Hello you lovely lot,
So I’ve been meaning to write about this for a while, it’s been sitting in my draft folder for 5 months and I finally decided I feel okay to start sharing my thoughts about how I deal with anxiety and to share some insights that I’ve personally found useful. I’ve also received some amazing support, advice and strategies from my parents;(who are both experienced psychotherapists) along with hearing many other peoples stories and experiences too.
I want to start with a disclaimer and say of course I am no expert as I will be mainly sharing a few tips on what I’ve found have been helpful to me.
Although there are some similarities about how anxiety manifests, as it shows up in many ways and each of us will have preferred ways of managing it too.
Growing up I didn’t want to talk about these things and would hide them from others, yet over time I realised it’s something that a lot of us share and through my conversations with my friends I’ve realised how common it is, yet also realised how sad that there is limited and straight forward education about it. So over the last few years I’ve found the more we talk about these issues, the more we may help each other or allow each other to all feel less alone whilst dealing with these things.
I’m hoping sharing some of this with you may either create more open dialogue about it, where we can all talk and support one another (my messages are always open for any of you) or perhaps the tips may offer something that you could try that may help, like they helped me.
Anxiety is an experience with many symptons and the word anxiety is just one limited way we use to describe something which happens to us on lots of levels. So using one word to try and describe an abundance of thoughts, feelings, sensations and behaviours is inevitably going to leave us confused.
Breaking all this down into bite size chunks was the first real step for me in understanding.
The following is in no particular order, as where anxiety usually starts is deeply personal for each one of us. But for me, firstly changing the way I thought about anxiety was most useful.
Thinking – I think/imagine/worrying/ fearful thoughts
This is obviously something we all do, whether we think in terms of stories or images. The gift of creative thinking and imagining is incredibly useful, however this creative thinking can be a curse when we imagine the worst.
Once we are creating worse case scenarios, images and stories in our mind, we are actively telling our body and brain that there is actually something bad that is, or might be going to happen. And if we do this often enough the brain and body believes that the stories and imaginings are real and then the body starts to respond as if it were actually real. Yes, the brain doesn’t always know the difference between fact and fiction.
So asking myself is what I am thinking ‘Factual’ actually happening and something that I have evidence of? Or “Fiction’ something that I am imagining that I cannot be certain of? and ‘what is the story I am telling myself right now?’
Of course factual scenarios can be appropriately scary, however adding more story telling can often intensify the feelings I am having.
Previously I used to call my experience of anxiety an ‘anxiety attack’. Yet I no longer call them that or associate anxiety with an ‘attack’ as I would tend to create more worry or fearful thinking, which would only escalate the feelings I was having. So when I feel the physical symptoms of anxiety I no longer think about an ‘attack’ or ‘panic’. My body may be reacting in a powerful way but my fearful thinking was only telling my body and brain that I was under threat.
Along with scary thoughts there would be a good mix of scary feelings too, such as feeling nervous/scared/fearful. So next up was not just understanding what I was feeling but what were all these weird sensations that were going on in my body.
When we are in an anxious state our bodies are generally moving into a ‘fight or flight’ response. We know this because our heart rate goes up, we get hot or cold, we may shake, want to be sick, feel faint, breathe very fast etc. Again this is because our brain/body has either perceived actual (factual) threat or perceived (imagined/fictional) threat and adrenaline kicks in. This adrenaline is the chemical in our bodies that gets the heart moving faster and it activates blood flow toward the muscles. The reason for this is that if we are under threat (fact or fiction) we need to get out of the situation, hence ‘fight or flight’ we either need our body to fight the situation or run away from (flight) the situation. This is why the adrenaline is released.
(There is also a freeze response that can also happen under extreme stress/trauma, but I may explore that in another blog).
Now of course this fight/flight response is great if we are in a life threatening situation but if it’s a result of stress for whatever reason or being late for a date, then its not so helpful. The other problem is that when a lot of adrenaline is released into the body the blood flow goes to the muscles and not to the brain. This is why we feel spaced out and cannot think straight when in this adrenalised state.
Also feeling sick is because the body wants to be lighter to run or fight so the body wants to get rid of whats in the stomach. Breathing very fast is because our bodies are preparing to move fast.
One of the worse things to do is to sit and be still in a highly adrenalised state, the best thing to do is to move around, dance, jump, run for a few mins. This will then move the adrenaline as the brain then knows that the body has done its job. If you are unable to move, imagine running and sometimes this can also help.
Here’s a few more tips that I find useful for me.
1. Eating a substantial breakfast is really vital, whilst avoiding stimulants like caffeine and high sugars. Breakfasts with healthy fats and proteins with vedge based carbohydrates are ideal. Keeping our blood sugar levels balanced throughout the day prevents the body producing unnecessary adrenaline as a false fuel, as skipping meals will produce more adrenaline especially when we are running low on energy because of the lack of food and lack of essential nutrients. Quick fix sugars only exaggerate feeling more stimulated/anxious.
2. Visualising: This is dependant on the situation but closing your eyes and visualising another place or paying attention to the things around you and focussing on the ‘facts’ of whats happening and your external environment. I play the colour game usually, as I find my moments happen when I’m travelling, so I usually look for colours,focusing on 4 red things, 4 blue and so on. However, for some people I know that reading things can also help in these moments. On the train for example, I spend a lot of time reading the small print of the signs to help focus my mind on things around me.
3. Create your safe place senses: My mum introduced this strategy to me to create a safe place senses ‘box’, ‘notebook’ or even place on your phone with notes of a list of things that help you feel relaxed or to help us in these moments. For example, I have podcasts I love listening to on my phone and meditations, I have drawing apps to take my focus off of them, I have a book I’ll take with me when going into situations that may make me feel anxious. I bought myself a mindfulness colour book that I draw in before going out if I’m feeling like I may be going into a situation that I may find anxious. Of course, it’s down to finding things that work for you in these situations, but try creating a list of strategies that allow you to feel relaxed and work on them as a resource .
4. Chewing gum: Now I have to say I’m not saying to chew gum or chew something whilst you are highly adrenalised as this could cause you to choke and I’m only suggesting this as it’s something that’s helped me. But if I feel as though I’m going into a situation that may be stressful, I carry a pack of gum or mints on me and chew them before going into the situation. It’s known that chewing reduces levels of stress hormone cortisol found in saliva and fast chewing has been shown to have more of an anxiety busting effect than slow chewing. Some people I know also say that the chewing has helped them feel less anxious as it allows them to focus on the chewing and stops teeth grinding in stressful situations.
5. Question/ visual Game, with others or alone: If you are alone and experiencing any of the symptoms of anxiety, try the question game. Work your way down from 5 and in your head or if you are able to out loud say 4 colours that you notice around you, 4 smells around you, 4 things you can see, and 4 things you hear. Then work your way down from 4, stating 3 colours, things you see, smells and things you hear. This allows your mind to focus on the physical things around you, to focus your mind and attention onto something else. If you are with someone who may be having anxiety symptoms or you are experiencing them and need support, it’s okay to ask someone to help you with these questions. If you are the one supporting another, ask questions about things they’ve done (such as “what did you have for breakfast”) encouraging them to move their attention away from the internal experience of anxiety and start to notice the external world around them.
6.PIES: Going through these points/exercises help me acknowledge where my anxiety is originating from. This can be helpful when the symptoms are moderate. P/Physical – How is my body experiencing the adrenaline? I/Intellect – Are my thoughts fact or fiction? E/Emotionally – How do I feel? S/Socially – What do I need to regulate?
7. Do what eases anxiety symptoms. It is different for everyone, but find something that allows you to feel at ease and involve these moments into your days or the upcoming days you may feel stressed about. Relaxation methods, such as yoga and meditation are good ways that allow your body to relax and to stop your adrenals from overworking.
8. Plan short term activities throughout your days, that are enjoyable or focussed in a way that brings your attention away from what might be causing you worry. For example, If you are spending more time in your thinking, do some movement and body based exercises.
9. Challenge your expectations and social media norms: For me a lot of my anxiety stems from situations I cannot control and I feel distressed when I don’t think I can control an outcome. Over the last few months I have been working daily on consciously doing one thing that is out of my routine by doing things that aren’t planned or in my control. Some small examples of mine are planning to see someone on the day, rather than in advance. Accepting that I don’t have control of others and letting my expectations go. Not checking my phone for an hour and taking time off my phone when feeling anxious or stressed is also something that helped me massively. Our bodies are stimulated when scrolling and looking at a blue light on a screen which again overstimulates our nervous systems and stops us from resting. So I found taking time off scrolling and not being constantly plugged means we give our bodies the down time they need.
10 Be kind to yourself: Anxiety is not always just about the psychological and is very often an adrenal response that is caused by many stressors that are outside of our control and part of the pace of daily modern life. Just because I don’t feel ok doesn’t actually mean it’s me that is actually not ok. Our bodies are good at giving us feedback and if we listen we may make life choices that enable us to live in more balanced ways that will support our bodies/ brains and nervous systems, which will naturally reduce anxiety and adrenaline symptoms.
Thanks for reading this post, I really hope in some way this was helpful and know if you ever want to chat my messages are always open. Have a lovely day!
Love, India Moon x