OK so I’ve kinda click-baited you here. If I knew the formula of overcoming anxiety I’d be a millionaire. But wait. There are some things I can help with. Let’s start at the very beginning…
What is Anxiety? It’s the knot in your stomach as you approach someone to have a difficult conversation. It’s the sweaty palms before going on stage. It’s the nausea you experience whilst waiting for exam results. It’s a feeling many of us dread- despite it’s importance. At times we need to be anxious. It’s anxiety that triggered the fight or flight response from our neanderthal ancestors in order for them to survive & for us to be here today. For many of us anxiety is experienced on a daily basis- to a lesser or greater extent. It’s natural & the majority of the time- we don’t even think about it as it quickly passes. It’s when that overwhelming ‘what the hell am I going to do?’ type feeling is all we can think about that it becomes a problem.
For some people living with Anxiety is a great weight that they carry around with them every single day. It’s being self-conscious about every little thing (which probably makes them a hypocrite too as they spend the majority of their time telling others “who cares what other people think?”). It’s excessive worrying over everything or nothing- then worrying about why you’re worrying in the first place. It’s sleepless nights of endless “what ifs” or sleeping too much because some days it’s much easier to stay in bed than face the world. It’s spending weeks being excited for an event you have planned, then getting an urge to think of an excuse to cancel last minute because you’re imagination has created OSCAR worthy dramas of worst case scenarios in your head. It’s different for everyone. As a Mental Health Nurse I have seen it. As a human I have lived it.
If there was a manual of how to rid anxiety it would be a best-seller but unfortunately, we have to try & do this ourselves (OK maybe not completely alone, we have each other for support!). The first & most important thing is to accept it. Accept that you are feeling this way & that it’s OK. By accepting the feeling we accept help- not only from others but from ourselves. This doesn’t mean allowing anxiety to be in control- but allowing it to exist long enough to challenge it. Thank your brain for trying to protect you but take control & show it there is nothing to be scared of (& if you’re taking these tips very literally- tell your brain this very quietly or when you’re alone to avoid funny looks from passers by).
Challenge the way you feel. One of the joys of experiencing frequent anxiety is that worries are often completely irrational. Quite often we know this, but that doesn’t stop the whirl wind of emotion going on inside our heads. A huge lesson in overcoming anxiety is to challenge these thoughts. It can be very difficult, so don’t put too much pressure on yourself, but tiny steps every day will make one huge leap in the right direction. An example I was very familiar with was “throwing a sicky” from nights out with friends the day before our plans were meant to take place (& no, it wasn’t because at this point I was completely hooked on Gossip Girl). With encouragement I began to challenge these thoughts. I started by going along for a few hours & before I knew it I was enjoying myself at parties that I had no intention of staying at past 10 o’clock. Of course, my belly does a few somersaults now & again (my graduation was a different story!), but a lot of the time I am able to truly enjoy myself.
Each time you challenge yourself, remind yourself of your progress. Look how far you’ve came. Quite often we don’t notice our strengths & what we have achieved until we are forced to take a step back & look. Each time you challenge an anxious thought- you have made progress. It’s a lot harder than it sounds.
Another feature of our good friend anxiety is that, for some, it leads us to pre-plan everything we can. People are likely to have conflicting opinions about this- however I believe that if it is easy to do & you aren’t causing harm- why not? In this day & age we can make a few clicks on our devices & bam- all the information we need is there. I do this with every new place that I go to. Let’s take a training day several months ago as an example. I looked at the road on google maps, I looked at the building in street view, I found out where I could park, I seen how long it would take & then added on 20 minutes to make sure I was definitely not late (because getting stared at as you creep in to a room is 100% the worst). It doesn’t cause the feeling to completely subside but it eases it somewhat. This preparation took me less than 10 minutes. If you’re planning is taking a lot longer- maybe this is another area you could challenge. Think about the worst case scenario. Let’s use my example again. Worst case scenario: get lost on my way there & it takes longer than expected, I don’t know which building to go in to, I can’t find parking space & uh-oh. I’m late. Now, think of solutions & rationalise why this ‘worse case’ isn’t actually that bad. Solutions: use SATNAV/ google maps to find my way, call work (or colleagues on the same training) to ask which building it is, park further away & walk to where I need to be, apologise for being late, go slightly red & continue training as normal (whilst the very few that even noticed you sneak in completely forget about it because they don’t care).
If you are someone who tends to catastrophize when thinking about worse case scenarios- use that in your favour. For example, “I’ll get lost on my way to the training, miss the entire day & get fired for non-attendance.”. Go ahead, and when this doesn’t happen, remind yourself of this. The more reminders you get that this is very unlikely, you will increase the chance that one day you will naturally contradict your own pessimistic thoughts.
“But I’ve tried all that & I’m still panicking!”. There are lots of ways to control panic & the physical symptoms (which gives me an idea for another post!), but for now- let’s briefly talk through a few.
During anxiety attacks our breathing often changes- which can make us panic more as our lungs try to overcompensate by working excessively causing us to take short, shallow, fast breaths. This leads us to exhale more than inhale thus losing oxygen (hyperventilation). To control this, ignore the cliche “long breath in, long breath out”. Take a short & sharp (but deep) breath in & long, slow breath out. Do this repeatedly until you feel more relaxed & breathing is under control.
During these episodes it may also be helpful to change your environment. Despite the lack of science behind this, it always seems to help. For me, I like to go outside & get fresh air when feeling this way.
There are lots of other methods of helping yourself to relax when feeling anxious & I could go on forever. If you are willing to try something new, I’m a strong believer in mindfulness & meditation. You can find lots of information here about why these activities may be helpful.
There are also aids that can be used to help in these moments. For example, ‘sleep sounds’ app for your mobile can be very helpful if you struggle at night time & I always find burning incense very relaxing. I asked for stories of how people have overcome their own anxious thoughts on Instagram & a lady recommended a product called “Deep Sleep Pillow Spray”. She said “You put it on your pressure points. It’s the best.”. I haven’t tried this personally but will be sure to let you know how it goes!
Here are some other stories some of you shared with me. Let’s help each other out!
“I’ve struggled with anxiety since Infants. Coming to school, over-thinking, worrying constantly, sleepless nights and vomiting with nerves. Now, it seems that although it is spoken about it is like everyone “wants” it to excuse themselves- which sucks as I’ve lived in denial of it all my life. I was ashamed of it. Afraid to be judged for trying to be “on the band wagon”.
For people who genuinely struggle, can’t speak for themselves & are, like I was, in denial, I would say a good way of coping (as well as overcoming) is to remember the times you’ve been nervous. Remember the times you thought “How am I ever going to overcome this?” and recognise, oh. wait. That was then & I’m here now. I managed then, I can manage now.”
“List, plan & create as much as possible! I do daft things like go & buy glue guns & try different things. I build boards on Pinterest. It makes me feel like I’ve achieved something! It opens the mind & gives space for those tangled thoughts to be physical & not mental/ hypothetical. It doesn’t result in physical harm either.”
“I sing. I’m not the best & my husband probably wants me to shut up but singing helps me get my emotion out & time to think more rationally.”
“I like make pros & cons lists- sometimes on paper, sometimes in my head. It helps me think about what I’d miss if my anxiety stopped me from doing things & often changes my mind.”
Thank you everyone who shared their stories with me over on Instagram. I will regularly be asking for contributions/ opinions to share- so if you’d like to get involved, head over there. (Apologies as I am unable to “quote” everyone individually but I used all of your stories to help write this post.)
And last, but by no means least, talk. I am a strong advocate for talking (no sarcastic comments please). Sometimes we need to get it off our chests & for someone to be willing to listen. Other times it is helpful for another perspective. Talk to your friends & family & if this is too close to home you could always call one of the support lines recommended by Anxiety UK.
Do you have any other tips for overcoming anxiety? Let us know in the comments below!
Until next time,
Love, Kayleigh Rose x