I’m here with something a bit different for this blog. I hope that’s okay! Anxiety is something that’s becoming more widely spoken about. Hooray, I say to that. I wanted to add in my own 2 cents, for what they’re worth.
I was diagnosed with GAD (generalised anxiety disorder) about 2 years ago, alongside this I was also sent for an assessment for OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder.) Sometimes it’s hard for me to differentiate between the two, often anxiety is present on it’s own but OCD is never without the anxiety. Since the diagnosis of both of these, I’ve had 6 months of CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy) and was prescribed medication.
I wanted to make a post about anxiety because, despite the help I’ve received, it’s still something I suffer from. I also know a lot of people who suffer with anxiety, and I really believe that openness is key in dealing with this.
What is anxiety?
Anxiety is actually a very handy tool in stressful or dangerous situations. Back in the days when we were hunter gatherers, living in the wilderness and protecting ourselves from predators, anxiety was key in our survival. Anxiety can simply be described as fight-or-flight response. A danger is recognised and our body prepares to react; do you fight it or do you run for the hills?
My therapist once explained this to me in very simple terms; a lion comes into a room and your body has a reaction.
Hormones such as adrenaline are released into your body, this quickens your heart beat, your breathing, your nerve responses among other effects. If you’re in danger, your body is automatically readying itself to deal with the threat.
Anxiety becomes a problem when your body has this same response to situations that aren’t threats. When this takes place, you’re experiencing the same emotions and physical responses as you would if you were in danger. You begin to feel scared, tense, stressed and it’s probable that you will experience physical responses too; such as, dizziness, palpitations, sweatiness, dry mouth, trembling and fast breathing.
Living with Anxiety
I often experience the above symptoms of anxiety, and anxiety can often become a panic attack. (I can write more about this in a different post if anybody would like me to.) Anxiety is easier to deal with if you can recognise your triggers. For me, my triggers largely centre around crowded places, changed plans and generally not feeling in complete control of a situation. Occasionally this leaks on to every day things such as travelling, transport and sometimes even leaving the house. I’ve also noticed that my anxiety becomes a lot worse (and I’m more likely to have a panic attack) if I’m feeling particularly run down and becoming ill.
It can often feel like anxiety is taking control of your life, and for those of you who also suffer with anxiety, you know how horrible that is. For me, my triggers seem to completely clash with my interests. I love music and gigs, I love cities, I love holidays; I’ve been to New York twice, loved it and would love to go again. My anxiety seems to get in the way of these things. How can I go to a gig and enjoy the music when even the thought of the crowd, fire exits, ceilings collapsing (you get the idea) brings anxiety on- it’s also interesting to note that my fear of crowds then leads on to thoughts the building falling down. Talk about jumping the gun. I’ve felt very down more than a few times over the thought of never being able to visit New York again because I know that right now I couldn’t handle it, sometimes anxiety can feel like it’s ruining your life.
Dealing with Anxiety
Anxiety can influence day-to-day decisions. For me, it’s important that I both make an allowance for things that I can/can’t do whilst not letting it completely ruin my week. For example, if my anxiety seems to be based around leaving the house or catching a bus; I do just that. It’s a lot easier said than done, but I know from experience that the longer you avoid doing something the more terrifying it becomes. It’s like the saying, Destroy what destroys you. If anxiety is telling you not to leave the house, do it anyway and when you next return home you’ll have proof for yourself that nothing bad is going to happen.
Having said that, it’s important not to be hard on yourself and not to push yourself too far. If I get overwhelmed walking around a shop, the chances are that going to a gig or the cinema isn’t going to do me any favours. I have a reasonable expectation of myself. I really believe this is important in not letting anxiety completely rule your life.
I struggle to find techniques that really help deal with my anxiety, and even after 2 different forms of therapy (although neither solely focused on anxiety- it of course was a discussion point) I find anxiety hard to deal with. There are things that help take the edge off of it, and sometimes just having a plan in place for the next bout of anxiety is a helpful reassurance.
Leaves on a River- This is a method I practised during CBT. It involves picturing a river surrounded by trees. In my mind, it’s always autumn and the wind is softly touching the leaves and making them fall from their branches and into the river below. As the leaves float down the river, every thought you have is placed on to a leaf and you just watch it sail away. It’s human nature to have a continuous stream of mental junk in your head, this is made even worse during anxiety. Leaves on a river gives you chance to recognise and place each thought.
There are simple, small things that are go-to coping methods for me. Lighting a scented candle, opening a window and putting on some relaxing music in a dimly lit room engages different sense and takes some of my focus away from my mind and on to things such as a pleasant scent, noise and breeze around me.
Most importantly, talking to people is the greatest help of all. Nobody likes to feel alone, and everybody wants to be heard. It’s a great comfort to know that you’re understood and not alone in your suffering.
My anxiety becomes a harder entity to deal with when it isn’t living independently of my OCD. During my CBT, a lot of the focus was on not following my compulsive thoughts, this alone increases anxiety but sometimes it appears the other way around. OCD has also become a way for me to deal with anxiety, a distraction method I suppose. Sometimes an internal argument takes place; do I simply fulfil my OCD behaviours in order to add a temporary relief to my anxiety, or do I ignore these behaviours at the risk of increasing my already present anxiety? This is something that has been a particular struggle over the past few weeks, but I have faith that I’ll find a balance.
I suppose I’ll leave put an end to this post now! If there’s anything I’ve mentioned that you’d like to read more about, please do let me know. I apologise if this is a bit long-winded, this is a new kind of post for me but I hope it was a …helpful/interesting read?