10 tips on overcoming anxiety

OVERCOMING ANXIETY

Here are my 10 simple steps to help manage your anxiety and still live a happy fulfilled life.

 1/ REPETITION  

overcoming anxietyWe’ve all come across those annoying people who seem to be good at everything they turn their hand to! However the majority of us aren’t like this and the first time we try something new can be difficult. When you’re unsure and not very confident in what you’re doing, you’re kind of learning as you go. For someone with anxiety, the self-doubt in us massively increases, often making the task seem insurmountable as we put far to much emphasis on what could go wrong. Even simple tasks that we’ve previously accomplished stress free, suddenly become very daunting. For those of you who don’t suffer with excess anxiety, I would best describe it as learning to walk again. I’m talking about things like going to the shops, having a meal out, visiting a friend or even talking to the neighbours! Of course all these things become less challenging the more we do them. By repeating an activity regularly enough, difficult soon turns into manageable, manageable turns into easy and before you know it you’re wondering why you were worrying so much in the first place!

2/ PLANNING

At present due to my anxiety, I have to plan a great deal. Some might call it excessive, but I call it necessary and the best way for me to function in life. It helps me, to detail every stage of a journey or task.

  • When will be the quietest time to visit somewhere
  • Can I Familiarise myself with an environment to limit the amount of surprises I may encounter. Where possible I can I do a recce of the area before hand.
  • Knowing where all the nearest exits are in a building. Psychologically this helps me feel less enclosed and limits the chances of me having a panic attack. If the situation arises and my stress levels become too much, knowing I have a quick way to get home is also a big reassurance.
  • Knowing what I can achieve on the day. It’s important to continue to push yourself but at the same time you need to accept that you have an illness, and you’ll have good days and bad. It’s equally important therefore, not to beat yourself up if you don’t achieve what you’ve initially set out to do.

I imagine you’re probably sick of being told to take small manageable steps, but it’s actually great advise!

3/ TRICKING YOUR MIND 

Sometimes it’s the enormity of a task that can lead to excessive anxiety. What you can do to counteract this, is to split what you have to do into manageable segments. Once you have completed stage 1 you can move onto stage 2, all the time only concentrating on the part you’re doing and never looking too far a head and risking causing yourself unnecessary stress. This is something that I would recommend to anyone, irrespective of if you have a mental health illness or not.

Due to my mental health I became trapped inside my house and found it impossible to venture out on my own. Up until recently, I had a carer who came to try and encourage me to do this, and help me regain my independence. The technique they used was called Graded Exposure, which involved splitting a journey into checkpoints and gradually over time, being able to get to the further points on my own before meeting with my carer. It took time, but worked really well and continues to work for me. The only difference being that I no longer have a carer, I have substituted them with friends and family. It doesn’t really matter as long as you have someone you can trust.

4/ BREATHING YOUR WAY TO CALM

  Taking some deep breaths in through your nose before exhaling slowly through your mouth and watching the steady rise and fall of your chest, is one of the best proven methods for calming your anxiety. There’s probably a very good technical reason for this, something  along the lines of sending messages to part of your brain which trigger a relaxation response in your body. What I do know is it helps slow your heart rate down. It helps release physical tension in your body, and importantly it gives you something else to focus your mind on, which can only be beneficial for your mental well-being.

5/ CIRCULAR JOURNEYS 

Imagine doing a 4 mile walk. you walk 2 miles to a certain point and then turn around and walk the same route back.

Now imagine you do a walk the exact same distance, but instead of reaching a certain point and then turning around, you do a full circle. You still end up back where you started, but some how it feels much shorter and for me, much less stressful. I know this is clearly just a trick of the mind as you’re going the exact same distance, but what you can do is convince yourself that you’re always on your way back home. I for one find this much more reassuring. An equally effective method is to have someone drop you off at your destination and then walk home. Again there’s something comforting about always being on your way back home.

6/ DISTRACTIONS

Music is a great distraction when your feeling anxious. listening to certain favourite tunes can be very relaxing, help you to unwind and forget about the pressures of life. Some people choose to download meditations or mindfulness breathing exercises. When I’m out and about on my own I’m often very anxious. I feel vulnerable and like everybody’s a potential threat. It’s at these moments that I desperately need something else to focus my mind. I find simple methods work best, such as tapping the tips of my fingers together, counting my steps or repeating a positive mantra in my head. If this fails to distract me I phone a friend. Sometimes It’s a good idea to warn them before hand to make sure they’re going to be available!

7/ REASSURANCES 

My family and friends provide me with amazing support. They’re there for me when I’m having a bad day and I’m self-doubting myself. They remind me of all that I’m doing well and encourage me to keep going. When I’m having a good day and managing to achieve my goals, they’re there to celebrate with me. If I’m attempting to go somewhere on my own It’s always reassuring to know I have a family member on hand to come and rescue me if the situation arises. I appreciate that not everyone has this support and that I’m very fortunate, but there are other methods you can use to help alleviate your anxiety.

Having a positive mantra you repeat when your feeling stressed works well for some people. Here are a few examples of these, but I would suggest coming up with your own, something that’s personal to you.

  • Action conquers fear
  • This too shall pass
  • I breath in calmness and breath out nervousness
  • Keep calm and carry on

Some people need something more substantial than this. I have written reminders for different situations. I simply read through these before leaving the house and they act as a great positive reinforcement. Pictures of achievements can have the same effect. Anything that embraces you being a strong person, who’s in control of your emotions.

8/ PERSPECTIVE 

For anxious people it’s so easy to blow things out of all proportion, believe me I’m a world leader at this! You can see obstacles that simply don’t exist. In these moments it’s important to take some deep breaths and try to focus on the here and now. Remember, most of what you’re experiencing is completely irrational and in reality, you’re in total control of your own destiny. By taking your time and dealing with one thing at once, you’ll soon see that the task in hand is far less intimidating than you first imagined it to be. In life danger is real and will always exist, but fear is just a state of mind. Try to face up to your fears.

9/ EXERCISE/PHYSICAL LABOUR

 The mind will always function better if you look after your physical body. If you’re feeling low or anxious, you may do less and be less active. You can soon get caught up in a harmful cycle. Exercise can stimulate the parts of the brain that improve mood. You’re more likely to feel good about yourself, as it can give you a sense of achievement. I also find exercise to be a great therapy and a way to escape from the pressures of life. It can help with concentration and focus, and importantly allow you to take back some control in your life.

10/ DON’T VIEW IT AS YOUR ENEMY

You mustn’t always view anxiety as your enemy. It could also be described as the cautious part of your persona, and It can be extremely helpful in keeping you safe. If the cave man wasn’t anxious about the approaching dinosaur, he wouldn’t last very long! Nervous energy can lead to an adrenaline rush. Top athletes and pop stars are able to use this as a way to enhance their performance. The secret it learning to control it and not let it take over and control you.

The tips I have given in this post are simply things that have worked best for me. Neither should they be viewed as a magic cure, I’m afraid there is no quick fix when it comes to mental health. I am not an expert in the field, but do have first hand experience of living with anxiety and depression and these are some of the things that have helped me to manage my illness.

 

 

Competitive Spirit

 

KICKING DEPRESSIONS BUTT!

Due to my illness, I now have major confidence issues, which unfortunately dictate how I live my life. As someone suffering with depression, I have to admit I’ve become a bit of a defeatist and a master of putting myself down! I can soon start to feel useless and incapable of the simplest of tasks. That’s why it’s so important to keep reminding myself that I am good at things and not to shy away from my successes. Table tennis has brought me many successes over the years and become an integral part of my life.

competitive spirit

In the past I have represented my county. In order to do this I had to be ranked in the top three players. That meant that out of over five million people living in Yorkshire, I was rated second best in my age group. I know people might say it’s no big deal, it’s only table tennis, but it takes a hell of a lot of hard work and dedication to reach that standard at any sport. I’ve been playing since I was six years old. Back then I used to find the game extremely frustrating. It took me well over ten years and a number of coaches, to get anywhere near to mastering it. To be chosen to play at that level was fantastic and I felt immense pride every time I put my team shirt on. I knew that however much I managed to fuck up the rest of my life, it’s something that no one could ever take away from me and a feat that few other people will ever accomplish.

The funny thing is I wouldn’t necessarily describe myself as a competitive person, the majority of games and sports I take part in, I couldn’t care less whether I win or lose, as long as I don’t stand out as being really bad. Table Tennis is the exception to this rule. Right from the first time I picked a bat up, as a six year old at a Butlins holiday camp. I’ve become addicted and devoted to being the best I can. Why this sport, as apposed to others? Well, as a child I tried to be good at numerous things but it never really bothered me if I wasn’t, I was always very laid back in that respect. I could quite easily enjoy an activity without being the best at it.

For whatever reason it wasn’t like this for me with Table Tennis. I found the game excruciating, why wasn’t the ball going where I wanted it to? Why couldn’t I keep it on the table for more than two shots? Why was my brother so much better than me! For the remainder of our stay I played every day in an attempt to improve and my parents had to endure several strops from me along the way. By the end of the week I was completely hooked and was setting my sights on becoming world champion, as you do as a six year old!

These days I don’t take it half as seriously, I mainly just play for fun in the local leagues and enjoy the social side of the game. All this aside though, I haven’t lost my competitive spirit. One thing that’s always remained the same is my hatred of losing, and I still do everything in my power to avoid this from happening. I’m not as naturally gifted as most of the top league players, but what I lack in ability I make up for in tactical nous. Over the years I have defeated many better players than myself, purely due to having a better strategy than them.

As I’ve touched upon earlier in other posts, I get on extremely well with my teammates and people from the opposing teams, but when I’m at the table, I become very single minded and determined to beat whoever’s in front of me. There’s plenty of time for pleasantries later in the pub! When I’m up against a formidable opponent, I double my efforts and tend to relish the challenge.

I hope I can adopt this same approach to other challenges in my life, such as dealing with my depression and moving on in the future. I need to view every obstacle I come up against as a new opponent and just like with an opponent; I can weigh it up and adopt the right strategy to beat it. When I put it like this, it seems relatively simple but I’m not naïve enough to believe it will be that easy.

A SPORTING MENTALITY

Nerves can be a good thing. This is especially evident in competitive sports. Obviously if you’re far too nervous, you risk going into self- destruct mode and not be capable of doing anything. But on the flip side to this, if you’re not nervous at all, maybe you don’t care enough! Top sports stars use their nerves to there advantage, they have learnt to channel this energy and the adrenaline rush, to use to there advantage. A certain amount of nervous energy actually enhances there performance.

competitive spirit

A sporting great such as Roger Federer has a very interesting outlook. when interviewed after a match. However much the interviewer pushes him, asking questions or making predictions about winning the overall tournament, he says he never looks so far ahead, and I believe him. Top sports stars have several special qualities. They have to have, to play at the level they do. Single mindedness and that extra grit and determination, not to mention their undoubted talent and natural ability, are all key ingredients in their success. But I believe most important is the ability to remain in the present and focus on one thing at once. They don’t think about winning an event or even who they’re likely to meet in the next round. All they focus on is winning the next point and how they’re going to play the next shot.

This is a great mentality to have and one you can take into other aspects of life, when undertaking any given task. Last week my friend and I started doing some gardening work for an elderly neighbor. At first glance we were both shocked by what we saw, the task appeared overwhelming and even insurmountable. we couldn’t believe what we’d let ourselves in for! The area between too garages had clearly been used as a dumping ground for rubbish and judging by the amount, this had been going on for a long long time. We’d have to clear this before we even got to the garden. To say the garden was overgrown was a massive understatement, In fact the jungle that confronted us was inexplicable. It reminded me a bit of the fairy tale sleeping beauty and the endless thorn bushes surrounding the castle. I now knew what the prince must have felt like trying to get to the princess!  Instead of freaking out,we broke the task down into manageable segments and before we knew it we’d cleared the rubbish and was making a start on the garden. We haven’t finished yet but by taking it one small step at a time and bottling up all our competitive spirit, it won’t be long before we’ve achieved what first appeared to be an impossible job.

 

Questions and Answers

Six week Nightmare (summer holidays)

Summer Holidays

I hate summer

I don’t like summer, I know this might seem strange as it’s most peoples favorite time of year, but it’s my least favorite by far. The problem being I like to keep covered up, and it’s too hot to do this (good job I don’t live in Jamaica!). Wearing short sleeved tops makes me feel uncomfortable and extremely self-conscious, as I’m forced to show off my hideous arms! There’s much more walkers about, meaning the usual countryside spots I like to visit are no longer secluded, and therefore much less appealing to me.

When I was a kid and being hassled at high school, there was nothing better than the six weeks summer holidays and a period of respite from the bullies, In fact I yearned for it to come round. Right now though, I can’t imagine anything worse! In fact my world, kind of comes to a standstill. Don’t get me wrong, I still go out with my family and friends, but not nearly as often. They have to make more allowances for me and we have to be much more selective in where we go. During these six weeks, I hardly ever venture out on my own.

supermarket hell!

This year I’ve been making some good progress, in terms of my anxiety. In the months leading up to the summer holidays, I’ve been managing a short walk around the local neighbourhood, following a set route and gradually becoming more confident in my ability to do this unsupported. It’s still a significant challenge for me but I know my capabilities and felt to be making positive steps in the right direction. However any progress I was making has now reached an abrupt halt due to, yes you guessed it, the dreaded summer holidays. Sadly this is not a new thing for me, the exact same thing happened last year and is likely to happen for years to come. The problem is, for anyone with a mental health illness, such a prolonged period of isolation is very damaging and for me it will take time to regain my confidence.

It’s frustrating that I can become so distressed over a bunch of kids and for the majority of people such an abnormality, must be difficult to understand. I mean what harm could children possibly cause me? Believe me I constantly ask myself this same question and I’m frustrated by what I can only describe as irrational behaviour.social anxiety

It all stems back to my time in high school. A painful time when I discovered some children to be extremely cruel and vindictive. The school bullies would take high delight in ridiculing me in front of as many people as possible, which lead to me hiding away from large groups of students. Back to the present time, in the summer holidays you get groups of kids hanging around everywhere. It’s ridiculous, I know, The rational side of me knows there’s absolutely no threat to me, but for some reason I’m transported back to being a child again, and unless it’s a matter of life or death, I still refuse to walk past them!

I’m an adult and supposed to be a much stronger person now. Difficult childhood memories can still have a profound effect over us, even all these years later. I know this to be true, but It doesn’t stop it being any less embarrassing, and it’s truly exasperating when I consider I’m losing six weeks out of every year like this.

A spiritual Connection

Like I alluded to earlier, before the summer holidays I’ve been doing alright and managing a short walk most days. I call this my Tom walk as I pass my best mates house on route. I also pass a bench were we scattered my dads ashes. The local bowling club was one of his favourite haunts and the bench is situated overlooking it. It’s a beautiful spot with a fantastic view of the whole valley. It’s also the halfway point of my walk and a great place for a pit stop!

About a month a go whilst on my Tom walk, I was sat on my dads bench. The sun was shining and I was having a good day. Feeling more relaxed than I had for a long while. The one thing I haven’t mentioned about this spot is that it’s only a short distance away from my old high school. This is never an issue for me as I always choose a time when every ones still in school. On this particular day I was a little later than normal but I still had at least half an hour before school finished, so had nothing to concern me. I’d just have five minutes and then be on my way.

Whilst sat taking in my surroundings, I noticed a small bird sat on a telephone wire, overlooking the hillside. I soon became preoccupied by other things and and didn’t give the bird much more thought. But 10 minutes later when I glanced up it was still there. It was at this point I decided to set myself a silly challenge. I wouldn’t allow myself to move from this bench until my new little friend flew away. I should be fine with this, after all what sort of bird stayed in the same position for so long? Evidently this sort! 10 minutes passed and it was still there. I started to panic. 5 more minutes and the road would be filled with kids and the bird still showed no sign of moving. Come on little bird, please fly away. Come on you’ve been there long enough now. Are you super-glued to the spot or something! I could just stand up and leave anyway, nobody need know about the stupid challenge. The problem is I knew, and the competitive side of me wasn’t prepared to fail! So as excruciating as it would be, I decided to sit it out.

To cut a long story short, I kept to my side of the bargain and although I felt uncomfortable, I soon realized I had nothing to worry about. Out of the hundreds of kids that passed, only a handful even glanced in my direction. The others were far to preoccupied to even notice me. I felt huge relief, followed by foolishness that I’d made such a big deal out of it in the first place! You’d think then that I’d now be able to put my other issue, of walking past groups, into some kind of perspective. Sadly you’d think wrong! I’ve still spent the majority of the summer holidays, in the safety of my own home. However, it’s still a small step forward. On the day, the anticipation was much worse than the actual event, and I need to keep that in mind moving forward. I’m not a deeply religious person, but I do believe that the little bird was stuck to that phone wire for a reason. Maybe I was supposed to have this personal experience, to prove something to myself and help me to start overcoming some of my anxiety. Or maybe the whole thing was a coincidence, Who knows!

 

Questions and Answers

Lets Talk Benefits!

The benefit system is confusing to say the least. Sadly you get large quantities of genuine cases still slipping through the net, people who are clearly not fit to work but somehow still fail their medicals. In today’s post I’m going to look at the reasons for this and the flip side, where people get what they don’t deserve, simply because they know how to work the system. I’m also going to share what it’s like having to live with a long term health illness, having to rely on benefits and how you are perceived by others, whilst you’re doing this. How much of this is a fair judgement and how much is completely unreasonable.

The Dreaded Medical

lets talk benefits

There can be numerous reasons why genuinely ill people can fail their medicals. Obviously nerves on the day can have a huge influence, You’re already in a highly sensitive state and having to rely on one person deciding your fate like this, is extremely daunting to say the least. I know lots of people who have life altering disabilities and most of them are very positive in nature, as they try there best to get on with things, despite their circumstances. They refuse to moan about their limitations or any discomfort they may be feeling. My dad was one of these people.

The whole process starts with a lengthy form to fill in, with hundreds of tedious questions, most of which are completely irrelevant to you and your condition! It’s hardly surprising to us that my dad didn’t lay it on thick enough with the answers he gave, and his claim was declined. We encouraged him to appeal the decision, as did his doctor. In 2010 my dad passed away. A few days after his death he received a letter saying that his appeal had failed and in their expert opinion he was fit for work. I won’t go into detail about his condition or how the family reacted to this letter, but needless to say he had been nowhere near fit to work and we were angry and bemused by the decision.

My dad is one of many cases just like this, not to mention those who have committed suicide, shortly after their benefits have been stopped or they have had a sanction issued. It’s a hard thing to prove either way, so I don’t have any accurate statistics on this. However I have read some alarming stories on line from families of deceased, who are convinced that a benefit decision has lead to their loved ones taking their life. A friend of mine works at a local food bank and she tells me that the number of people coming in, who have been sanctioned by the job centre, is getting out of hand. She describes these people as being in a desperate state, feeling completely degraded and often in floods of tears by the time they arrive.

FUN AT THE JOB CENTRE

I’m sat for what seems like hours, I glance down at my watch and I’m alarmed to see it’s not even been ten minutes yet! Welcome to the job centre, the place where time truly does stand still.
Now imagine the person you’d least like to meet down a dark alley. Built like a brick outhouse, heavily tattooed, crazy looking eyes and looks like he could crush you with his little finger!

 

He’s sat directly across from me, giving me what I can only describe as a death stare. I’m desperately trying to avoid glancing in his direction.

 

You get used to seeing all the usual crowds, to my left is the single mums club, all congregated together with their army of prams. Normally they’re discussing having more babies and getting their benefits increased. A baby is an excellent prop to have with you in the job centre, as you can get away with so much more. Lets just say you’ve been a bit slack and not managed to apply for your allocated number of jobs, what are the chances of someone getting mad with you whilst your cradling an infant. If that infant happens to start crying, that’s a big bonus cause you’ll likely get seen and sent away much quicker!


Looking to my right I see the hoodie brigade, some sat, and some stood up, mainly consisting of young lads wearing ridiculously baggy pants that hang down showing half their boxer shorts or worse, sometimes their arse crack! Their faces are part covered, in an attempt to look as menacing as they can. Their conversations consist of bragging about crimes committed and time spent in prison or young offenders institutions. Two of them are comparing their ankle tags and discussing when their curfews are up. As well as this, they’re all ogling the girls at the other side of the room. It feels like a scene from a high school disco!
Also grouped together in the corner is the so called none English speakers. These people are very interesting, whilst in the waiting area their English is perfect and they appear to have a larger vocabulary than I do, but as soon as they’re sat with one of the advisers, something magically happens to them and all of a sudden they can’t speak two words of it. Another successful tactic implored at the job centre.

Much of the people attending are playing a game of warfare. Those who know the system inside out and know exactly what they can and can’t get away with. They choose to manipulate and deceive their way through the whole process, in an attempt to avoid work for as long as they possibly can. I know this because I’ve heard them discussing tactics in the waiting area!
Then you’ve got the security guards who I’ll politely describe as a total joke. There are several signs up throughout the building, saying no food and drink and no use of mobile phones. It’s no exaggeration to say, every other person has a chocolate bar or sandwich in one hand, and their mobile in the other. In the middle of all this you have the security, who are blatantly ignoring it all and going round hugging and high-fiving people that they know.

On the other side of the desks you have the job advisers, who funnily enough never seem to give any advice! I’m reluctant to badmouth them too much because they do have a lot of spiky characters to deal with on a daily basis. They have a tough job to do, in having to filter them all out. So I cant really blame them for coming across miserable and unenthusiastic. What I can’t forgive is them tarring everyone with the same brush, which is exactly what most of them do.
They see a young person and make an immediate assumption that you’re trying to cheat the system and you’re not putting any effort what so ever into your job searches. This annoys me because as well as all the types of people I’ve described to you, there are also many genuine ones who are trying there best to get a job. They don’t deserve to be talked down too, like they’re the scum of the earth!

What I used to hate most of all was the inconsistency of it all. One week I had to face a complete interrogation and however much evidence I produced, it was never enough to satisfy them. They always managed to find fault with something. The next time, I went even more prepared. I took a bag full of evidence showing all of my job applications and confirmations going back several months. I see a younger adviser who doesn’t ask me a single job related question. All he asks is “is it still raining out” and then sends me on my way.

It’s these complete polar opposites that used to make going to the job centre such an unsettling experience. The fact that you could be greeted like a long lost friend one week, and then like their worst enemy two weeks later was truly mystifying and quite frankly laughable.
Also laughable was the amount of jobs you were expected to apply for. A minimum of ten jobs per fortnight, if you didn’t manage this you’d risk having your benefit stopped.
You may be reading this thinking, that’s fair enough, people should be expected to apply for plenty of jobs, and they should be punished if they don’t. The problem was it was rare you’d be able to find ten suitable jobs. So everyone ended up applying for things they had no qualifications for and had no chance of ever getting. They did this just to avoid the wrath of the advisers.
It’s a big relief that I don’t have to attend the job centre anymore. I honestly don’t know how I’d cope with the pressure, whilst in my current mental state, so I am grateful for that small mercy.

MY STORY

When I went for my medical, as well as being a nervous wreck, I was angry and disturbed by what I heard in the waiting area. It was just like being back in the job centre. People were bragging about how easy it was to play the system and plotting ways in which they could further deceive the mental health nurse. I know there are benefit cheats out there, I’m not completely naive! But I tend to see the good in people and was still shocked by what I saw. It’s people like that, that make it so difficult for those of us who are truly deserving of the support. It’s already hard enough having to go into detail about your illness, having to prove yourself to a complete stranger, it brings everything to the surface and makes you feel extremely vulnerable. I’m dreading having to go through another medical and know that i’ll be summoned again shortly. What makes it worse is that I don’t know the exact date and I’m constantly living on edge whilst I wait for the dreaded brown envelope to arrive!

lets talk benefits

When You’re on benefits it feels like you’re under constant scrutiny, like everything you do has a hidden agenda and you have to justify your every move. When your illness genuinely prevents you from working, the only opinion that truly counts is that of the medical professionals who have diagnosed you in the first place. However, I can’t help being influenced by other peoples opinions, I hate the idea of not being believed. With mental health it’s so much worse as your symptoms are often only obvious to fellow sufferers. It’s very hard to explain an illness you can’t see.

It’s so easy to tar people on benefits with the same brush and make inaccurate assumptions.  I’m ashamed to say I’ve done it myself. In the past, long before I had a mental health illness, I would regularly sit in the pub with the lads moaning about all those people on benefits, spending our tax payers money whilst living a life of leisure. Television documentaries such as benefits Britain and life on the dole, Don’t help. Let me categorically say, we’re not all like those people!

 

 

 

Questions and Answers

It’s question and answers Tuesday again. Please keep your questions coming, whether you’re suffering with your own mental health and need advice or your just interested in the subject, I will do my best to answer your questions or pass you on to someone who can! Here are some of the most popular topics this week.

How do you deal with depression without support from friends?