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.

 

 

Nicer reality- Minature Paradise

A nicer reality    A nicer reality

Sometimes we all need to escape to a nicer reality

 Sat on a bench at the far side of the park, far away from the noise of the children’s play area; I am enjoying the stillness surrounding me. What can I see? A perfect blue sky with the occasional white cotton cloud. If I look closely I can make out different shapes, its fun to do so. This one looks just like a puppy jumping for its ball. Golden leaves are beginning to form on the trees. Birds are tweeting their afternoon songs. Butterflies are flying side by side on the delicate breeze, performing a hypnotic dance just for me. A fluffy dandelion seed floats up inches away from my face and disappears into the distance.

I shut my eyes and feel the warm autumn sunshine against my forehead. I’m concentrating on slowing down now and relaxing. Starting with my breathing, I take deep breaths in through my nose and out through my mouth, I allow myself to be consumed by the serene beauty all around me. I can feel myself totally shutting down, leaving all my troubles behind me and being one with nature, nothing to prove, no expectations, a perfect moment. It’s ok to feel small in its presence and I do feel small in this tranquil solitude.

I have a few special places I like to visit, which I call my thinking spots. Although I guess they shouldn’t be called this, as I go with the intention of completely switching off and escaping from the day-to-day pressures of life.

The places I choose tend to be out of the way, often high up at the top of a hill where there are few people around and I have the benefit of some stunning views. Your special place could be totally different to mine, a lot of people find sitting by a river bank and listening to flowing water, a calming experience, unfortunately all this does for me is makes me desperate for the loo! The important thing is you view the place as an escape, a nicer reality.

So anywhere that you can sit peacefully and be mindful of your surroundings will do just fine. Allow yourself to take notice of every little moment, almost as if the world and time has gone into slow motion and you’re suddenly aware of everything around you. Every detail from the humming insects scurrying on the ground, to the individual leaves rustling in the trees. All the small things that you wouldn’t normally notice when you’re rushing your way through life. I say take time to see the beauty of the world; it’s easy to take it for granted.

Happiness is a butterfly which, when pursued, is always beyond our grasp, but which, if you sit down quietly, may alight upon you (Nathaniel Hawthorne)

One thing you can guarantee living in England is the unpredictable nature of the weather. Now I for one like the rain (probably because there’s not as many folks around and possibly because I’m slightly odd!) but I appreciate that not everyone does. Therefore it’s a good idea to have a few spots in your memory bank. One of my favourite is in Jamaica, a place that I’ve been fortunate to visit twice in my lifetime, but somewhere I can easily go back too, just by being in a quiet room and closing my eyes.

A nicer reality A nicer reality

 

I imagine myself sat on a wall outside my beech hut, looking out to sea. It’s the end of the evening and I’m having a rum and coke before I retire to bed. Just below me on the beech, dozens of baby crabs are burrowing holes in the sand and then popping their heads up somewhere else. Like a big game of hide and seek, it’s fascinating to watch them at play.

Looking out to the stillness of the sea, a cruise ship appears as a small dot on the horizon. A distant lightening storm lights up the whole scene creating an incredible spectacle. Breath-taking and beautiful, like my own miniature paradise. I remember never wanting to leave this perfect moment.

All these places-the ones in my memory and the ones I’m able to visit regular, all help remind me that life’s not that bad. I use them as a way to de-stress and put my problems into perspective or sometimes simply as a method of cheering myself up when I’m having a down day. However busy and hectic your life gets I recommend that you occasionally find yourself some time to escape to a nicer reality.

 

Great Expectations, Staying in the present

Societies great expectations are too much for me to handle. great expectationsLooking too far into the future fills me with dread, it really doesn’t work for me. My two greatest fears are fear of the unknown- which I link with  not knowing what I’m doing, potentially making a complete idiot of myself and risking humiliation on a grand scale! This immediately transports me back to being a little boy cowering in the corner of the school play ground whilst everybody points and laughs.

The only thing that has an even bigger impact on me than this, is the thought of not meeting peoples great expectations. I think that most people who know me accept that I’m not fit to work at the moment, although some probably still struggle with the concept of me being on benefits, due to an illness/condition they can’t even see. The truth is I’m doing ok at the moment, even showing a few signs of improvement, but these slight signs of improvement result in more pressure.

Society expects me to get back into work eventually, some expect sooner rather than later. I imagine they probably think Shaun’s been given the expert help he needs now, so its about time he was getting better. I really wish it was that simple, I really wish the doubters could be in my head for just one day! Then they might begin to understand.

Getting up in a morning, going to your place of work, doing your shift and then returning back home. sounds pretty simple and lets face it millions of people do it every day. For several years I did it myself. If I could magically click my fingers and go back to being that self-assured person, believe me I would.

Whatever kind of employment you’re in involves a certain amount of responsibility, people having to rely on you. Right now you couldn’t rely on me to go to the corner shop for some tea bags! Some days it wouldn’t be a problem but on bad days I’m still too anxious to leave the house. Even at my best I try to avoid groups of people and can only manage short distances on my own. I have amazing friends and family, who always allow for the unpredictable nature of my illness. They don’t have any great expectations of me. Somehow I doubt an employer could afford m the same luxury.

So here’s what happens when I start looking too far ahead, and I warn you its not the rosiest of pictures! I have the best part of 30 years before I reach retirement age, the way I feel now, I don’t believe I’ll ever be capable of working a standard job again. These thoughts aside, I don’t see the DWP seeing it this way, they will continue to have great expectations of me. I fully expect to fail my next medical and be deemed fit for work. I have a few savings I can live off for a little while but when their gone I can’t bare the thought of having to rely on my family for financial support. Its at this point that suicidal thoughts start to enter my head again, as I slip into a negative unhealthy mind-set.

I’m sorry for seeming so negative but this is what I see when I look to the future, which is why staying in the present and concentrating on one day at a time is so important for me and the only way I can function. For people like me who become depressed when looking too far ahead, my obvious advice is to try not to, even though this is easier said than done! Nobody can predict the future, the only thing we can control is the here and now. Its pointless obsessing over things you can’t control. Its about trying to be the best version of yourself right here, right now and feeling comfortable in your own skin. Your mental health is not a quick fix and your own expectations need to be realistic. Keep challenging yourself but don’t rush it. By taking one small step at a time you might be surprised by what you can achieve.

great expectations

 

 

 

Looking After Yourself

In this post I’m going to discuss managing your mental health and include some of the methods which have worked best for me. This is not to say they’ll be for everyone. For more creative people than me, art and music therapy may me of benefit. The important thing is finding the coping tools that work best for you.

Reading and Writing 

I find reading a fictional book to be helpful. I can soon get lost in the story line and forget about my issues in the real world. A good film or favourite television program can have the same effect. I’ve always been uncomfortable talking about my emotions and instead found writing things in a journal to be equally beneficial. I’m finding writing this blog to be very useful too. As well as it helping me continue to work through and understand my own illness, its also given me a purpose and its keeping my mind occupied which is essential at the moment.

Sports and Fitness

Any type of exercise can be used as a great coping tool. I like to keep myself fit and its a fact that when you take part in physical fitness, chemicals are released in your brain that make you feel good and therefore will help to boost your self-esteem( that’s about as technical as I get! ). Hence the saying Healthy body Healthy mind. If your a competitive person it can also give a goal to work towards. For example I got myself a pedometer, which measures how many steps you take when you’re out and about. I always try to beat my record from the previous week, which gives me more of an incentive to leave the house. 2500 steps equates to one mile, which means if you do roughly 66,500 steps you’ve completed a full marathon!

Walking in the countryside and the peacefulness that comes with this is a great aid for switching off, completely unwinding and being one with nature. There is no better therapy than this for me. Its always been important for me to feel in control. Exercise helps me to take control back of my body and this in turn can give me the confidence to start taking charge of other situations in my life.

I enjoy playing numerous sports and I use each of them as a way to escape from the every day pressures of life. Its amazing how great it feels to smash a golf ball down the middle of the fairway or kick a football into the roof of the net. As well as the obvious benefits the exercise brings, I also find sports to be an effective way to release tension. I’ve played competitive table tennis in local leagues for several years now and I find the camaraderie and strength you get from being part of a team, to be immeasurable. you’re trying to win, not just for yourself but for the other lads too. I had to have a little break away from the league due to my illness but I’m happy to say I’m back playing and everyone’s been fantastic. I’ve been made to feel valued and significant, all of which has increased my self-worth.

Talking Therapy

I have received both counselling and psychology sessions. I started the process very tentatively, I found it extremely difficult to open up to a stranger. I also felt undeserving of the help, like there were people much more in need than me and I was potentially taking up their space. For the first few weeks I was very defensive and looking for hidden agendas in everything Nancy said to me. I spent half the time attempting to convince her I was ok and the other half apologising for being there. Over the years I have become a master of repressing my feelings. Bottling up emotions has always seemed the best and safest option and therefore its become the norm for me. I now know that this is extremely unhealthy. In counselling sessions you have to be prepared to be stripped bare (figurately speaking). To open up and share some of your inner most feelings takes time and only works if you have complete trust in your counsellor. It took me five months to get to this stage. This might sound a long time but with my trust issues, Its a miracle I found anyone I could open up to at all. Once I began to share things, all of a sudden everything just started pouring out of me. I was able to be completely honest including talking about my suicidal thoughts. Just to be able to tell someone that I didn’t want to be here anymore was such a massive relief. Every time I got something off my chest, it felt like a huge weight had been lifted.

In counselling you have an environment were you can feel completely safe. Your able to share what ever is on your mind with the knowledge that it will stay in the room. So how ever cynical you are about talking therapies, please don’t dismiss them as an option cause you might be pleasantly surprised.

Medication

For a short time I needed sleeping tablets but now I’m just taking my antidepressants. It took me a while to come to terms with needing long term medication. In the past I wouldn’t even take paracetemol for a headache! But I soon realised the tablets are just a necessary fix and its no big deal really. It did take a while to get on the right medication, I tried a few that disagreed with me but now I’m on the correct tablet and dosage for me. If you’re struggling with your meds remember to persevere, they do sometimes take a while to get into your system and have the desired effect. Other than that be honest with your doctor about how your feeling.

Mindfulness

Mindfulness is the ability to be and remain in the present. Being aware of your body and mind and your environment in that exact moment. Its not as easy as it sounds, the human mind naturally wanders off and its very difficult to concentrate on one thing at once. That’s my understanding of it anyway but I’m far from being an expert and I’m new to practising the mindful meditations. I practice them for twenty minutes every day in a quiet space with no distractions, this might not be easy to find for some people but it is necessary. Due to my limited knowledge on the subject I’m not going to advise but I will recommend a book called ‘Mindfulness for dummies’ or you could always look up the therapies on line. What I will say is the various breathing exercises been a huge benefit to me and recently even helped to bring me back from having a panic attack.

Positive Mantras 

If I had a pound for every time I’ve been told to be kind to myself and take one small step at a time, I’d be a rich man! You might get sick of people saying these things to you but the reason why its repeated so often is because its actually great advice! I now have a few additional methods which are giving me the positive reinforcement I need right now. I have a mantra which I repeat every day, even more so when I’m in situations that make me anxious. Some of the most common ones are listed below.

  • I am what I am
  • Action conquers fears
  • I am enough
  • This too shall pass
  • I love and approve of myself
  • Keep calm and carry on
  • I breath in calmness and breath out nervousness
  • Keep your head up and your heart open

Obviously these are just a few, it’s what works best for you. You might want to invent a completely new saying that’s unique to you. When I’m stressed I repeat the phrase ‘nil nil and all is well’, when I’m about to start a game of table tennis and the umpire says nil nil, I manage to switch off all other distractions and just focus on the job in hand. This inner calm has proven helpful when trying to accomplish any given task.

One big thing I miss about my counsellor is the constant reassurance she gave me. Helping me realise I was on the right track, that I wasn’t a bad person and actually had a lot to offer. The way I’ve chosen to emulate this is by writing positive reminders that relate to different situations. For example if I’m about to go out with friends and I’m feeling anxious I look at a certain page in my notebook, which emphasis that I’m well liked and good company, that I’ve no need to rehearse or force conversations. Instead I should just be myself and go with the flow. These simple scripts help me to continue to leave the house and manage my every day life. As time goes on and I continue to be more assured and comfortable in my own skin, I will need to read them less and less.

Graded Exposure

If you have somewhere to go or just want to get out for a little while, the first thing to remember is there’s no shame in asking someone to go with you. everybody needs a bit of a prop from time to time. If the only way you’re leaving the house is to be accompanied then so be it, its better than staying in and feeling sorry for yourself.

Sometimes if you picture a full length journey somewhere or focus on a task in its entirety, it can soon become overwhelming. Therefore a good idea is to break things down into more manageable segments. This is where Graded exposure comes in as a really productive tool to help you get your independence back. In my case I had a carer who took me out. If you haven’t got this option or find yourself on a waiting list, a close friend or family member will do just fine. For a long period I didn’t leave my house on my own due to my anxiety levels. First and foremost I wanted to be able to get to the local shop on my own to get necessities and avoid having to rely so much on other people. The shop is a ten minute walk away (I don’t drive). We split the journey up into 6 checkpoints. For the first few weeks we kept repeating the journey together but then eventually I managed to meet my carer at the first checkpoint. Over time I was able to go further distances on my own until eventually I achieved my goal. I have achieved larger challenges since including getting to the local swimming baths and playing table tennis in the league. All of which I have done through graded exposure.

Gardening

This interest is an unusual one for me to include in this list. Unusual because until the last couple of years I hated it. It was a chore I could well do without! But I now see it as an important distraction for when I’m having a bad day with my depression. The back garden is a quiet secluded spot were I can practice my mindfulness and feel completely safe. There’s always plenty to do planting, weeding and generally tidying up and making the area look nice. Its a perfect place to go when I’m feeling sorry for myself and it nearly always brings me out of my slump. Plants are very similar to us in many respects. If they receive plenty of love and nurturing there happy and they blossom.

 

Finally but not least give yourself a break and celebrate your achievements how ever small they might seem. I met a friend the other day and he was buzzing because he’d just got a big promotion at work. I was delighted that I’d managed to walk in Aldi by myself and buy a loaf of bread, an equally huge achievement for me! I wasn’t going to mention it cause it seemed insignificant in comparison but I did and he was really pleased for me. We celebrated both together.