The ‘A’ word… Anxiety. The sheer thought of it makes me nervous. But, even so, the word anxiety is featured a lot in day-to-day lives. And that means it features even more if you suffer with it.
Mental Health Awareness week is from the 16th – 22nd May, and I thought it was important to highlight an otherwise unmentioned topic. This comes especially as it is more common than people realise. It is something that, I am sure, most people suffer with at least once in their lifetimes. And it is hard, really hard. And it is very real. I think sometimes it is overlooked with how severe it can potentially be.
The symptoms differ for everyone. Anxiety is seen as on a spectrum. Whether you suffer from, for example, mild anxiety, generalised anxiety, panic attacks or an anxiety disorder, anxiety is something that really makes life hard when you are unable to feel control over how you once felt, or even have any understanding of why you feel the way you do. It isn’t as easy as changing mentally, or saying well ‘don’t’, because it is, more often than not, uncontrollable and if it were that simple, then people wouldn’t suffer with it like they do.
For me, personally, anxiety comes hand in hand with Fibromyalgia. It is inevitable in my family to inherit it, and so, I have suffered from panic attacks and generalised anxiety from a very young age, hidden by the discipline of Gymnastics. Similarly, many of my close friends and family members struggle with it also, and so, it is a topic that is often brought up and very well understood.
Because it is invisible, it is easy to forget that it is there. And, unfortunately, there is no cure for anxiety, even though it is hard to deal with and cope with. But, I have devised some ways that help me to control and understand it when it is at its’ hardest. It has taken a while, and it changes constantly, so sometimes one thing that helps one day does not the next.
It is important to note that what helps me won’t necessarily be the same for others as anxiety is different for different people and what works for one person may not for another.
Take time out for yourself
I have spoken about thinking positively as an overthinker here and looking after yourself here. I bring it up often just because I think it is such an important thing to do, that we all forget to do sometimes. Just treating yourself with respect and care makes a huge difference, and helps you to understand yourself more and thus, why it may be that you feel anxious at some points more than others, or even just to help to control anxiety that occurs day-to-day. Take time out and take time off if you need to, and learn to listen to your mind and body.
Try and understand the root of the worry
It is important to remember that anxiety is literally your brain seeking to protect you from the bad, otherwise known as our instinctive and habitual mindset of “fight or flight” that, over time, humans have not had the ability to evolve out of. When you start to think about what anxiety is and why is occurs, it is helpful to see that your brain is literally saving your life.
Because of this, you may not understand why you feel anxious at certain points. You may also see that anxiety can occur out of the blue, when least expected. The hardest bit is understanding why, but once you start to think about it and the situations, personal circumstances and what may be worrying you or your body, it can help you understand your emotions and your fears. It can also prepare your mind mentally if you are to be in that position again, training yourself to recognise where the anxiety may come from and when, and how it helps you to acknowledge what to do next.
Don’t fight it
The best thing I have learnt is to stop fighting the fear of anxiety. Stop panicking from that feeling and trying to avoid it or push it away. Chances are, by doing this, your mind will be panicked more and it will make it harder to recognise.
I personally become scared of the feeling of it, which makes me feel worse as it scares me that I am scared. Likewise, as your brain goes into fight or flight, it is natural to think that there is something wrong with you, that you are in danger, and suddenly become fixated on what could happen, what is happening, that something bad is occurring to you or your body or mind.
It is important to understand that yes, it feels real and terrifying, but then to kick that logical part of your brain in gear to understand the situation for what it is, not what your anxiety tells you it is. Feel your brain, follow your mind to feel yourself to know that it is ok.
Exercise and meditation
Exercise is a key to helping reduce anxiety symptoms. It helps your body , gets your blood and heart flowing, and uses up energy that may otherwise be used to overthink or creates the inability to sleep at night making thoughts worse. It also helps generate endorphins which make you feel happier, healthier, and help concentrate better, feeling more in control.
However, if you do not feel like hard-core gym gains are for you, then don’t even worry (because me either). The best thing I do for stress and anxiety is yoga and deep breathing exercises.
After exams, especially, and when life becomes stressful, I find yoga and meditation perfect to relax and calm down when things feel overwhelming. Taking as little as 5 minutes out to yourself doing simple exercises to control your breathing, your thoughts and a racing mind makes a huge difference to your perception of your life. I try and do up to 20 mins twice or three times a week. Obviously, in our conscious minds, we do not understand this, but our brains and body really notice the difference.
It doesn’t last forever and you are safe
Just knowing that it doesn’t last forever, that you are safe and that everything will make sense when you come out of the anxious bubble gives that comfort that you are ok. Yes, easier said than done I know, but training your mind to recognise that you are safe and taking time out to remember that your brain is protecting you, not trying to hurt you will ultimately seize back the control.
The peaks of anxious thoughts do pass, know that, and whether that takes a while or a few moments, knowing that you will eventually come out of the bubble may ensure that you don’t get into a cycle of panic which makes it feel so much worse.
I hope this post has been of help with living with anxiety and making life that little bit easier. If you have other ways of coping or helping to tackle anxiety, please comment them down below! It would be great to get support going and hopefully help anyone who is struggling.