Anxiety: It’s a Bitch but It Doesn’t Have to Rule Your Life Forever.
I started writing a blog in May about panic attacks. I’d had my first one in nearly a year the previous month and thought what better time to write about it. Apparently not. What followed was a stream of panic attacks over the last few months and every time I went to write about them I just couldn’t. It was just too painful. I really questioned what help I could possibly offer anyone who was suffering with anxiety and panic attacks when I was still in the midst of it, not knowing if it would ever end. So, it sat on my computer, half written, and there it has stayed. Instead, today, I am sharing what I have learnt from the last few months about anxiety because I realise now looking back to April, that things are better and I want to give hope to anyone who might be sitting in that place of fear, thinking it will never end and that you can never enjoy your life again.
It’s funny anxiety, because even those who have it and do understand it, often struggle to get their heads round the whole “but your life is great” thing. There is such a focus on the external aspects of life that it is hard to understand why someone has anxiety, depression or even would take their own life when they have what society calls the “perfect” life. A good job, money, a house, children, a partner, support and love. It is hard to grasp, even for me, knowing anxiety as well as I do, that these things, although they may contribute to your mental health, they do not dictate it. Now, I am no scientist but I do know that anxiety and depression is when your brain chemistry is different. We have what is called pathways in our brain and when we experience mental health issues we shorten the pathways between things happening in our lives and depression or anxiety. I learnt this from one of the first books I read about mental health, which focused on Mindfulness Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (MCBT) and there I discovered there was good news. You can do things to help re-train the pathways in your brain and in fact, there are lots of things out there to help! I will share with you the things that have helped me the most.
I remember the day I had my official diagnosis from a doctor that I had anxiety and depression. In complete desperation to ‘fix’ myself I googled what to do and actually found this complete gem. I now write most days in a journal. It is less about what I did that day and more about how I am feeling and what is in my head. It is amazing the clarity you get by writing, it is like you are able to step back and observe what is going on. It creates space between the overwhelming thoughts. I also found it amazing to track patterns. Spotting toxic patterns that cause more anxious thoughts and behaviours, and spotting things that eased my overwhelming thoughts. This information has helped me actually take action to make things easier for myself. It also helps that I love a bit of stationary, buy yourself a nice new notepad and pen and start today.
Anyone who knows me knows that Yoga changed my life. I always did it for fitness but as the anxiety really kicked off I started to notice that actually it was far more than just a good body workout. Working with slowing down and breathing into your belly calms the nervous system which is often in fight or flight mode if you have anxiety. In my darkest times Yoga has saved me, which is why I ended up teaching Yoga. If there is a chance I can help one person ease the burden of anxiety through my teaching then it is all worthwhile.
3. Remember to Have Fun
Of course sometimes you won’t feel up to it (see next tip) but remember the things you love. For me it is dancing. I decided, although I was terrified, that I would go back to Pole dancing and try Burlesque. I made the right decision. Even when I am having a really bad day I still go because, I can guarantee without fail that I will not only enjoy it, but the anxiety eases. I have found it useful to push my comfort zone slightly but not too far as it is counter productive. Knowing your own threshold is important.
4. Be easy on yourself
All too often we feel obliged to do things to not upset others and if you have anxiety then this is such a strong feeling. Anxiety sufferers hate the idea of letting someone else down. It is important to remember that doing something to please another to the detriment of your own health is very unkind to yourself. If you wouldn't force someone to do something they don't want to do, why would you do it to yourself? Be kind. If you can't socialise some days that is okay. Pushing your comfort zone a little is good but just take it easy and be nice to yourself.
This one sounds terrifying but it doesn't have to be. I am not saying do what I am doing and tell the world you have anxiety but what I am saying is that the more I shared the more it becomes less of a “thing”. I started with a therapist, then close family and friends and now complete strangers. I always read the situation first, it is important you feel comfortable and trust that person. Listen to your intuition. If is doesn't feel right then don't share. I have experienced such an amazing response from everyone I have shared with, incredible support and love, thank you!
6. Consideration: What is My Anxiety Trying to Tell Me?
In the past I have noticed links between heightened anxiety and certain people or situations. Over time I have learnt that this is my gut instinct kicking in and very often I would over ride those feelings with my rational mind resulting in some pretty epic panic attacks. It was one hell of a lesson and it has helped me to reflect on panic attacks after they happen and often there is a message there. Maybe I am denying some emotion and powering through regardless? Could it be a situation that is dangerous or damaging to my health? Now, I am working on listening to my intuition more so I can avoid the shouting panic attacks . Check out my last blog for tips on ways to build your relationship with your intuition.
Meditation doesn't need to be fancy. Just 10 deep belly breaths is pretty good and you can do it anywhere. I used to do it on the loo at my last job, it became a habit that every time I was in there. I just made the most of the time I had as I was always too busy to meditate. Each time I noticed how my breath was shallow and had crept up to my chest, which would just be increasing the fight or flight response in my body. Just 10 breaths was enough to bring me back to a grounded centre, ready to carry on my day.
8. Get Out in Nature and Connect
Since the anxiety really kicked off a few years ago I noticed how I really struggled to stay indoors regardless of the weather and if I went a day without getting outside I felt really edgy. I particularly love being in or near water, which actually makes sense as it is proven to help with anxiety and depression. Barefoot and in the grass is so grounding and will always calm me down. Add any animals to that and you have a perfect combination. Dogs, cats, even insects and bugs. Take time in nature to use all your senses to take in the environment. Breathe in the smells, listen to the birds, look at all the amazing colours. This is one of the best ways to relax.
If you get into the habit of doing these things even on your good days it can work to prevent anxiety and reduce the intensity of it when it does come. Seriously, it has been an incredible difference for me.
Most importantly, remember you don't need to suffer alone. It has taken me years to talk about this and every time I share with someone I am overwhelmed with the support I get and the reminder that I am not alone. Only this week I mentioned I had anxiety and 4 people then shared their story. The more we share the more we can support each other and things will start to ease for you, just like they have for me. I know it is likely that I will have another panic attack at some point but I also know it will pass and I know it won’t be nearly as bad as the ones in the past.
All my love and support to you all.
Keep sharing! xoxoxoxo