Guest post by Nyxie Nook.
Anxiety is among one of the most common mental health conditions in the world. And yet, it’s still widely misunderstood as simply being ‘worried.’ When I was first diagnosed with anxiety, I felt a sense of relief. Finally, something on paper to explain how I’d been feeling over the course of the last twenty-five years! What I’d been told again and again was ‘being overdramatic’, was in fact a medically recognised condition that, for most, requires medication and ongoing support.
The symptoms and thoughts I’d been experiencing stretched back further than I can even remember. Naturally, I assumed it was a symptom of something much scarier, while those around me continued to write it off. But it turns out that everything I’d been experiencing was anxiety in its many different forms. And that the likelihood of me developing anorexia nervosa was also the impact of my chronic anxiety condition.
Photo by Motoki Tonn on Unsplash
But what is anxiety?
It’s natural to be worried, feel tense or even fear from time to time. Specifically if there are big life changes such as examinations, moving house, having a baby, experiencing grief etc. Anxiety is a natural human response left over from days gone when fight, flight or freeze was of real use. When tigers and bears were our biggest predators, not the thought of taking public transport or a phone call.
But when this anxiety starts to creep into everyday life and impacts how we go about day to day, it can become a problem. If you’re experiencing any of the following, you may be living with chronic anxiety and should speak to your GP or a medical professional.
- Your feelings of anxiety are very strong and last for a long period of time.
- Your fears and worries are out of proportion in regard to the situation.
- You avoid situations that cause you to feel anxious. I.e avoid driving, taking public transport, interacting with people etc.
- Your worries feel very distressing and you’re finding it hard to control.
- You’re regularly experiencing symptoms of anxiety, such as panic attacks, rapid heart rate, digestive issues, headaches, dizziness etc. For a full list, check out Mind.
- You’re finding it hard to get on with life as you want to. This could mean not leaving the house, unable to hold a job, unable to engage in relationships, difficulty eating or sleeping etc.
While I recommend speaking to a medical professional, it’s important to remember that you may not necessarily require medication. Anxiety, alongside other mental health issues, can occasionally be managed by self-awareness and learning to look after yourself. This could mean things such as mindfulness, taking time to yourself, and listening to what your mind and body need. These are 8 resources you need if you suffer from anxiety.
A trusted support network
Talking to someone we know and trust about what’s making us anxious can be a real relief. Even the simple act of saying (or typing) our worries can help us visualise and work through them. But even if it doesn’t, just having someone to listen and care can make us feel less alone.
Before you reach out to a support network, you first need to determine who’s in it. It can consist of trusted family and friends, or can be in the form of a professional. They should be people who make you feel at ease when talking about your worries, and are perhaps able to offer helpful advice or techniques to help you manage.
Once you’ve established the chosen few, don’t be afraid to reach out to them in times of worry. A support system is extremely valuable to our mental health and overall well-being. And are paramount in receiving and maintaining an adequate level of support in times of chaos.
A supportive person is someone who is there for us when we need them, and who provides comfort and practical support. Not sure if you have someone like this in your life? Here are some of the attributes to look out for in a supportive person.
- A supportive person will be there to listen without judgement.
- They will validate your feelings without being patroniszing.
- They offer empathy, even if they don’t fully understand how you’re feeling.
- Quite often, supportive people offer practical advice. However, it’s not necessary and, sometimes, not recommended. Specifically if that person isn’t a mental health professional. For some, the act of listening is enough.
- They respect your boundaries and won’t push you to do anything you don’t want to.
- They will be there to celebrate your successes, no matter how small.
- They’re patient and won’t rush you to push beyond your limits.
Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash
Management techniques that work for you
Personally, I’m in a constant state of ‘waiting for the ball to drop.’ It’s almost as if I stop worrying or let my guard down, that something bad is going to happen. Even with improved self-awareness and utilising reduction techniques, I still find myself struggling in times of high stress. This is partially because I’m fore-going self-care for work and neglecting my basic needs entirely.
This is the reality of living with something like anxiety. It makes it hard to stop worrying. Even about the smallest of things. And quite often it can be impossible for us to control these worries, or it can feel like we’re constantly walking on eggshells.
Self-care and awareness are the first lines of defence when it comes to anxiety. We need to be able to recognise when we’re neglecting our needs and work to improve on that. Alongside this, there are various helpful ways you can address the worries in your life.
- Worry allowance. Setting aside a specific time to focus on your worries. I call this ‘worry-allowance.’ This works by allowing yourself fifteen, twenty or even sixty minutes just to focus on your worries. After this period, you shut them away and continue your life. While some find this very helpful, others might not. What works for you may not work for everyone, but giving everything a good college try is always advised.
- Writing down worries. For some, writing down their worries is a great way to put things into perspective. Much like talking to someone. You’re able to see everything laid out on paper (or screen), and this allows your mind to process them one by one.
- Mindfulness. This is a great way of giving your full attention to what’s happening in the current moment. While for some this is the only management technique they need, for others it can make them feel worse. This is because, by practising mindfulness, we may be forced to focus on the negative issue at hand. Therefore, giving it more attention. If you struggle with mindfulness, perhaps try something else on this list!
- Make a note of what’s going well in your life. Much like gratitude, you should sit down and make a list of what is going well for you. This can help highlight the good things that are often overshadowed by the bad.
The appropriate medication
Sometimes it’s as simple as needing medication to help manage anxiety. For some, the appropriate medication can be the difference between daily panic attacks, and being able to manage their anxiety. Speak to your GP about what medication there is available for you, and don’t be afraid to discuss alternative, newly progressive medications such as natural remedies.
A workplace that accepts, and respects your boundaries
Having an understanding line manager is, in my opinion, paramount in managing anxiety. We spend the majority of our life working just to get by, and if your workplace is causing you anxiety, then it can feel like you’re never able to escape. When I’m at my worst, I can barely leave the house, and I’ve sadly yet to find a workplace where calling off due to mental illness is respected. But I’m told such places do exist.
In a bid to cover my own back I’ve no issue with declaring my anxiety on all employment intake forms I’ve ever had to complete. I’ve even gone as far as to supply medical evidence from my therapist and GP. This is mostly to cover myself should I ever need to take time off. If the company is aware, then they can’t bite back by saying the illness wasn’t declared prior to an issue arising.
I urge anyone to declare their anxiety to their company or direct line manager. This in itself may be anxiety inducing, but it’s better to be above board than lose your job for not declaring it. That and it helps break down the stigma surrounding mental health!
Photo by Pure Julia on Unsplash
Where would I be without my journal? A hell of a lot more anxious! I’m one of these people who has to write everything down in order to prioritise, or put things into perspective. Without putting pen to paper (yes, it has to be physical) I find myself lost in my thoughts, unable to see the sky for the trees.
Complementary and alternative therapies that work for you
For many, anxiety can be managed through the use of alternative therapies. This can be alongside medication and traditional therapy, or it can be stand alone. While I do occasionally require medication, I now largely manage my anxiety through alternative means and self-monitoring. However, please remember that what works for me may not work for you. If you’re ever in doubt, speak to a medical professional and perhaps try some alternative therapies alongside your usual prescription and therapy.
There are many different therapies to choose from, all of which can be used interchangeably or together, unless advised otherwise. While there are quite a few listed here, this is not an exhaustive list.
- herbal treatments
- Bach flower remedies
A safe space
Above all else, you need a safe space when you’re feeling anxious. There is nothing more comforting than my own bedroom when I’m at my worst. It’s not only my safe space, but my haven!
Think about a space that feels sacred to you and add to it. Soft pillows, cosy blankets, black out curtains and hot water bottles always make me feel better when I’m overwhelmed. Take the time while things are good to prepare your space for when things get rough!
Related: Simple ways to reduce stress
While you may not necessarily use them, it’s always a good idea to have some useful helplines on hand. Here are just a few that are available in the UK and Northern Ireland.
Anxiety UK: 03444 775 774
No Panic: 0300 7729844
Samaritans: 116 123
Aware NI: 028 9035 7820
Are there any resources missing from this list that you’d like to see added? How do you manage or cope with anxiety in everyday life? I’d love to hear in the comments.