This weeks post is about anxiety and how I try to manage it. With the prospect of schools being fully reopened on the 8th my anxiety is high, I’m worried about the risk doing my job will open my family up too and the risks to which my friends, colleagues and I open ourselves up too. This doesn’t mean that we are worse off than any others but as someone who suffers from GAD this potential change and risk is something I need to process, plan for and deal with. In the current situation there will be many out there who maybe haven’t previously suffered from anxiety or realised that they did and therefore my journey or experiences may help.
Anxiety is something, like many people, I’ve been dealing with for years, initially mine became apparent in my early teens and by 16 it was clear that I had panic disorder. As a teen I knew nothing about anxiety or how common it was. I took medication for awhile assuming that it would go away. Which to a certain extend the panic disorder has…or at least I’ve learnt to recognise it and manage it. However over the years, I realised that the anxiety hasn’t gone, it’s always with me, like an unpleasant friend that sits on my shoulder. This how I view my generalised anxiety, but over the years I’ve learnt to accept my little friend while they sometime frustrate me and overwhelm me they also help me to understand and recognise things in others, become good at my job and diversify my interests into alternative approaches, well being and other outlets.
While I spent many years thinking that I was a rarity who has something wrong with me I’ve realised that that is a very egotistical mindset and that in reality everyone experiences it at times, in some situations it’s perfectly natural. Sometimes however, anxiety can be constant, overwhelming and out of proportion to what is really happening (my little friend). The good news is that there are plenty of things that can help us cope with anxiety in addition to medication. As people become more open to speak about their struggles more research takes place that can highlight the causes of anxiety and the impact of different treatments. While for many of us our anxiety won’t ever completely leave us we can learn to manage it and recognise the strength and gifts it can give us.
I don’t pretend to be able to fix anyone’s anxiety and I would always recommend seeking professional support, all I can do is share my own story and my own coping strategies in the hopes of giving ideas to others.
This is something I did when I was younger, although at the time I didn’t realise that was what I was doing. I have recently begun again this time taking it more seriously (I’m now in fact working towards becoming a mediation teacher). It’s not something I find easy…my mind tends to wander. My workplace offered all teachers the a years free subscription so I signed up and learnt the basics though this app. There are many different ways to meditate and you will need to choose the one that works best for you; my preference is for guided mediation but you can do it through yoga, music or transcendental. Studies have show that mediation can help us to form new neural pathways, increase the amount of grey matter and help out glial cells work to keep everything running smoothly.
This is something that I find so useful in the moment I feel a panic attack trying to come on. While I luckily don’t have the misery of the multiple panic attacks a day I used to experience as a teen they do still pop up. I have always used breathing and focusing on this as a way to ease and sometimes stop them.
Begin by focusing on your breath, the physical process of it, where do you feel it in your body? Your chest, your stomach, your nose? Don’t worry about it being fast or slow, just be aware of it. Then start to count those breaths, again don’t worry about how they are coming just count each out breath. What you will find is that by simple counting them they will begin to slow, by focusing just on counting them they will begin to regulate themselves to the pace you find it counting easiest. Some people I know count them up to 10 and then begin again personally I count as high as I can go. I usually get to around 50 before I realise that, actually my mind has started to wander. Once I become aware of this I then try to focus it for a minute or so on the sounds, smells and touch around me. By this time many of my panic symptoms have subsided and I am able, by slowly taking account of the senses around me I can bring myself back to the moment.
I am not always great at maintaining this but it definitely helps me feel better. I particularly notice this when I exercise at the start and end of the day. Walking is my favourite type of exercise (or boxing), walking to work is the best way I’ve had to do this but barring when I lived in London I’m not generally able to do this. I currently try to stop at the local cliffs first thing in the morning on my way to work for a quick 10 minute lap along the cliff walk, not only is the view and fresh air refreshing and stimulating but it gives me time to get into a good headspace before starting my day. The downside is being a teacher from October to February I start and finish work in the dark and exercise, particularly during a pandemic, is tricky.
I love order! When I am stressed, upset, angry, panicked I clean and organise. It helps me to feel like I have control over something it also helps me to focus my mind on something else. It is also an act of mindfulness, I focus solely on this one activity. Order and routine within life in general also help me to manage my anxiety. Anxiety thrives on chaos so I try to keep it to a minimum. I make sure that things that I know will trigger my anxiety are scheduled into my week and that I have time to plan for them. I am mostly anxious about things on the horizon so by making sure I have them scheduled means that I can plan for them, thus helping me to minimise the anxiety I feel. Avoiding the things that give me anxiety, as I have mentioned, causes them to build in my mind.
I’ve never been one for writing diaries and for many years have struggled to share my feelings either orally or by writing. Many people find journaling their feelings really helpful in a similar way as others are supported by talking to a counsellor. However I do enjoy expressing myself through art, for me this is a form of journaling, I can share my feelings in imagery, in the choice of medium or colours. I might not always do it daily but I always do it at need.
Years ago I saw my anxiety as a weakness something that I should be ashamed of and that others would judge me for if they knew. I now recognise that because everyday activities can be so much more challenging for me than for people who are not struggling with anxiety the fact that I undertake them, that I plan the things that give me anxiety and doing shun them is strength and is certainly not a weakness. I have come to this realisation because I stopped fighting my issue, accepted it and embraced it. This isn’t something I’ve clicked my fingers and done, it has taken years and is still a struggle. Anxiety is my superpower, what yours?
Websites to support you further
Anxiety UK: https://www.anxietyuk.org.uk/