Sometimes it just creeps up on you and you wake up with a sick feeling in your stomach. At others times it hits like a freak wave crashing you into overwhelm. However anxiety seeps in, it is never welcome and we can't wait to get rid of it. Sometimes just the fear of how it can make us feel can bring it on, as though we are frightened of ourselves or our own body and our own reactions.
Anxiety has a purpose, it's there to keep us safe and make our body ready to fight or flee but when our system becomes oversensitive to all sorts of stimuli, then we are in for a bumpy ride and it can be very unpleasant at best and sometimes debilitating, stopping us from doing things we once loved or 'should' be able to do.
All sorts of things can make our brain oversensitive to stress and anxiety; how we lived in our families, separation, loss at an early age and childhood neglect and trauma. And then there's the propensity towards worry; did we pick it up and learn it from anxious parents? Did we see something we shouldn't have when we were younger? Did we have an accident years ago that sent everyone into panic, did we experience pain - a finger trapped in a door- that made us disassociate? Did anyone in your family notice you were anxious and give it a name- or did you 'just have to get on with it'?
Anxiety has so many causes and finding the cause can help reframe how we feel about it. It can help us mange it better by knowing our triggers and finding our positive self-talk to comfort and sooth ourselves; soothing which may have been missing in our past so that we never learnt how to calm down. Counselling can help and so can mindfulness, meditation and yoga - particularly positions that activate the parasympathetic nervous system.
There are thousands of people suffering out there, just like you and when you look at them, you'd never know. A lot of people worry about being judged, what if others notice they are anxious or panicking, and this feeling makes it all even worse. If you could see anxiety like a coat we were wearing on the outside, what would you do? I think I would want to help. I think we'd all be surprised about all the different anxiety coats that we would see every day - the place would be awash with them.
However, if you are struggling now and don't have any strategies for managing the feelings of anxiety and its bodily sensations, then here are a few tips you can try that can bring the storm down a little and make it more manageable. Most of these things are quick, easy to do and can make a real difference in moments of stress. You are welcome to copy and paste these tips and keep them in your pocket as a reminder or pin it on the fridge! Some of these things can be done in public, for example at work, without anyone really noticing:
💧Sip a small glass of cold water slowly, all of it over 5 to 10 minutes. Notice each mouthful and how it feels in your mouth before swallowing. See how far you can trace in go down before it gets warm!
✍️Write about how you feel, it could just be a jumble of words, scribbled quickly - try to use feelings words as much as you can, try different colours and pens or crayons if you have time. Or you could write a letter to yourself or journal entry about how it feels today - only one rule applies for this; you can only use kind words to yourself and definitely no self blame!
🌬Take some slow deep breaths, remembering to breath out fully after each one. Do about 5 and see if it helps then repeat a while later.
😂Find a positive distraction, a funny video clip or film if you have time.
🎧Listen to something soothing, music or a story perhaps?
🍰Create something, a picture, a poem or make a cake!
🌳Go outside. Walk, even for a few minutes if that's all the time you have, and notice how the ground is feeling under your feet or do the breathing exercise above. Notice what green shoots are showing already to show spring is nearly here. Collect something like a nice leaf or stone. Listen to see what you can hear - count the different sounds - be 'mindful'
👣Know that you can take one step at a time, you don't have to rush or do everything at once, it's your life and you can take control.
🥰Give yourself big a hug and reassure yourself that everything will pass. Make yourself a warm drink and sit down with it for 5 minutes then wrap a blanket around your shoulders and pull it tight like a big warm hug, smile.
📞Ask for help...This is the most important. You don't have to suffer alone. One of the steps to feeling better is to open up and tell people how you feel and what things are really like for you. I know this sounds scary and you don't have to tell everyone all of it, but sharing can bring surprising results, for a start you may find you're not alone in your experiences.
I hope some of this can give you a little relief, let me know in the comments if it's useful or feel free to share tips of your own. If the thought of sharing makes your anxiety worse or you can't think of anyone you'd want to tell then please do get in touch. You are welcome to call and have a chat about how counselling can help or email if it's easier. Also the Samaritans are there to talk to 24 hours a day. They are not just there for suicidal thoughts, you can call and talk about your anxiety, and how it effects you, to them too. It's ok to not be ok.