I hate the word mental health.Mainly because of the stigma associated to it. I think some people hear it and ultimately assume this means you are crazy. I have anxiety its not harmful to anyone else just me. It means I hold myself back, at its worst it means I struggle to go out with people, find it hard to leave the house and afraid to live my own life. I have seen alot of misrepresentation and encountered a lot of misunderstanding about what anxiety is and so this is my attempt to set the record straight for others.
What is anxiety? For me is a feeling of dread, Its like a weight on my chest I cannot breathe, at times I feel like someone has their hands around my throat. Its like someone is choking me. The room may spin, my heart will beat like crazy and I feel it jump in my chest. At its worst and lowest I got panic attacks so that meant even more sweaty palms, dizzy, room spinning, feeling kinda out of my body- it doesn't feel real and like I cannot catch my breathe. Smothering and very scary.
What anxiety is not? For me anyway there is never a fear that I will hurt someone else or anything even like that. I fear getting panic attacks. I fear having anxiety and peoples assumptions and reaction to that. I came across one person saying they used to throw out knives in case they hurt someone with them and this was their interpretation of anxiety. For me, that just does not enter the equation ever I just would never hurt someone if anything I tried to hide my anxiety and panic attacked for as long as possible from those I loved because I did not want to worry them . I am never afraid of hurting anyone I just feel afraid constantly at worst I am afraid to go out, drive, go to the cinema, work etc. I close myself in and become secluded. I shut myself off from people because I don't want them to see me when its bad and be worried. I have a great family who know about it all now so there is no hiding its getting there and its nice to have that openness. They had the conversation with me as I didn't know how to but it came to a stage where it was obvious.
How did it start? I was not born with anxiety. It developed the death of a family member died in an accident, there was some disruption recession, loss of job, moving jobs and location, homes, then there was illness, it turned out to be food intolerance, over time I had a cancer scare, I was bullied at work by my colleagues, my boss lets call him Mr Z knew and did little to help, my precancerous cells got worse, had to be removed, harassed in a sense at work had a crazy workload constant long hours, I got paid a wage no overtime, I got an infection after cancer scare and I ended up in hospital. Work knew but got little support. I ended up at my wits end and my friend said to me I think you have anxiety. You need to see someone and have Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT). I did not know what it was I just felt like I was in a war zone.It was too much.
What happened to me could happen to anyone its just a case of a bad streak of luck and being in a place where I had little support or people to talk to. Due to the death in my family it meant everyone was a little out of sorts grief works differently for us all. Anxiety is normal its the feeling you get before you do an exam, stage fright or before a date. For me it just became a little like my mind went on high alert and was constantly looking for the next threat. Being overworked made things harder as I was looking for the next deadline, bringing work home, working at weekends I found it hard to switch off, get support and my mind was on a hamster wheel literally, then being bullied was horrible on top of everything else.
Lowest Point:There has been two but I am only going to share one as legally I could get into trouble for the second. Not everyplace is accepting of mental health and so lets leave it at that. It might have green ribbons and see-change posters but the culture may be very different.
So the first one:
I went to see a counsellor and I literally had a panic attack during one of the sessions.He charged 70 euros so alot of money to give to someone for a session where you cannot even speak. I saw that counsellor for around 9 months from Feb to Dec. In Dec I drove one hour away to see my friends and I couldn't drive back. It took hours. I kept getting anxiety and I could feel a panic attack coming on me. I have read up about anxiety a lot on Bressie told a story where when he could feel anxiety creeping up on him so he would run it off. Literally, that's what I did it was a freezing winters night and so I would run until I was sweating and then try to drive as much as I could. I went home that Christmas and I couldn't sit still. The lowest point came because the counselling was not working.I felt like a failure. My family encouraged me to see someone else. I felt like I was seeing a counsellor so why was it not working? I felt like it was taking over my life. It was constant and I was circling the drain of depression I was a shadow of the person I used to be. I did not want to go out with friends it literally petrified me.
What helps: Nature, exercise, Dale Pinnocks book on Anxiety and Depression, medication (Kirsten Bell said you would never deny a diabetic their insulin but for some reason people shame people who take antidepressants. A diabetic needs insulin and I need serotonin ), counselling, mindfulness but it took me time to get it, helping others, family, friends, setting little goals and getting there. Doing what I love even if its only singing or watching a programme that makes me laugh. Hugs- they calm you. Children my nieces and nephews because children are mindful and they just make me laugh. Animals especially dogs they have the most massive hearts and its so hard to be down if you see a dog wagging its tail and happy to see you.Partner they brought fun into my life and I really, really needed that. Affirmations, positive psychology also help and visualisations.
Top tips(Originally posted by same reader to A Lust for Life):
The best app’s:
- Excel at Life CBT application, has a diary that focuses on challenging thoughts, 50 CBT tools, meditation and relaxation- and it’s free. Excel At Life Apps
- Recently found Daily CBT app in Goggle Chromestore. This is totally great as I am working on it’s just a thought, it’s not a monster thinking, and it challenges you to think how likely your presumed fear is. Really quick, easy and practical.
- Moodsmith – online CBT course. Not free but useful.
- Calm – my favourite new app. You can take 2 minutes from your day to just stop and listen to water, look at calming beautiful images. I love nature so it’s very calming. (Nothing beats the real thing, but this helps if you can’t be outside.)
- If you’re trying to manage anxiety without medication, I love this guy and have some of his books (The Medical Chef). He has a new one out for anxiety and depression management which is on my hit list. Have not tried it but generally find his work positive in that he does not focus on faddy diets. The focus is on the medicinal and nutritional properties of food. Ingredients for recipes are also generally accessible. Stuff like oats, bananas, salmon, spinach – easy and good if you are feeding a family too.
- GI diet (Glycemic Index) – I do not endorse diets but blood sugar levels affect anxiety and hormones in your body. GI diet works by trying to balance this out – focus is on protein and slow releasing carbs. For me it’s not about losing weight, it’s about keeping healthy and feeling well.
- Reduce stimulants such as coffee and sugar as it creates spikes in your blood sugar levels.
- Alcohol -for me it makes it go away when I have a few glasses and the next day it creates havoc and I get really bad panic attacks. Its just not worth it.
- Helen Kinnerley – Overcoming Anxiety
- When Panic Attacks – Aine Tubridy
- Managing Anxiety using Cognitive Behaviour Therapy for Dummies
- Living with IT – BevAsbitt
- The Happiness Trap– Russ Harris
- This Book will make you Calm – Jessamy Hibberd, and Jo Usmar
- Anxiety Free – Patrick McKeown
Other helpful more spiritual books:
- The Power of Now – Eckhart Tolle- mindfullness
- Seven Spiritual Laws of Success – non judgement and self compassion- I like it may not be for everyone – Deepak Chopra.
Here are a few other ideas and resources that I have found worked for me but may not for everyone:
- Lavender oil – look into contradictions for you- use in bath, helps you sleep etc
- Bach flower remedies
- Eucalyptus oil – I use on a tissue if I feel my chest is closing in and breathe it in
- Reading about anxiety – knowledge is power.
- Emotional Freedom Technique- tapping acupressure.
- Sleeping routine put a plan in place. Stick to it as much as possible it makes a massive difference.
- Going on youtube find other people /stories coping mechanisms – Emma Stone, Adele other people have this too. You’re not alone.
- Structure on your life – slow down – take me time learn to say NO!
- Exercise – dance, swim, walk you may not think it but you will feel so much better for it.
- Have a goal you’re working towards – mine are putting anxiety in its box, 10x 10k runs this year then I hope a half marathon.
- Work less hours if you are overworking/study less.
- Do a bucket list
- Be kind to you- even if you try something and it fails. It takes guts to try and beat this – you’re trying and that’s what matters.
- Aware support groups
- Aware CBT online course
- Mindfulness- can help stop an over active mind in its tracks. Be present- banish the what if thoughts.
- Get rid of clutter
- Music – either calming or do happy playlists to dance your socks off.
- Breathing – so important deep breathing from your chest and in and out through the nose.
- Progressive muscle relaxation (PMR).
- Chamomile tea, Lemon balm tea, Valerian tea, Matcha tea are all lovely and relaxing
- Talk to doctor and other medical health professionals. This is very important. Look after you!
- Look for the root cause of your anxiety, if there is one. It could be an old trauma or growing up immersed in negative subtleties that did not serve you well. Address it and ask for help.
- Build an anxiety toolkit -see online sources AnxietyBC and HeretoHelp
- Remember if you have a setback it’s because you were progressing – I know it can be harder to pick yourself up as the fall is harder. But there has been progress. You’re doing something right!
- Structure your day – for me every action of my day is planned around managing this. From how I breathe, to what I eat, drink, when I am going to exercise, read about managing this. To try and deal with this I have had to look after me in ways I have never done before.
- Listen to people who inspire you- everyone has set backs. You can overcome it.
- NLP – neuro linguistic programming – positive thoughts.
- Watch funny programmes.
- Positive psychology.
- Mood tracker – do daily what helps your mood to stay up?
- Identify your triggers – find ways to diffuse them and plan.
- Serotonin boosting foods dark chocolate is one!
- Meet new people, reach out and extend your network. Do new things. It might scare you and sometimes I find I’m the one holding me back not it. It’s just the fear.
- Keep a gratitude journal. Don’t let anxiety cloud you so all you see is it.
- Catch a negative thought then tell it to shut up and go away. Challenge them. Take control.
- Write about it – the thing you fear, that Saturday night out with friends, the match, the wedding whatever, don’t censor, just let it flow. Catch the negative thinking and challenge those thoughts.
- Try everything you can and go with what works for you. I cannot stress enough this is a such a personal journey – there is no right or wrong way. It’s what works for you.
- When you know what works for you – then you know you have some control over it. Then it controls you less. This is super important – the game changer.
- Self love – love yourself enough to do whatever it takes. You’re worth it and you deserve it.
- Get a moodboard and write the above on it where you see it daily. Put other inspirational quotes there too or even just a list of what works for you.
- Laugh and have fun – once in a while let go.
- Do things you love, music, writing, photography etc.
- Do anything that calms you- light a candle, run a bath. Do it frequently.
- Last one but the most important – Get support. Talk with the people you love – tea and chats are the fabric of my life. They will help with set-backs and suggest other approaches, pull you out of the anxiety cave. They will help you beyond measure, talk to them and for me I didn’t have to tell them I had anxiety they knew and suggested ways to deal with it. That helped me because I didn’t have the words. I was so afraid to have that conversation but I’m glad they had the courage to start it have it with me. If you don’t have anxiety or mental health illness being able to recognise it in others and help them can make a massive difference to the person.
Things that I have not tried or tried but did not work for me but may for others:
- Buteyko breathing
- Lindel method.
- Grow- mental health support group.
- Positive affirmations – Louise Hay Book Heal your Life is good for this.
- Some people say art or being creative.
Concerns: There are campaigns for mindfulness and positive psychology programmes in school but what about employment? I feel like there is a whole generation of people who we need to give a voice to. It needs to be dealt with at more then face value. People in employment need to be protected from stigma because from my experience its alive and well. I know we live in Generation Anxiety and we do need to learn skills to deal with it. But it should not just be with youth and schools. I admit fully I had no clue about anxiety until I got it. Not a notion. Its made me appreciate the little things in my life. You have no idea how a day of calm is celebrated by me! Some of my friends don't have a clue about anxiety. I have not had the conversation. I cannot even begin to explain sometimes because its hard to get the feelings out. I just deal with it. I don't think people can accept something if they don't understand it. So it does start with you and it starts with us educating them.
My advice: I resisted medication for the longest time. Anxiety devours you and your life the longer its left untreated so my advice to anyone suffering in silence is::
1) Doctor just go and tell them
2) Counsellor - ask around for a good one
3) Do whatever it takes so try CBT, Mindfulness and in the end Acceptance and Commitment Therapy worked for me.
4) Dump any negative ideas about anti-depressants. After a month I felt like there was light and I was doing things I had not done in years again. Its managed to give me back my life. I cannot promise the same for you but I can tell you it worked for me.
5) Family and friends - tell someone you trust and who cares and they will support you.
6) Don't beat yourself up. I was the worst for this because I felt like a failure for having this. I felt like I will never have a relationship with someone and there was alot of negative self talk. It does not help anything. You have to believe in yourself.