It’s no secret that I suffer from anxiety. I’ve mentioned it in previous posts and I often talk about it to those around me. It took a while for me to speak out as I felt that by explaining my triggers to someone made them more likely to expect me to have one, which made it harder to fight. But then I realised that talking about anxiety is actually an important part of the recovery process.
“Anxiety is like a rocking chair. It gives you something to do, but it doesn’t get you very far.” — Jodi Picoult
In recent months my anxiety has gotten worse. It’s started to affect every aspect of my being — physical ailments, my ability to communicate with people, my reactions to events, and my ability to participate in life. Every day I am fighting it, but some days it is harder than others. Anxiety, when you suffer from it, is comfortable, it is familiar, and it is always there for you when you expect it. Like a good friend with a warm hug. But things that are comfortable aren’t necessarily good for you.
“We already have everything we need. There is no need for self-improvement.” — Pema Chodron
There was one day a couple of weeks ago, completely out of the blue, in which I realised that I already have everything I need to tackle the illness. I don’t need to improve upon anything, I just need to learn how to utilise what I have. This checklist is a reminder to myself for my darkest days, and to any other anxiety sufferers, that we will win the fight and that everything is going to be alright.
There is no quick fix
I’m sorry to tell you this, but there is no instant cure for anxiety. No pill, counselling session, person, book or place is going to “fix” you. The tools that you need are all easily accessible but around 85% of the work has to be done by you. I was hypnotised, which has taken the edge off, but not one of those things listed above can see what is happening in my mind. Only I can control that. Though you are not alone in suffering, your own brand of anxiety is unique to you, in terms of the way you expereince it and what triggers it. So stop looking outwardly for a cure. Turn around and focus on yourself.
A few days ago, when I was scribbling on some paper furiously about an event I was fretting over, I realised that I had gotten myself into the habit of accepting negativity. This is something I have done my entire life. Any time a negative thought enters my head, no matter how mild or extreme, I let it take up residency, free of charge, with full and VIP access to the rest of my being. I have never once tried to fight it and this has been a major contribution to anxiety. Now, I try to be more conscious of my thoughts and anytime a negative one stops by I just let it keep going. I challenge it. I ask it questions such as, “what are your intentions?”. As a friend of mine said, challenge thoughts as though you are trying to fight against them in a courtroom. I guarantee you will win every time.
“You don’t have to control your thoughts. You just have to stop letting them control you.” — Dan Millman
Don’t let it define you
You are not an anxious person, you suffer from anxiety. There’s a difference. The former makes it okay to feel that way, it turns it into a characteristic and makes it even harder to fend off. Anxiety is an emotion. It is an addiction. Nobody is born with it. Anxiety is something that a sufferer’s mind has accepted to be an appropriate way to respond to particular events over a long period of time. Defining yourself by your anxiety makes it ok for others to do the same. Similarly, you cannot expect to feel anxious in a certain situation just because you have felt it in a similar situation before. But you survived that situation. You came out of it alive and you can do it again.
Go easy on yourself
On the road to recovery you are still going to have anxiety attacks. Don’t measure a “good day” as being one in which you haven’t had an anxiety attack, because when one inevitably slips through the net you’ll feel as though all your hard work has been undone. Your anxiety has been built up over a long period of time, possibly many years, so you are still going to have “bad days” now and again. But that’s ok. It doesn’t mean you have failed. It means you are doing better than you ever have before. Listen to what your body is telling you. Are you craving sleep? Exercise? Nutrition? Take it one day at a time. Let bad day’s be bad but don’t let them set you back. Don’t cancel future plans based on how you’re feeling today. You owe it to yourself to be selfish and focus on what you need right at this moment in time.
“Smile, breathe and go slowly” — Thich Nhat Hanh
Create your own tools
I’ve found it helps to prepare for my anxiety attacks or “panic days” when I am not having one and when I am in a better frame of mind. I create playlists with soothing songs that make me want to either dance or clap along. I find songs that will instantly lift my mood, rather than songs to suit the way I will be feeling when I’m anxious. I have a diary that I only write in when I on bad days as I find that putting it down on paper helps me to see the bigger picture. I have also started creating a “healing journal” in which I write out quotes, passages from self-help books, lists like this on Medium, anything that I can read or look at during an anxiety attack or a bad day that will help me put things into perspective. You should do the same. Whether it’s making a scrapbook out of pictures of beautiful beaches, creating a playlist full of Beyonce tunes, or keeping a notebook solely for the purpose of writing down inspirational quotes, make something reassuring that you can turn to in your moment of need.
“If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got.” — Steven Hayes
Detox your life
Change what isn’t working for you. Think about what triggers your anxiety and delete as appropriate. Our bodies have a way of telling us when something isn’t right. This goes for food and people. If you get clammed up and start panicking in the presence of a certain person or you’re constantly trying to hide your anxiety from someone who doesn’t understand it, delete them from your life. Right now. Just say “bye” and walk away. Rid yourself of toxicity. Quit that job that is bringing you down. Get off social media. Turn off the TV. Read a book. Go outside. Donate clothes you haven’t worn in a while to charity. Banish anything from your life that changes your behaviour or causes you to react in a negative way. Focus on the things that make life easier.
When you’re feeling anxious, just stop for a moment and breathe deeply. Take three deep breaths. Focus on nothing but your breath for a few moments. Close your eyes for a moment if you have to but just breathe. Then proceed.
“Anxiety is a thin stream of fear trickling through the mind. If encouraged, it cuts a channel into which all other thoughts are drained.” — Arthur Somers Roche
The more you think about how you are feeling, the worse you feel. I don’t mean ignore the fact that you’re having a panic attack. I mean, stop expecting to have one. Stop thinking about how you’re feeling right now. Stop thinking about how you felt the last time you were in this situation. Stop thinking about how you might feel tomorrow. I got into a rut where I would find myself in a situation that would normally trigger an anxiety attack and found that I would start panicking that I wasn’t feeling that way. The more I thought about my anxiety, the more my mind focused on it and gradually became anxious. Stop thinking, just do.
Don’t run, don’t try to hide and certainly don’t distract yourself from feeling anxious. If you feel an attack coming on, let it be. Face it, feel it, deal with it in that moment, then get on with what you were doing. I know that it’s uncomfortable and that embracing an anxiety attack goes against the idea of fighting it, but if you try to distract yourself from it or cover it up they’ll only come back with a vengeance. Following the steps above will help change your mindset but don’t panic if you do still have the odd moment where you feel a bit overwhelmed by it all. It’s ok. Keep going.