Anxiety is not a lifestyle.
Wow. It's been a whole month since I last posted. Not because I'd forgotten about the blog, but to be honest, because most days when I had the time I let doubt get to me and put it off.
What if my words don't help people as much as I think?
What if my time is better spent elsewhere?
And then I logged on to social media a few times. The trend that revealed itself worries me.
Everybody is anxious. Anxious about work. Anxious about life. Anxious about being anxious.
You know what disturbs me more? Everyone thinks it's normal.
It's not. Living your days dictated by fear is not normal.
I get it. I used to think the same way. I once said to my therapist when she asked how bad my anxiety has been historically, "I've alway had it, but it was fine, you know. Like normal." To which she responded, "And what is 'normal' anxiety?" with a lifted eyebrow.
Of course I tried to justify it with how it was "under control", because I could "recognise what it was" and I was "fine with that".
Daily panic attacks are not "fine". Making decisions that are heavily influenced by fear does not mean your anxiety is "under control".
Anxiety has it's place. Don't get me wrong. Anxiety is that little voice in the back of your head that says, "Hey. Maybe you should grab onto that tree branch before sliding down this bank so you don't roll your ankle or lose your balance." It's the gentle warning you get when you enter into a situation that your brain deems possibly dangerous or risky.
Anxiety isn't welcome when it comes to:
* Interacting with family and friends
* Doing normal daily tasks
* Enjoying your hobbies
* Completing your work assignments
If anxiety interferes with your day-to-day, then it's time to do something. Trust me, I know. I ignored it for ten years, shrugging it off as just part of who I was, before it escalated out of control. You see, anxiety feeds off stress. One begets the other. And dudes, while stress in life is unavoidable, ruminating over it every second of the day, is.
So, as promised, I'm going to share the top five tips I have for dealing with anxiety. Things that worked for me.
If I can pull myself from a place where I'd wake up every day with my heart racing, battle numerous times during the day where my fears would overcome me and my heart rate would mimic what it does when I'm running while I was laid out on the floor, then so can you.
1. BE KIND TO YOURSELF
I cannot stress this enough. Like any habit, negative self-talk takes time to break. It's not an overnight cure. It might take a week before you notice the difference, possibly a month. But in between you'll get flashes of a light and free feeling when you realise that hey, it actually feels good to be a little nicer to yourself.
Negative thoughts are unavoidable. We all have them. It's part of the way we, as humans, work. BUT, they shouldn't be your default.
Train yourself to pay compliments where you can. You got the washing hung out and dried today? Excellent. Praise yourself. You cooked dinner for the family? Good on you. Give yourself a pat on the back.
Wake up and say thank you to yourself. Look in the mirror and tell yourself you're beautiful (don't worry, you can say it in your head). You might feel silly at first, but after a while something magical happens: you begin to believe it, and then you feel it.
Don't underestimate the power the words you say to yourself have.
Start being kinder today, and reap the rewards.
Meditation has come a long way from when it was viewed as what hippies did in the forest or monks practiced with incense burning. It's regarded as one of the top tools for mental health, and dudes, I can vouch that it works.
A few minutes a day is all it takes. If you're unsure where to start you can Google plenty of basic instructions, or you can use the app I swear by, Headspace. (You can trial it for free here: https://www.headspace.com)
All you need is a quiet place, five minutes to begin with, and patience.
It will feel strange at first, and you'll wonder if you're doing it right, but stick with it. The skills you learn from meditation spill over into daily life and go a long way to quieting a busy, often negative, mind.
If you don't need it, or need to be doing it, get rid of it.
Declutter your life. Of things, people, and obligations.
Bring your days back to basics.
When it comes to things, you can start small. Clear your bedside table of what doesn't need to be on it. Or make your favourite armchair a haven with no clutter around it. Create a calm and clear space.
People? If they don't lift you up, if they don't encourage you, then why give them the most valuable and irreplaceable thing of all: your time? You don't have to cut people out of your life, but you can learn to say "No".
And obligations. Don't set yourself up for failure with overwhelm. Plan your day the night before. What can you realistically achieve with the time you have? What can you honestly get done in the 6/12/18 hours you have to fill? Give yourself a key task, plus a bonus you can do if you get the key task done earlier than expected.
4. SAY THANKS
Learn the art of gratitude. It's so damn easy to look around us and focus on our areas of lack.
We don't have that house we dream of.
We're not earning what we'd like.
We don't look as good as a particular person, or have as many friends.
We don't get as much time with our loved ones as we want.
Hey! Switch it around. There is so much to be thankful for if you choose to look for it.
Number one: you're alive. Number two: you have air to breathe. The list goes on.
Start a gratitude journal. It doesn't have to be anything fancy. Just a sheet of paper you write on is enough. But at the end (or start, whatever works for you) of the day, list five things minimum you're thankful for.
Some days I list that I'm thankful for the sun to dry my washing. Others, it's the time I spent with my kids and husband. It can be a big thing, or something small. If you're struggling, replay your day in your head from start to finish and mentally sort through what you did. Discard the negative thoughts that will no doubt arise, and list the good things.
Before long, the habit will stick and you'll find yourself appreciating all the little things as you go about your day.
5. BE PATIENT
You didn't wake up one day with this gnawing anxiety. It wasn't a skill you took on unwillingly overnight. It took time. The habits that accompany it were crafted and honed over the course of months or even years.
It will take time to undo that damage to yourself.
So, be patient, bud. Revert back to number one and be kind to yourself. You will have blah days where it doesn't seem to work as well, or you just have a hard time despite your best efforts.
But it does work. You can live a life without accepting panic mode as the new normal.
You weren't born this way, and it's not who you are naturally.
Be patient. Take it a day at a time, and don't give up. Slowly, but surely, things will turn around.
BONUS: DON'T BE AFRAID TO ASK FOR HELP
Sometimes it takes a little more. Yeah, I take a low dose of an antidepressant now, but that is merely a part of a larger strategy that involves all the above things.
I also decided to get regular sessions with a licensed therapist. Sometimes, talking through it with a person who knows how to approach your issues, helps.
If it feels beyond you, reach out to a close friend, family, or your GP. They may not have the answer, but they can usually give you what you need to tackle it yourself: support.
Be kind to yourself, and don't accept anything less than you deserve.