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.

 

 

social anxiety

My social anxiety presents itself all the time, some days when it’s at it’s worst it becomes extremely restrictive to my everyday life.

social anxiety
from a young age I always felt to be on the outside of the group

My major roadblock- social anxiety

 I’ve stopped pegging the washing out on a weekend, for fear of encountering the neighbours. This is ridiculous as we have good neighbours, they’re all perfectly pleasant and really shouldn’t cause me any trepidation what so ever. However the prospect of having a two-minute chat with them (probably about the weather) just to pass the time of day is so horrifying, that I simply can’t risk it.

Sadly my avoidance tactics don’t stop there, as my social anxiety starts to get the better of me. Getting the wheelie bin from the side of the house, once a week on bin collection day has quite frankly become a military operation. I tend to do it the night before when it’s dark and I’m less likely to be seen. I have to look out of the front, back and side windows before I even contemplate stepping outside. I open the back door ever so slightly and listen for a minute or two, then I tentatively stick my head out and check both ways. Only when I’m completely satisfied that no ones around, will I make my move. If this was an Olympic event I would win gold every time, I literally have it done in a flash, like my life depends on it and then I’m back in the safety of my house, taking a few deep breaths and thanking God I don’t have to do it for another week.

I began to lose my hair at a young age, in fact by my early twenties it had receded badly and there wasn’t much left. Since then I have always cut it myself and like to keep it shaved very short.

That was until six months a go when my clippers broke. As you’ve probably gathered by now, I don’t do social interaction too well. Hairdressers are notorious for being the chattiest of all people and sometimes sitting in that chair for ten minutes can feel like hours and be torturous to say the least, as they delve into your life history! Therefore I saw this as an ideal opportunity to challenge myself by taking myself out of my comfort zone. This is roughly how it went:

social anxiety

Barbers number 1– Cheerful enough but far too talkative. Constant questions tripping off his tongue, including asking what I did for a living which makes me feel uncomfortable at the best of times.

 

Barbers number 2– This one was disturbing. She was fascinated by the heat coming from my head, so much so she got the other hairdressers to come across and have a feel! This left me feeling a little self-conscious to say the least and I couldn’t wait to escape.

 

Barbers number 3– This one couldn’t understand why I didn’t cut my own hair. I told him that it was only temporary until I got some new clippers. As soon as I said that I realised I wouldn’t be able to return. Not that I would have anyway, he was far too chatty for my liking.

social anxiety

 

Barbers number 4– This one was interesting, nowhere near as friendly as the others. All the customers and staff seemed to know each other and this created a bit of a funny atmosphere. When I walked in everyone appeared to stop what they were doing and stare at me like I didn’t belong in their company. Like a scene from an old western as a newcomer enters the saloon. Hardly the most welcoming of places!

Barbers number 5– I finally found the perfect place for me, where the staff only understood a little English and couldn’t speak more than two words of it. When it was your turn they’d point to the chair and say, “sit”. When finished they’d say “five pounds” and that’s the only bit of chitchat I had to endure. Absolutely ideal! And this is the one I’ve chosen to return too.

Socially Inept?

I accept that people probably view me as a bit of a party pooper and some are probably sick of inviting me to places- only for me to come up with yet more excuses! I can even put up with being branded antisocial. But when did I get to the stage were I had this constant feeling of inadequacy? As my self-doubt reaches it’s peak, I start to view myself as a huge burden and believe that people deserve a medal for putting up with me. I need to remind myself that this is not true. How I deal with these difficult emotions is crucial. I choose to look at the funny side of my social anxiety, as I’ve tried to do in this post. Learning to laugh at yourself is such an important coping tool. You put less emphasis on your frailties, there not that important, there just something you can laugh about. Suddenly you find you have less anxiety moving forwards.

 

 

Irrational Thoughts- How to overcome

Every Day Challenges (Irrational thoughts)

My depression and anxiety lead to me having many irrational thoughts. I’m going to share with you a passage from my journal I composed a few weeks a go. At the time we had workmen in the house fitting a new bathroom, my worst nightmare! Things like this badly effect me. My home is usually my safe zone, but having strangers in it for any length of time leads to me quite literally being petrified. I had to strategically plan my toilet trips to the down stairs loo in a desperate attempt to avoid running into anyone. I was left feeling like an intruder in my own home!

Irrational Thoughts

I went away with my mum for a few days but when we returned the work was nowhere near complete. Worse still on the Monday it was mums volunteer morning at the hospice and I was going to be left alone. I decided the lesser of two evils was to go with her. I didn’t like the prospect of sitting in a room full of folks having to make conversation, but it was better than the alternative of getting under the work men’s feet. Here’s word for word what I wrote at the time.

At least the suns shining, it’s not such a bad day to die, if this is to be my time. That’s what was going through my mind 10 minutes a go, walking down the road from the Kirkwood hospice, with potential threats to my life at either side of me. I wasn’t scared but at the same time felt distinctly uneasy! I just prayed that if this was my time, it would be over quickly and relatively painlessly, maybe a swift knife to the chest or something along those lines!

I’m now sat in a café in Moldgreen, I feel uncomfortable and extremely self-conscious, but at least it’s safe in here. Safer than out there anyway! As usual I have picked a spot in the darkest dingiest corner, as far away from prying eyes as possible. This will be ok for the next three hours. It turned out I couldn’t stay in the hospice with all those people and I couldn’t stay at home either! so here I am in the middle of plan C. It’s not ideal, I haven’t been out on my own for this long for some time and I’m feeling very vulnerable. Writing this is passing time and if I can some how keep hidden for another hour, I will attempt to walk back. The world is a scary place and I’m not equipped to cope. I wish I was normal, I wish I wasn’t such a freak!

Another problem’s just occurred to me. I need the toilet and I’m going to have to walk past a table of students to get there. Oh my God, what am I going to do now! Maybe I’ll be able to hold on until they’ve gone, I’ll have too, there’s no way I’m walking past them! How ridiculous, I think I’d rather wet myself than walk past people who are probably to engrossed in their conversations to even notice me!

Somehow I’ve managed to get back to the hospice unscathed, and bravely come in to join the group. I’ve even found a corner seat again. Maybe if I keep my head down writing folks might leave me alone. Apparently there’s 40 people in the room, to me it feels more like 400!

Monster Or Not?
   

Outside of my house I feel extremely small, as I let my irrational thoughts take over!

 

 

For 12 months trying to sell my house was an extremely stressful time for me. But once I’d sold it, people thought that I’d miraculously become a different person over night! Well I have news for them, I’m still depressed, I feel just as anxious as ever, just as lost and afraid. It almost feels like one of my main excuses for being such an emotional wreck has gone but I’m no closer to being able to cope. I was very confused about what to do next. I needed a purpose, some structure, a set routine, something to work towards, and then I started to write this blog.

Is it possible that the elderly couple at the bus stop are just simply waiting for the bus? Why then do I view them as such a great threat, why do I genuinely believe them to be carrying weapons! So much so that I have to cross over the road to get past.
Is it possible that the work van parked on the corner of my street, is just parked up whilst the work man has his lunch break? Why then do I think He’s waiting for me to walk past so he can bundle me in to the back and kidnap me! so much so that I have to find a much longer alternative route.
I see a garage door slightly open, light on in the garage. Is it possible they’re doing some work and want a bit of fresh air, maybe they’ve simply forgotten to close the door. But that’s not what goes through my head, instead I convince myself that someone’s in there spying on passers by and they’re going to jump out and attack me! Again I can’t risk walking past and so I find an alternative route.

Later when I’m sat at home I see these scenarios as what they are, totally irrational thoughts on my behalf. I feel foolish and embarrassed that I’ve reacted in this way, but it’s hard to stop, as at the time the threat seems very real and very frightening!

But imagine for one minute that monster approaching you isn’t a monster after all. Imagine that they’re actually scared of you! You shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, someone may not be as intimidating as you first think. Think about how you’re coming across to them. A friendly smile or a ‘hello’ and suddenly their face changes, as relief hits home. It turns out lots of people have confidence issues, especially when they’re walking on their own. Not everyone’s out to get you. Their shifty looking exterior could easily be misconstrued, maybe they’re feeling vulnerable and don’t want to give any eye contact. On the other hand they might be standing tall and looking you straight in the eyes, portraying an ultra confident person, when deep down who knows what’s going on. They could be petrified!