Anxiety ruled my life. I have shown signs of it ever since I can remember; a pain in my stomach that just doesn’t go away, the ringing in my ear that never seems to stop. The pounding in your head that goes on and on and on. You feel like you need to run away, and the more you try the further freedom becomes. The ringing in you ear just gets louder and louder. And then you just collapse, exhausted from trying to fight this inability to just do life...
… and in the end I got an A+ for that test that I thought I had failed.
I didn’t understand my anxiety, and I wasn’t raised to be aware of mental health. I lived a very normal life, I was a happy child who loved being around others so my anxiety was never obvious. As a young child the first symptom I showed was a stomach ache when I needed to do something that fell outside of my normal routine; anything from going to school earlier, standing in a tuckshop line, and even going to swimming lessons. My head would be filled with negative thoughts as I walked on the playground. I always felt like people were watching me, judging my every move, judging the way I walked, or the way the wind moved me hair.
As I grew older I developed more symptoms that presented themselves more frequently.
Odd sleeping patterns
I worried about everything. I over analyzed situations and conversations to the point of tears and restless nights worried about what someone said to me or what I had said to someone else. I would beat myself up for not being the best, for not writing in a straight line, and forgetting to turn the light off when I left the room. I dreaded going to a public bathroom for fear of touching unknown germs on door handles and taps. Although I do still think that I might be a hypochondriac because I am sitting here typing on my keyboard thinking to myself that I can definitely feel the germs on it… let me just quickly wipe it down.
...That’s better. Now where was I? Oh yes, anxiety.
Into my late teenage years and early 20’s my anxiety attacks became uncontrollable. Remember, this is the time where you leave home, breakaway from your routines, apply for jobs, stand in line on your own, buy your own groceries, make friends, and gain confidence as a young adult. These are all things that I was uncertain of. My fears, irrational thoughts, stomach aches, physical muscle tension pains, and perfectionism left me exhausted and lead me into a downward spiral of loneliness. I plummeted straight into depression.
This is a picture of me during an anxiety attack about 3 years ago, during the height of my anxiety attacks during the start of my depression. I had asked Dillon to take a few pictures during an episode so that I could show people that they are not alone. At first I was angry that he was taking a picture, but he reminded me that I had asked him to do this. So here is a little bit of context to the next couple pictures.
Dillon and I were heading out to a family lunch. I had tried on multiple outfits and I felt uncomfortable in all of them, nothing fit like normal, and I couldn’t find anything that matched. I then get incredibly emotional about my body confidence and nothing could make me feel any better. I lay on the bed for around 15 minutes and it then dawned on me that I was making us late for the family lunch because I was indecisive. I lay on my bed with irrational thoughts racing through my head. I walked around the house bringing myself down and breaking my own confidence trying to convince myself to get going before finally landing up in front of the sliding door doing nothing but staring out into our garden in my underwear. This lasted for about 45 minutes. At this point I knew I needed help and so did Dillon.
For the past 3 years I have been working with a therapist to help me overcome my anxiety. Now I say “overcome” but this doesn’t mean that I am better. The help I have been receiving has allowed me to better understand myself and how my anxiety works. I have learnt what my triggers are and how to best control a situation to avoid a full blown melt down.
I haven’t written this post for sympathy, I have written it because I hope that it helps others. Here are 5 tips that I can pass on that help me to better understand and reduce the frequency of my anxiety attacks.
Connect with others and find yourself a support system.
This could be a support group for people dealing with the same mental health issues, a therapist for one-on-one sessions, or just someone to talk to. Also be mindful of people that might trigger your anxiety and try to avoid them when you are feeling anxious.
Learn to calm down quickly.
If you feel that you are getting anxious try calm yourself down by consciously engaging these 5 senses. The simple act of finding things to engage these senses helped calm me down. Dillon actually found this one for me and we found that it works really well, especially in public spaces and during social interaction. He would walk me through each step and would help my engage a sense before moving onto the next one.
Sight - look for something that makes your relax or smile.
Sound - listen to soothing music or find a soothing sound. If you are in a public area, move out of general walkways and into a quiet shop.
Smell - find a smell that you recognise and can put a good memory to.
Taste - find yourself something that you enjoy the taste of, a sweet, a drink, anything.
Touch - find something that you can touch. Make sure that you can identify the object and that it has some texture.
Exercise more regularly.
Exercise is a natural and effective anti-anxiety treatment. It relieves tension, reduces stress hormones, boosts feel-good chemicals such as serotonin and endorphins, and physically changes the brain in ways that make it less anxiety-prone and more resilient.
Look at your worries in new ways.
The core of anxiety is worrying so it is important to distinguish between what is productive worrying and what is unproductive worrying. When you’re worrying, you’re talking to yourself about things you’re afraid of or negative events that might happen. You run over the feared situation in your mind and think about all the ways you might deal with it. In essence, you’re trying to solve problems that haven’t happened yet, or worse, simply obsessing on worst-case scenarios. This is unproductive worrying.
Once you give up the idea that your worrying is somehow helping you, you will give yourself enough mental and emotional room to actually work through the task or situation that is worrying you.
Practice relaxation techniques.
I took up yoga and meditation. Now I know that this is not for everyone, but this is the technique that I found works best for me. There are a lot of techniques out there:
I still have anxiety and my attacks are all different and everyday I am learning how to better deal with them. My most common is an outburst of rage; irrational, confrontational and uncontrollable rage. Second to that is debilitating anguish about a situation. My anxiety always lingers under the surface just waiting to break through once again.
I do have to thank my husband. He has never left my side when I felt sad, he never retaliated at my outbursts of rage, he found a cure for every stomach ache, and massaged every tensed muscle.