‘Anxiety’ is a word that is very common these days, which is interesting as, when I grew up in the 70’s and 80’s, I don’t remember ever hearing anything about it. I don’t know if people were less anxious then, or they just didn’t talk about it as we are much more encouraged to do now, (thank goodness!), but it certainly seems to be a growing problem which has no respect for age, gender or culture.
Am I talking about anxiety, stress, depression or panic attacks here? I don’t really know if I’m honest, maybe a combination? I’m not a doctor or a psychiatrist, I’m just recalling how I was affected and the toll it took on my self esteem and sense of worth at the time.
I was chatting to a colleague about anxiety yesterday and she suggested that perhaps it is because our communities, familial ties and supportive networks are weaker than they were 50 years ago, but I’m not so sure about that view. Twitter, Facebook and Instagram can be viewed as our communities for the 21st century I suppose, and they can also be incredibly vindictive and cruel.
I’m really glad that people are talking about Anxiety. Visit any bookshop and there are dozens of self help books for managing every aspect. Counselling has established itself as a well known and growing profession in recent years, and people are more aware that talking therapies can be extremely effective. Stigma and prejudice still exist around mental health issues sadly, but I hope we are at least moving in the right direction.
I can’t help wondering if aspects of life in the 21st century feed our fears. The pressure of social media and the ongoing pursuit of money, image and fame coupled with our throwaway culture, (people as well as things) have surely added to this phenomenon.
In my own experience, I realise that I spent quite a period of my life dealing with anxiety and it still rears it’s unwelcome little head now – if I let it.
In the grip of an anxious episode/ panic attack (label it as you choose), I would experience a familiar tightness in my chest, my heart would beat rapidly and I would feel sweaty, sick and dizzy amd unable to breathe properly. What really concerned me was the unpredictable nature of these episodes; usually when I was not particularly panicking about anything! For example, I recall one nasty occurance as I arrived at a wedding. I felt nervous about attending weddings for some time after, as I wondered if there was some unconscious association I was unaware of!
I appreciate that the panic attacks I suffered were minimal compared to others, but they were still highly disabling and ate away at my confidence. That feeling of tightness in the chest and being unable to breathe was terrifying and I felt literally overwhelmed. My mind would become a tunnel vision of panic and I would feel lost in a spiral of despair.
Looking back, I wonder if it was about people pleasing and concern about being judged by others, but I doubt if it was ever that simple.
I conquered a lot of these issues in my 30’s as my self confidence grew and I undertook 5 years of therapeutic training for my Counselling qualification. I appreciate that different methods work for different people, but a few of my strategies are listed below. They didn’t always work, but a combination of them usually did.
1. Repeating a Mantra. For example saying to myself: “NOT TODAY. I am not going to let this happen today. I might tomorrow, but not today. Today I’m going to concentrate on ….” (Uni, a project, a pet, a trip etc.) Or ‘I am strong’ or ‘This is simply a worry/panic’ or ‘I’m OK, I can deal with this’. Come up with your own if none of these fit your personal experience.
2. Reminding myself I have been here before and I came through it. Breathe deeply and it WILL stop.
3. Reminding myself that what I am experiencing is similar to a habit – and can be broken.
4. Concentrate my mind on 5 things I can see, 4 I can hear, 3 I can touch; 2 I can smell and 1 I can taste.
5. Reminding myself I am not in the past or the future. I am in the now and I’m OK.
6. Talk to someone. Verbalising fears can help put things into perspective. This could be a counsellor, or equally a friend or family member who is a good listener.
7. Self Care. Doing something that’s just for you, be it a bath, a face mask or listening to your favourite music.
8. Writing down your worries. This can help sort things in your head or have some kind of outlet for them. Alternatively planning things to look forward to, in order to re-focus your mind.
9.Listening to Podcasts. These were not available when I was at my worst, but they are an amazing resource and substantiate the “I’m not in this alone” feeling.
10. Reading up. It was always a relief knowing that this was not just me. There were scientific reasons making sense of what I was feeling. Though there are hundreds of fantastic titles to chose from, I am a huge fan of these three books:
Overcome Anxiety – A Self-help Toolkit for Anxiety Relief and Panic Attacks – Matt Lewis.
Let Go of Worry, Embarrassment and Regret – Jennifer Alison.
The Life-changing Magic of not Giving A F**k – Sarah Knight
Purchase any of these as an audible version if you prefer, it’s very effective listening to the words rather than reading them.
Finally, and very importantly, if you have any tips or tricks for dealing with your own anxiety symptoms, I would really love to hear them. Sharing our experiences and resources can only make us stronger in the long term. ❤️
“Our anxiety does not empty tomorrow of its sorrows, but only empties today of its strengths.”