Routine

What does having a routine mean to you?

Do you find routine boring?

Do you find it comforting?

Do you feel it’s holding you back? 

Do you find it a necessity? 

Do you desperately need it for your survival? 

For someone like me who suffers badly with anxiety, having a steady routine and therefore knowing exactly what I’m doing, is vital. A solid routine helps me to feel safe. That being said, even I like to mix it up from time to time and recognise the importance of doing this. Staying in your comfort zone is all well and good, but if I stayed in mine all the time, I’d never leave the house! Pushing yourself a little further, allows you to experience so much more and ultimately lead to living a more fulfilled life. I know all this to be true, but it’s still easier said than done.

Having an element of routine and the structure that comes with this, seems to me to be the sensible way to approach life. But I’ve always been an excessive planner, even before my mental health issues. I’m the sort of person who likes to know what’s around the next corner, both literally and figuratively speaking. Where as some people might enjoy the element of surprise, I deeply fear it!  Some might see this as a tad obsessive but then again most of you don’t have an anxiety disorder to contend with. Obviously much depends on what hardships you’ve faced in life and how many mental scars you’ve been left with.

Sports men and woman can be extremely obsessive with their routines. Some of their superstitions can seem ludicrous to most of us. Anything from having a lucky pair of socks, to lining their water bottles up in a precise order. These acts might seem odd, but we all share in having  little idiosyncrasies- perhaps to a lesser extent. Lets take an every day thing like having a shower. Without even realising it, you will automatically do things in a certain order, and it would feel strange to do things any differently.

When I get out of the shower I always start by drying my feet first and then working my way up my body, eventually drying my chest and arms, and finishing with my head. Many people may think this to be extremely odd, they may in fact do it in the completely opposite order to me. It might make more sense to dry your hair first to stop it dripping everywhere, but I’m bald on top, so don’t have that problem! Anyway what ever your preferred method is, I bet you’ve done it exactly the same way for as long as you can remember. If you try altering this routine, even slightly, it will completely throw you out of sink. It might even ruin the whole experience! The fact is we all take comfort in routine to a certain degree.

You’ve all heard of the saying,practice makes perfect’ . Having a repetitive routine can be used as a legitimate learning method, as the more you do something the more automatic it becomes. Bruce Lee puts it perfectly when he says ‘Don’t fear the man that knows how to do 10,000 kicks, but fear the man who knows only one kick but has practiced it 10,000 times’  

I’m striving to be the Bruce Lee of table tennis! I already have a half decent backhand but my forehand is slightly weaker (some might say much weaker, but I’m going to stick to slightly!) When the ball comes to this side I’m constantly having doubts about the shot. Is my technique right? Am I letting the ball drop to much? Is my bat angle right? Are my feet in the correct position? Through repetitive practice routines, my shots are improving and becoming more consistent. Hopefully one day they will be automatic and effortless, just like my backhand.

Driving a car is a good example. Most drivers would tell you that in their first couple of driving lessons, nothing felt natural, everything was like an alien concept to them, and they couldn’t imagine ever being able to drive on their own. But then, with much  perseverance and repetition, what seemed like an impossible feat, not only became possible, but soon became second nature to them. This exact same mind-set can be applied when facing any challenges. Like I’ve already said, I use it in table tennis to try and improve my game.

It’s also about taking one manageable step at a time, as apposed to giant unrealistic leaps! This is especially relevant if you have a mental health illness and you’re in a vulnerable, unpredictable state of mind. A friend of mine, who’s battled her mental health all her life, told me that when the illness is at it’s worst, her daily challenges can involve simply getting out of bed, and getting washed and dressed. I can appreciate this, as depression tightens it’s grip over you, even the simplest of tasks can take great effort. You can’t see the point of doing anything anymore- including washing and dressing. But it’s important to keep challenging yourself, however small and pointless these challenges seem. This same lady is now able to travel the country on her own, giving inspirational talks in rooms full of  people, she continues to spread much needed awareness and fills me with hope for my future. She has proven to me that anything is possible, but who knows if she’d have ever reached this stage, if she hadn’t continued challenging herself, even in her darkest hours. Somehow I doubt she would.

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.

 

 

Challenge Yourself- Small Steps

Challenge Yourself

Shoot for the moon, even if you miss you’ll land among the stars!

Challenge yourself to get the most pleasure out of life.

 

 

Personally I think it’s important to face up to your demons and test yourself daily. Whilst doing this you need to continue looking after yourself and be accepting of the limitations caused by your mental health. It’s all about finding the right balance for you.

My daily challenges can include, walking to the corner shop on my own, going to the supermarket with family, picking up mail from my old house, forcing myself to have a social chat with a friend, answering the telephone or front door. These last two might seem a bit trivial to some, but they can be the most difficult, especially if I don’t know who’s on the other end of the line or behind the door. Its the fear of the unknown that often prevents me from being able to do this. My home is my sanctuary, but it’s so easy to become trapped. Don’t let isolation become your friend. I’m all for protecting yourself and keeping safe, but not if it means you’re sacrificing experiencing life.

‘ Action may not always bring happiness, but there is no happiness without action’ (Benjamin Disraeli)

I’ve began visiting the town centre twice a week with my mother, even though I’m always extremely anxious on the day and in the build up to it, I still force myself to do it. To be honest with you, at present I don’t enjoy any part of the experience, but I view it as a necessary infliction. If you’re like me and you fear busy places, I don’t think there’s any harm in avoiding them as much as you can. However in life you can’t guarantee avoiding places such as town centres, indefinitely. There will be times in the future when you have no choice. I attempt to make such times less stressful by remaining well practiced, so there is method in my madness!

‘ Live all you can; it’s a mistake not to. It doesn’t matter what you do in particular, so long as you have had your life. If you haven’t had that, what have you had?’ (Henry James)

Challenge Yourself Small Steps

Just keep putting one foot in front of the other!

 

 

In previous posts I have mentioned attempting to walk further distances on my own, this of course is dependent on how I’m feeling on the day. As well as distance, I also challenge myself in other areas such as:

  • Slowing down- It might sound a simple thing to do but for me it’s not. Due to my anxiety I tend to race from A to B in record speed, all so I can get back to the safety of my home. The walk itself should be a pleasant experience, I just need to remind myself to take my time and appreciate the journey.
  • Keeping pace- If someone’s in front of me walking at a slower pace, I will slow down to avoid catching them up. Equally if someone’s behind me walking faster I will quicken up. Allowing someone to walk past me is a huge challenge. Sitting on a bench and having several people walk past me is extremely daunting but something I try hard to achieve.
  • Being sociable- When I’m out walking with my friends I’m a completely different person. I always smile and say hello to people passing by, on occasions I might even enter into a conversation. When on my own walking past the same people in exactly the same kind of location, I don’t say a word! Shoulders slumped and head down I don’t even risk eye contact with them. This is providing I haven’t found an alternative path or crossed the street. And so I challenge myself to keep my shoulders up and my head high and acknowledge fellow pedestrians. This of course is easier said than done and completely depends on the day.

Just like anything, if you do something regularly enough, the task will become easier and less intimidating. Often the anticipation is far worse than the actual event. Repetition is the key, pretty soon you’ll look back and wonder what all the fuss was about in the first place!