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8 July 2014

An Honest Post about Anxiety plus 5 Ways to Help Yourself


Anxiety

For the past few months I have been deliberating whether or no to write this post. But as I kept thinking about it I decided to take that as I should. 

Personal issues aren't something I would normally talk about on my blog however I know a lot of people suffer from anxiety problems and it's something that needs to be talked about more often and a lot more openly. 

Anxiety is something we can all experience from time to time - from dreading a dentist appointment or working yourself up before an exam, to fearing small tasks such as shopping or going on public transport. Of course dreading 'none fun' tasks is normal and anxiety in these situations will always pass but the problem comes when our brain feels unnecessary fear which results in distress and physical side effects. 

Physical side effects from anxiety and panic attacks vary so widely, so I won't be listing them all here, but I would say that if you are feeling symptoms such as nausea, sweating/feeling hot, pins and needles feeling (generally in hands/neck/face), feeling a loss of control, changed breathing or feeling faint in different situations or even just over thinking situations, then you are probably experiencing anxiety. Also from a less physical side you might feel like you need to flee - looking for the nearest exit, or feel like people are aware that you are acting differently (I promise you 9 times out of 10 they aren't) or simply have a feeling of dread that is so hard to explain properly - even to yourself. 

Suffering from anxiety can be isolating as it's easy to think no one else is suffering from the same thing and opt-out of doing thing you once enjoyed. Plus I think we naturally try to deal with things ourselves as admitting any problem can seem like a weakness or a failing of some kind. However if you are suffering from panic attacks or anxiety the first step is to understand it isn't a weakness and the next step is to be open about it, I promise it is something that really helps! (Even if that means leaving me an anonymous comment or email if you have never spoken about it before - it's a step in the right direction!). 

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My own anxiety started over 3 years ago now from a few highly stressful events. Once time had passed and I felt I was moving on anxiety would appear if I had somewhere important to go or if I was doing something new. I bought Calms to take in case I had to do something but felt like simply avoiding different situations - going out for meals, travelling long distances, would fix the problem. Anxiety then started to creep into every day tasks, a bit like ivy I like to think, this was when I realised I properly had anxiety. Since then I've had periods where I've felt anxiety was totally taking over my life and even worried it would lead to a mental illness (looking back I should have forced myself to go to the doctors as no one should feel that way). However at some point I realised I could have more control of it and decided to relax more and help myself with some of the things I mention below. Right now I feel my anxiety is so much better than it was... I can now go on a plane and enjoy it, go to the cinema again and spot when anxiety is coming on and calm myself to some degree (most of the time!). I still don't feel I want to live with bouts of anxiety, so I'm now considering going to the doctors for Cognitive Behavioural Therapy but I do feel like I'm on the right road and I'm quite proud of that fact! 

So without anymore rambling here are 5 pointers that may help anyone suffering from anxiety. 

Confide 
 I personally feel like no problem should be taboo and feel like anxiety has made me a much more open and understanding person. So talking to someone that you know that has experienced anxiety problems or even mental health issues could be a great person to talk to and open up to about your anxiety. However if you don't know of anyone talking to someone you are comfortable with can also really help. This won't instantly reduce your anxiety but it can definitely take a weight of your shoulders and also get you talking and thinking about ways you could help yourself. Also letting someone you are often with know you get anxiety can make doing things more comfortable and it's great to feel like you have that support to rely on. 

Relax 
 Even after anxiety has passed life can seem very stressful and you can find yourself maintaining a level of stress, which eventually leads to more anxiety. To break this finding things that make you feel relaxed and happy is important. I now feel I don't often relax like I use to be naturally able to but I make a conscious effort to... lay  in bed watching a film then having a good night's sleep, I take the time to read a book and walk my dog (being outside and being active I've discovered to be so important!) these all bring me little pieces of joy and make me feel relaxed. Also whilst you are feeling relaxed sometimes note/be aware how your body and mind feel and accept that you are the one controlling that.

Distract 
When anxiety arises our minds like to think about what's going in our bodies (we become super aware of our breathing, rising body temperature, cramping stomach etc), whilst also thinking about the problems that could cause (I could breath too fast and pass out, need to go to the toilet), plus thoughts of how to escape or if people are noticing. So our mind is pretty much going at 100 miles an hour and actually making us feel a whole lot worse. Distraction may be to appreciate small details around you (more on that below with being mindful), listening to music, looking up at the sky, playing a game on your phone, even doodling in a notebook you keep in your bag (or if you have anxiety at home why not buy a colouring book... yes, they actually do them for adults on Amazon!). Realise that focusing on how you feel when you get anxiety is the worst thing you can do. Once you can learn to distract yourself you will notice your anxiety reduce.

Be Mindful 
 To be mindful is to be in the present moment which will quiet our mind and stop racing thoughts. I personally don't like to focus on how my body is feeling when I have anxiety so instead I pay great detail to everything else around me. If say I'm outside I sit down and look at the sky, I look at what the pavement looks like, I look at the people around me, I notice if I can smell anything. This may seem like a pointless exercise to do but if you make being totally present (not thinking about a million other things) an exercise you need to do gradually your mind will relax. I have also discovered focusing on a part of my body that isn't affected by anxiety to also really help. I simply make my hand into a fist and notice how my knuckles become whiter, my nails slightly digging into my palm, my wrist becoming ridged and the overall feeling of pressure building up in my hand. I hold this for 10 seconds then slowly relax my grip and stretch out my fingers enjoying the sensation of my hand being relaxed again. This not only distracts my mind (it can be done over and over until you feel more calm - great in public situations) but shows how I am in control of how my body feels and how it can be relaxed.

Be Your own Therapist 
 I know quite a lot of people now that have anxiety and most have never been to the doctors about it. This isn't to say you shouldn't go but I think it's in us all to try to deal with it first. However it's important to help ourselves (maybe trying the above tips) and then to also set tasks and check in on how we are doing once in a while. Anxiety can hold us back from things and avoidance can easily creep in, this may seem okay but the longer we avoid things the more intimidating they can feel. My last personal goal was to get back into going to the cinema, something I use to enjoy. But due to feeling closed in and having to stay put I would end up having anxiety and walking out, so I simply stopped going. I eventually decided to list the things that would make going to the cinema easier - going when it wasn't busy, going to see something light-hearted/funny, making sure I wasn't too hot or too full, not pre-booking tickets. My first attempt was pretty successful and this only made me want to try again but to go one step further I went at night which meant it would be more busy. This time I was aware I wasn't as relaxed but I still managed to watch the entire film without having anxiety. I'm even going to see 'The Fault In Our Stars' (a non-funny film) with my sister this Wednesday! I've also done a similar thing with flying and going on holiday because I'm aware that I need to set myself goals. You may want to start small and confront a situation that gives you the least anxiety and repeat that until you are happy to move onto something more challenging with the added knowledge you can do it. It's so easy to revert into yourself when anxiety develops but overtime realising you can be your own therapist can get your life back on track!

Anxiety can be super tough be we can all work towards a happier more relaxed mind. If you suffer from anxiety and every want to off load feel free to email me because I definitely understand how hard it can be! 

Hope this has been helpful to some.

Fee xo.

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