If you’ve been following my blog for a while, then you’ll know that I’m extremely open about my struggles with anxiety. My first post in relation to the topic was more of an account of how anxiety effects me, and it received a fantastic response. In this post, I won’t just be referring to my own experiences, but also giving advice on how to deal with anxiety yourself. By no means am I trained to give advice on this matter, but I do know first hand how anxiety can effect your daily living and personally, I find that kind of advice most useful in many aspects of life. I just want to make it clear that there really is no quick fix to overcoming anxiety. You hear so many people telling their ‘success’ story but what we need most is hard facts and advice, because there can be no success without hard work and understanding.
Understanding & Acceptance
The first and most important thing when it comes to dealing with anxiety is to understand and accept it for what it is. Of course, being excessively anxious in your day to day life, to the point where it causes disruption and upset is not okay, but it’s key that we realise that anxiety levels differ in each and every person and that some people are just naturally more anxious than others. It’s understandable to want to blame yourself for being an overly anxious person, you may feel that it’s you yourself that’s self-inflicting this added stress on your body and mind, however, this is not the case.
When addressing my own issues, the whole concept of anxiety was explained to me as follows. Basically, you need to visualise the person being a container and anxiety being a liquid. In someone who has relatively normal anxiety levels and doesn’t suffer from any panic disorders, their container is never more than slightly filled with liquid, meaning day to day, ‘minor’ stresses don’t cause them much anxiety at all and they find these stresses easy to deal with. Therefore, when an overly stressful event takes place, their container can afford to take on the extra liquid, without overflowing. Now, consider someone who suffers from bad anxiety on a regular basis. Their container is constantly 3/4 full, even by slight stresses that others would see as irrelevant. Therefore, even the smallest of ‘stresses’ will cause their container to overflow, inducing a panic attack.
After having this explained to me, everything made a lot more sense and I was able to understand why seemingly small stresses to some come across as much bigger to me. Whether you suffer from anxiety yourself or are trying to empathise with a loved one who does, I think this analogy is incredibly important to keep in mind.
I’m not sure about others, but for me personally, I can 100% sense when a bout of severe anxiety/panic attack is coming on. I guess once you’ve been dealing with them for a while, the signs and symptoms become familiar, which in a way can be useful, as it allows you to create a coping mechanism to deal with it when it happens. A lot of the time, I find taking some time out alone really helps when I’m feeling overly anxious. Listening to music and writing down my thoughts has proven really useful in the past. I recently purchased a mindfulness ‘adult’ colouring book, which to my amazement, also relieves anxious feelings significantly. Simply being alone can be a brilliant self-therapy if it’s a more ‘drawn out’ feeling of anxiousness, as in for example, exam stress, something that’s ongoing, if that makes sense.
Panic attacks, however, are a whole different situation. Usually brought on by a specific event or reaction to something traumatic, I wouldn’t recommend isolating yourself when you body finds itself under attack. ‘Chronic’ anxiety tends to effect me more, but when a full on panic attack strikes, I do get very upset and restless and having a loved one there can make things a lot less scary. Ensuring a family member, friend, boyfriend/girlfriend is aware that you suffer from panic attacks is key, so that when it does happen, they’ll quickly understand what’s happening and be able to bring you some bit of comfort. I know that those who have never experienced a panic attack may feel useless in the situation as they can’t relate as such to what the person is going through but honestly, just being there and showing them that they’re not alone can be a great help.
Because anxiety is a mental ailment rather than a physical one, you may not immediately link diet with it but what you consume throughout the day can actually have a massive impact on the severity of your anxiety. When we become anxious or panicky, it’s our bodies reaction to what it sees as a ‘danger’. (Often with severe anxiety, these reactions aren’t in sync with reality and the ‘dangers’ we see aren’t actually as harmful as we visualise). Adrenalin is released by the body as a defence mechanism when it feels it’s under attack. Of course, too much adrenalin in your system will cause severe stress levels in your body, so taking in foods/drinks that contain a lot of caffeine and sugar is not ideal if you suffer from anxiety. Things such as coffee, Redbull and processed foods will cause your adrenalin levels to sky rocket, basically leaving you in an wound-up slump not long after consuming them.
Personally, after being told this, I cut out energy drinks completely and while I don’t eat a lot of processed foods anyway, I became more aware of the sugar levels in certain products. I’m a massive coffee lover, previously I would have consumed around 6-8 mugs a day which I know is awful, so instead of cutting it out completely, which would have caused withdrawals, I reduced that down to 3 and started to opt for green tea infusions sometimes instead. Your body really is a temple and a balanced, healthy diet will encourage a stronger, calmer you.
Some people seem to view anxiety in the same way as arachnophobia or claustrophobia, which is completely wrong. While anxiety does cause fear and feelings of discomfort, it isn’t a phobia and it can’t be dealt with using the same ‘face your fears head on’ mechanisms. Certain situations will make different people anxious and uncomfortable and this will differ in each individual. For me personally, making an order in a cafe, particularly somewhere like Subway where there’s a dozen different steps or crowded, disorganised shops like Penneys or TK Maxx are my triggers. Of course, these situations are very much part of daily life and while I’m not encouraging people to hide away and cut themselves off from shopping/eating out, sometimes you just have to put yourself first and manage the situation so that it brings you the least amount of anxiousness possible.
Another aspect can be social events like family gatherings and in my case, bloggers events. As much as I hate to admit it, I have on a few occasions been invited to amazing press events and launches but have been unable to attend purely due to my anxiety levels. In situations like these, learning to manage your anxiety levels is key as missing out on brilliant events is terrible but sometimes, putting your well being first has to happen. Lastly, I feel it’s so important to remember that by taking time out when anxiety strikes does not mean you’re weak or that you’re giving in. If you had a flu or chest infection, you wouldn’t think twice about rearranging plans to recuperate. Your mental health is just as crucial as your physical so take amazing care of it.