day 7: Befriending anxiety 

I looked forward to this session because I wanted to know how a person could possibly befriend anxiety. I also forfeited this day because time ran away from me. Before I knew it, my seven-day trial had ended and I couldn't complete the programme. 

I was tempted to pay for the app but it is quite pricey - R69.99 per month, R629.99 for the year or R4 199.99 for lifetime access. Maybe someday I will subscribe for a month and go through the other programmes like 21 Days of Calm or 7 Days of sleep. 

You can download the app on the app store or play store and try it for yourself. I wouldn't say that it substitutes a psychologist but it does help to some degree. 

Have a you tried this or a similar app? Tell us about it here.

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