Have you ever experienced panic attacks, phobias, irrational thoughts or felt worried about social situations? If you have, this one's for you.
I feel like I could write a whole book on anxiety, having spent most of my life in its sinewy grips. If I took a stab at guessing when mine started I could probably go back as far as age five, and I began to really get control of it at about 45, meaning it was in full force for approximately 40 years. So I'm probably qualified to dish out a few tips and recount experiences of anxiety. Strangely (and I'm not sure if this is true for other anxiety recoverers too) I prefer not to focus on it too much now that it's not such a huge issue. I have to weigh up how much I can afford to dredge it up in order to try and help others with their situations, and how much I can leave it behind and enjoy life with my newfound freedom. Sometimes when I see, hear or read about others suffering acutely with it, I feel pulled between reaching out to them, or turning a blind eye for my own sanity. Anxiety can be so crippling that once you come to a better place with it, you feel loathe to dip back in voluntarily.
I've come up with these three coping strategies for you to consider, because you might find that one of them helps, and if it does, then we're on to a winner...
Fuck the stigma. Who even cares what other people think, in the long run? We all know that anxiety is rife and is holding people back from living fulfilling and joyous lives. Make a pact with yourself right now not to give a shit about how your anxiety comes across to others. This is your path to tread and you must do it however you can get through. Loving friends and family will understand, and actually so will less close people and even random strangers... all you have to do is communicate. Explain that you are experiencing (or likely to experience) anxiety about something. Tell them that you feel silly but right now that's where you're at, and let them know how you would like them to help.
In some cases the best they can do for you is to ignore you until it passes (that's how I like to handle it when I'm having a panic), or help you get to a safe haven or comfort zone. Other anxiety sufferers might prefer a glass of cold water, or a hand to hold, or a hug, or a chat. What pretty much anyone with anxiety doesn't want is to be told to 'snap out of it'. We can't do that on command. If we could do that, we wouldn't still be suffering. Communicate to those around you that you need to be handled with care. After all, you are not enjoying this and it's no fun for you either. Remind impatient people that this is worse for you than the slight inconvenience for them.
2. Respect Your Comfort Zone
There are things you can manage and there are things that will totally trigger you. Guess what? You don't have to do everything that is expected of you. You can say no. Re-educate yourself about your ability to turn things down. It's quite liberating.
If you find yourself in a situation that has triggered anxiety, make your way (if possible) to somewhere you can be alone. If you're in a crowded bar, restaurant, party or conference for example, pop out to the bathrooms and have a quiet moment away from the noise and chaos. If you're on a date or in an interview, just say you need a moment and slip away until you calm down.
I know it feels embarrassing at the time, but you'll be in more control if you take the lead on getting to your comfort zone and the whole episode will pass more quickly. If you can't escape (eg you're in a queue or on a plane) then there are techniques you can learn that can be done on the spot. EFT (Tapping) is one of these things. There's one you can do on your fingers quite unobtrusively. I'll explain this in another blog.
I had an incident where I'd gone to a client's place of work and was going to interview the team and be given a tour, which I would film on my phone. It should all have been upbeat and lighthearted with plenty of information and insight about who they are and what they do, but guess what? A full on panic attack came and took over. My eyes streamed, my face went red, and I actually started heaving in front of them. I had to rush to the loo and puke. Not a good look. They probably think I'm a lunatic, but I did my best to communicate and they are still clients to this day. So it wasn't the end of the world, although I felt like it was at the time. Another incident (just so you know you're not alone) was a meeting I had with the owner of a cool cafe / workspace. Mid-conversation it came upon me and I didn't even have time to explain it. I dashed to the loo, dry heaved a few times, composed myself, splashed face with water, and returned. In fact, she didn't mention it, although I did explain and apologise. Yes we do need a certain amount of bravery in order to live life's adventures, and we do need to face our fears, but we are allowed do them in our own time at our own pace. It is possible to widen our comfort zones if we commit to self development and learn how to master our thoughts instead of letting them be totally in charge of our minds.
Do you feel anxious when you are walking in fields, forests or on beaches, or dipping your feet into water? Probably not so much, so make regular dates with nature's ever-present comfort zone. It's great to get away from people and pressure.
3. Get Therapy
The diagram below is something I saw via Laura Duggal in her group Freedom Mums.
There are so many ways in which we can regain control and so many techniques to learn. I hope that points 1 and 2 have been of some help to you. Really though, if anxiety is a recurring theme in our lives, we need professional help.
I started my therapy journey as a teenager and blimey, I've tried so many things... Jungian therapy, NLP, Christianity, booze, valium, travel tablets, NHS counselling, private counselling, healing, hypnotherapy, visits to clairvoyants, yoga, martial arts, self help books... honestly the list is endless. And perhaps many of them helped in their own way, but at the age of 45 I was still bereft of a 'cure'.
I happened to meet a therapist whose no-bullshit methods are scientific - she's an experienced and qualified psychologist who has no qualms about telling it how it is. It was after two sessions with her that I had my lightbulb moment of realising there was a possibility of being able to turn things around. I haven't looked back. So don't feel that you can never escape this anxiety hell. I wholeheartedly believe that taking positive steps towards getting a better mindset is the way forward. The other parts of the jigsaw have brought you to where you are now, sitting reading this article. Now for the biggest, most helpful piece of the puzzle - it's time to choose your therapist. If you absolutely can't afford one there is crowdfunding, and there are books. Imagine the price of a holiday abroad, and how quickly that holiday will be over. Well for six to eight sessions with a good therapist, you could spend about the same amount and give yourself a gift that will last, and filter into all areas of your life.
I will share more coping strategies in another blog at another time. Feel free to ask for book recommendations, names of recommended therapists and coaches, or any other questions you might have. In the meantime, here's a diagram I've knocked up to help you remember to focus on what you can control and let go of what you can't...
Wishing you a calm day!