I know I speak a lot on this blog about physical illness but I really think it’s crucial to regularly discuss mental health. Anxiety plays a huge role in so many different peoples lives and does not discriminate. Doesn’t matter if you are a man, a woman, any other gender, black, white, from the North Pole, you can have anxiety and not to put a downer on things but even if you don’t have anxiety now, you could get anxiety in the future. So, it’s important to know what’s going on and have a read up on what you can do if it ever strikes you but also to know steps to take if it happens to anyone around you.
The anxiety I’m talking about here is not normal day-to-day nervousness about an important job interview or performing in front of an audience. It’s the anxiety that is irrational and unpredictable. The kind of anxiety that rips your stomach to shreds and renders you silent. The kind of anxiety where you can’t breath and the world is spinning and you honestly believe for a second that you’re going to die.
I have dealt with anxiety. Here I’m just going to share some advice that has helped me a long the way.
Slowly edge yourself into doing the things that cause you anxiety
This may seem a bit obvious but it’s really hard to take those first steps on your journey of learning to deal with anxiety. Some people find it helpful to just throw themselves off the deep end but with me, it’s a very gradual, slow process that I’m still trying to figure out to this day. I have agoraphobia and a few years ago I ended up housebound due to anxiety. I had to take such small steps to even go into my garden but I built myself up, until I was able to go out. For example, I stood outside for longer and longer, I got in the car and tested If I could leave in it or not on that day, I went to the corner shop then to a different shop and now I live independently in a city so it does work. Yes, there were blips where I had many a panic attack outside (and still do) but that is where my next tip will come in handy.
Prepare for the worst
There are going to be times where you have to do things you don’t want to. Times where you need to push yourself to go forward. Getting through these times is a hard thing to do but also very important so that you don’t end up back at square one, anxious to go back to that situation where you had a panic attack. Even if you do have a panic attack but you handle it well, you can say to yourself ‘Well, it doesn’t really matter if I panic because last time I was prepared and I handled it’.
For me that is locating toilets wherever I am to ensure I have a place to go if I do panic, making sure I have a drink or money for a drink, having my phone to occupy my mind if I need. Yours could be anything. Anything that will comfort you. I find that just having these things in place stops panic attacks from happening in the first place because if you are aware that you have those things around you, you won’t panic about what you are going to do if you panic, which is where a lot of panic attacks stem from.
If you’ve done something you find to be amazing, whether other people think it’s significant or not, you treat yourself. It doesn’t have to be fancy jewellery or anything expensive, maybe just a nice book or a nice relaxed film day on your own. Be kind to yourself. You are learning and you are trying and you deserve the love of yourself. Don’t let anyone tell you that your achievements aren’t important. I still get excited when I manage to ring someone I would usually be scared to ring and I don’t care if I’m 21 and people think that is stupid.
Tell a friend/family member/school/college/uni/boss
For me, I know it makes me feel better if the people around me know I do suffer from anxiety. It’s good to give the people around you warning in case any panic attack does take place in front of them. The worst thing is when someone doesn’t know and you start to panic and then they panic because they don’t understand what is going on. I even tell close friends and family what I start to do when I begin to panic so they can pick up on it and help me as soon as possible without me even having to say anything. A lot of the time as well, when I personally start to panic, I sometimes can’t actually speak so I try to nonverbally communicate with people so them knowing these ques really does help.
As far as schools/colleges/unis. I think they should be aware as well. You don’t want to get questioned when you’ve run out of a classroom and a teachers come running after you not knowing what you’re doing or if they ask you to stand in front of the class and you faint or something. Not saying you’ll do any of those things if you have anxiety, everyone is different but if you’re the kind of person that those things happen to, it’s good to make sure teachers are aware. I know it can be really hard to speak up and tell people what’s going on with you but it will save you so much stress and worry. Honestly, going out with people who know I have anxiety or being in a classroom with a teacher who knows I could panic really does alleviate a lot of stress.
Write a list of things you would like to achieve
During the time of my life where I was really struggling with anxiety, I used to write little lists of things I wanted to do. Just average tasks for most but they were a big deal to me at the time. I wrote things like ‘get on a bus’ or ‘order food at McDonalds’. Start small and when you’ve completed them, aim higher. Having specific goals to achieve really does bring motivation and gives you a path to go down. When you have anxiety it can feel like everything in the world can make you anxious and you can’t just write a list because it’s everything but you can, it might just take a couple more lists. Get everything down on paper, every little thing and put it in priority order and work from there. Maybe even just getting these thoughts out of your brain so you can see which ones actually look plausible or not will help you as well!
Accept and love that horrible anxious voice in your head.
Wow, what am I saying right? Love that horrible voice that causes you so much anxiety, pain and even embarrassment? YES. This is an absolute pain to do, but being able to communicate with that voice is an amazing thing to achieve. When you’re going into a situation that could potentially cause anxiety, listen to that voice for a second, tell yourself you hear that voice and you understand it is afraid but you’re not going to let it rule your life. Ask it questions like so ‘What do you think the worst that could happen?’, then pick apart that answer to see if anything is actually logical. If it is, then communicate that it is right, you know it’s nervous about it but it’s okay to feel nervous about it because it’s logical then reassure yourself that everything is going to be okay. Reassure it that you know the exits and you have a bottle of water and you have a plan. Tell it how long you’re going to be in that situation and what you’re going to do afterward to maybe treat yourself for doing it. It’s all good and well getting angry at that voice, screaming at it, pushing past it and forcing yourself into situations but that’s a part of your brain you are hating and you are hating a part of you. Making a part of you negative and building hatred for it within yourself. I’m not saying you can’t conquer anxiety this way because I know people who do but it’s a lot kinder to yourself and more beneficial in the long run to learn to love the worst parts of you as opposed to hating them.
Don’t give up
When you’ve tried to achieve one of your goals, you’ve followed all the advice in the world and you STILL manage to have a panic attack, do not give up. Go back to that place you had a panic attack, try again, make a new plan. If you need to, go back to a starting point and start again until you can try again. There’s not always time to prepare and there’s not always ways to get things you need in case you have a panic attack, it happens to the best of us. Remember you are still breathing, you are okay, it’s not defeated you. It’s awful when you keep trying and you keep getting pushed back down but it’s not the panic attacks that cause anxiety to ‘win’, it’s you staying down, that’s where victory lies. If you scream at the voice inside your head that it’s done this to you and it’s ruining your life then you are telling it that it has won when really what you should to be doing is reminding it that it’s not a war. If you stay down and don’t keep trying to live your life the way you want to, then you are letting that voice believe it is right when what you really should to be doing is questioning it and discussing its irrationality constructively.
I’m sure I’ll think of more advice to give at a later date and I’ll probably do a part two for anxiety tips but I’ll just leave it at that for now so it’s not too overwhelming. If anyone has any questions about anything I’ve mentioned or any other anxiety question, leave me a comment on here or tweet me at @laineyland and I’ll be more than happy to help you in any way I can.
Also, I wrote about my mental health experience and some of things I have dealt with over the years here if any of you would like to read a bit about my background or see how I’ve come about gaining my knowledge on anxiety.