No amount of regretting can change the past, and no amount of worrying can change the future.”
Growing up, I knew my career would be something to do with mental health. I knew I had the passion and I wanted to get people talking about it. World Mental Health day just passed us on 10th October and I was so pleased to see the volume of people finally talking about mental health. But in the same week I had two concerning conversations that confirmed a problem I was already noticing…
These two conversations with my clients have encouraged me to write this post, specifically focusing on anxiety.
These women came to me sounding and feeling frightened, they understood that they are experiencing anxiety “because everyone’s talking about it aren’t they?” said one concerned lady. The problem is, these women were genuinely convinced they were “going crazy” and that this is now life, forever. This is actually a very common thought people have when they are anxious. It’s also a common thought people have when they hear the term ‘mental health’.
If we are going to raise awareness, we need to raise more than just the name of different conditions. We need to help people understand the conditions.
Yes these ladies were experiencing real anxiety. But the extra stress regarding their mental health can be avoided. Unless people get clear on what anxiety is and more importantly understand that we CAN manage it, everyone that experiences anxiety (which is everyone!) might start to wonder if something is ‘wrong’ with them and believe this is out of their control.
It’s great people are coming to get help, finally. It means I can help them to understand their anxiety and give them the tools to help take back control. But it doesn’t need to get to the point where people are as scared of anxiety as they are.
So let’s be sensible with this and let’s all talk more about what anxiety actually is, because whilst it is uncomfortable, it is not harmful and you are not “going mad”.
Whist I always encourage you to seek advice and support if anxiety is interfering with your life, it’s also useful for you to get to know anxiety in the meantime, this can reduce some of the heat. In some cases it is enough to change someone’s whole relationship with anxiety.
I hear this all the time. Anxiety ranges from mild to severe, it can interfere with daily life, make you believe you are crazy, create feelings of not being able to cope and convince you it is never going to go away. Especially when you are in the moment – your brain is spinning and it feels out of control. You may begin to notice it is happening more and more, which is worrying you.
I want you to know, you are not going mad, you are very normal and you can change your relationship with anxiety, as you can change your habits.
In terms of the way it feels, anxiety varies. You may feel worried, nervous, scared, jealous, panicky or complete terror. I expect you already know, it affects your body, your mind and the way you behave.
Anxiety is not your worries and unhelpful thoughts. They are certainly a part of the anxiety cycle, but anxiety is more than just your thoughts. Anxiety is the combination of your thoughts, intense emotions and uncomfortable physical symptoms.
Anxiety is the result of your brain interpreting you are in danger and reacting accordingly, usually, very quickly. Your brain is extremely sensitive to any form of threat, because protecting you is its job, it intends to keep you alive.
It’s important to remind yourself anxiety, fear and worry are a very normal response. The reason we get anxious is actually for good reason, as I said it is to protect us. Our ancient ancestors needed this response, if they were to face a sabre tooth tiger, the anxiety that we have today, would have saved their life. In fact if you were to be faced with real danger right now, your anxiety may well save your life too, it will give the strength to either run or fight.
Our bodies have not caught up with the modern world. There is a lot of stress and most of us have daily concerns about being judged, rejected, hurt, embarrassed, stressed, overwhelmed – you are perceiving these as REAL threats, so your body is responding the same way it would to the sabre tooth tiger. The issue of course, is you are not in any real danger.
You are not in real danger if someone doesn’t text you back, when you are lying in bed thinking of your to do list, when your child is having their first day in nursery, or you were simply scrolling through Instagram. In these situations running away or fighting is not exactly helpful.
This is your body hitting the ‘fight or flight’ response. These sensations are designed to be uncomfortable so that you will take notice of them and realise you are in danger. Your body is being amazing and trying to do its primary job – help you to survive.
The physical symptoms each have a role. The beating heart and shallow breathing? That’s getting blood and oxygen to your muscles ready for action. Tunnel vision? that’s so you only focus on the danger. Sweating? that’s to cool you down. Butterflies? that is the blood being directed away from your digestive system (because you don’t need it when you’re in danger).
These symptoms have a purpose, but unfortunately they are not always needed with the kind of day to day stress we experience. Next time you experience them, take some deep breaths and remind yourself they are trying to help you, this will help you feel safe and you will return to your relaxed state sooner.
Behind your anxiety is a thought or worry.
Unhelpful thoughts and worrying triggers your threat system (fight or flight), your mind does not know the difference between reality and what you are imagining so it basically thinks you are in danger. You are focused on the ‘threat’ and your thoughts and worries begin to spiral, whilst you try and play detective and work out how you can get out of ‘danger’.
Here is why you can’t blame your anxiety for the way you behave. You can change the way you think, you do not have to believe your thoughts, most of the time they are not true anyway. This isn’t about blame, it’s not your fault you have certain beliefs about the world and have learned this style of thinking, in fact when it started, it probably served you at the time. But it doesn’t anymore. The good thing about taking responsibility is it gives you the power to change it.
IF you feel your anxiety owns you. It most likely means you are not in control of your fears and thinking habits.
For more information on your thoughts read my blog “Overcome Negative Thinking: 3 Facts you Need to Know about Your Thoughts”.
Feeling anxious is very uncomfortable, and no one likes to feel uncomfortable. So it makes sense, we are going to do what we can to get rid of that feeling, the same way you might take a paracetamol if you have a headache. In this case you avoid certain situations, you go over your worries trying to work out what will happen, you seek reassurance, you check social media, you only go somewhere new if you are with a friend, you sleep, you drink, you eat. Whatever it takes to get rid of this horrible feeling and these horrible thoughts. A Lot of the time, your behaviours enhance the vicious cycle.
These behaviours may give you relief in the short term, but they are maintaining the anxiety. You begin to convince yourself you need them and can’t cope without them. You never give yourself the chance to prove you can cope. Actually the world wouldn’t end if your partner cheated on you tonight, no one really cares if you are rubbish at small talk, no matter how many times you ask your friend if you look ok, you still look the same, and feeling lonely and sad sometimes is OK.
One of the best ways to reduce anxiety is to face what scares you. Feel the scary emotion, go to the party, have the conversation with your boss. The more you do them, with practice and persistence they will get easier.
In short, no. It will always come and go. A mild level of anxiety is to be expected and is needed at appropriate times.
Anxiety can be useful, not just in its protective sense, but it can also drive you to act. If you are nervous about an upcoming exam, you are going to study.
Always try to ask yourself if the anxiety your feeling is disproportionate. Remember we all get nervous in new situations; presenting, tests, interviews etc.
These sensations will pass when your brain knows you are safe and order can be restored. Anxiety is there to protect you, not harm you.
Understanding anxiety and what it is can be enough to cause a slight shift and ease some of the intensity. However, managing the thoughts, changing unhealthy coping habits and introducing healthy habits is really your best way of taking control.
If it is causing you issues, you don’t know where to start or you feel like you can’t cope then get help. I offer one to one coaching or you can speak to your GP about local services near you. These are often lifelong habits you have and change is hard, it’s OK to ask someone to help you, it will still be you doing the work.
Whether you decide to get help or do this alone, I encourage you to get to know your anxiety. Understand your triggers and start learning how to manage your thoughts. There is so much information out there now, please make sure the materials you use are trusty ones and avoid only using forums.
If you are unsure about materials or wish to discuss my coaching packages please feel free to contact me here.
There are many, many tools and behaviours to help manage anxiety. Many of them I expect you know. You won’t just employ one tool that will change your life, it will be a combination. It will take an attitude of trial and error. It will be an emotional rollercoaster with highs and lows. It will be totally worth it.
Many, many people have stories about being consumed by anxiety and overcoming it. I used to overthink what people think and get myself into a right state, that doesn’t happen anymore. This is because we can change the way we think, behave and approach anxiety. The most helpful thing for me is to name my anxiety, take a step back, notice my role in the experience and offer myself compassion.
It is not easy; it will require your commitment, time, effort and self-love. Remember, there are so many success stories because it is possible.
You are not your anxiety; your anxiety is however, a part of you that needs looking after. You can do that with how you talk to yourself, how you treat yourself and how you show up.
I know when it is bad, it doesn’t feel that way and it is all consuming. Give yourself a break, you’re human, life is tough and anxiety is tough. Don’t judge yourself, you are doing something about this now and that is all you can do. You deserve to be happy, show yourself this love and start to understand what works for you and your anxiety.
I wanted to write this so we can get back to basics, understand anxiety at its core and share it. Like I said, we are finally in a position to talk about this more than before, but there is a rise in people believing they have little control over their mental health and that isn’t the case.
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Carly Ann xx