10 ways to cope with anxiety

:: by Lizzie
steps

 

Hello all. I hope things are going well with you. I’m good thanks if you’re wondering. I think it’s best though that I just get right down to business and talk to you about what’s been on my heart recently, as I fear this is going to be a rather long one. I’m writing this post because I want to spend some time focusing on what I’ve learnt from this year so far, having had a bit of a shaky start. Although things are massively improving in the ‘honesty stakes’, for want of a better term, in the world of blogging and social media, I still feel as though there’s room for a lot more of us to talk about our struggles and growing pains, not only our wins and successes. This is important firstly in reminding readers/listeners/viewers/all of us, that we’re not alone in feeling a bit crappy every now and again. And secondly, that it’s okay for there to be seasons within our working or emotional lives where we are not so fruitful or productive, where we are not quite on top of our game, where we feel misaligned and out of step with where we want to be. Working for yourself is hard. Working for someone else is hard. Being out of work is hard. Even for people with the most happy lives, there’s always hard stuff. We need to encourage one another to take the time to be good to, and to take care of, ourselves. To stop and take a moment. Not to feel as though we must always be striving to achieve more. I’ve come to understand that just powering through isn’t even the most productive or successful way to move forward anyway. And I thought it was about time I touched upon how I’ve come to this realisation.

 

Towards the end of December last year and throughout most of January, I experienced regular panic attacks. This is not something I’d ever had to deal with before. To give you a little context about me, my friends in the past have joked about me actually forgetting the word anxious. ‘Lizzie is so confident she can’t even remember the word anxious!’ And it’s kinda true. That really happened. Sure I’ve dealt with lots of pressure and stress in running and building my own business but until this year, I’ve thrived under it. I’ve had some very tough moments and periods of struggle since I opened SMUG in 2009, but I have always felt level headed and found a way to simply increase my capacity to work harder and solve whatever the problem was in front of me. At some points of course I’ve really needed to take a break to rest and realign but during those times of rest I would often be coming up with exciting new ideas and adding to my to do list and that all worked fine for me.

 

I’m very lucky to have had a lovely childhood, to have good relationships with my family, wonderful friends and a fabulous husband. I love my job, I love my home, I love the city I was born in and continue to live in. I have always thought of myself as a together, well adjusted and strong person and I never would have expected to have to deal with something like anxiety or panic attacks. In fact, in many ways, that was the hardest part about being in the middle of the attacks. I felt weak. Whether actually experiencing an attack itself with the lack of breath, the tears and panic, or being in the in-between place where you feel you could have another attack at any moment, I didn’t feel at all myself. I felt as though I could not breath. I had always previously felt utterly comfortable in my own skin. I thank my parents and brothers for that. But during this period of time, I felt as though I physically couldn’t just be in my own skin. It was like being chlostrophobic inside my own body. At times I felt like wanted to rip my own skin off just to get out and to stop feeling so trapped. I couldn’t cope with the sun going down at 4pm. The darkness made me feel trapped too. I couldn’t sleep for more than an hour or so and I’d wake up several times a night panicking, wanting to get out. But out of what? Out of the flat, out of my skin, out of my head? I guess I was trying to get away from the constant feeling of being constricted, deeply uncomfortable and not at all myself. It was awful.

 

The reason I am telling you this, is partly to draw light on how common anxiety and panic attacks are. Several of the people I confided in at the time, who I happen to consider strong, rational and reasonable friends, went on to tell me all about their experiences of panic attacks in response to my story and that really helped me. I hope that in the same way, my sharing might help others. I do also want to share though, some of the ways I actually managed my experience and the simple things that I learned helped me during my periods of panic. Some of these tips/suggestions/lessons are routines I have woven into my daily life and find really valuable on a day-to-day or week-by-week basis and I’d recommend them to anyone interested in wellbeing and a healthy mind.

 

1. BREATH.  This may seem really obvious but worth sharing I though as I realise now that I just don’t breath enough. I hold my breath all the time. Maybe it’s a bad habit, maybe it’s having tiny nostrils! But the act of just breathing slowly and deeply and focusing on that breath makes all the difference in the world. I’d recommend taking a moment to do it every day. Whether first thing in the morning when you’re still in bed, or in the afternoon at your desk for a quick break. It certainly is the first thing you must do if you feel panicked or anxious. It may seem very simple but it’s the thing that helps the most and that helps the most quickly.

 

2. TALK ABOUT IT.  At the beginning of this journey when I was having my very first attacks, I found it difficult to communicate my feelings and symptoms for fear of bringing on another attack. However, with the patience of my husband and family, the act of trying to talk about my symptoms came eventually and although in some cases it came with tears and frustration, it really was a relief to verbalise my struggles, even though in my head (and some of the time out loud too) they sounded irrational and odd. It was so important to share what I was going through in words.

 

3. GET OUTSIDE AND MOVE YOUR BODY.  As I mentioned, one of the things I’d feel having woken up in a panic in the night, was that I wanted to get outside. I found eventually that making sure I spent a good hour a day outside walking or running or even just sitting on a bench (breathing again!) made a huge difference to managing this. I would feel like I had at least had my ‘quota’ of outside time and exercise while the sun was up. This really helped me feel less trapped and restricted by the evening portion of my day and helped me feel more ready for reading, curling up and being cosy.

 

4. MEDITATION.  Again with the breathing! Do you see a theme emerging? I used at the time and continue to use both Headspace and Rituals apps to start my day with meditation. Being intentional in that way, giving yourself time and prioritising noticing how you feel both physically and emotionally really helped. I continue to enjoy doing it when I can/whenever I remember, now I’m no longer having the attacks.

 

5. PRAYER.  I realise that this one might be a bit divisive so I hope this doesn’t put you off but I am someone who prays. I’m better at it when I’m at church in the context of a church family or congregation of others praying together. So it was actually really good in a way for me to have a period where I felt I needed to pray more on my own, with my husband or parents and with my vicar who was amazingly wise, gentle and kind about the whole thing. This helped me more than anything else but I understand that it might not feel like the right thing for everyone. So let me draw your attention to suggestion no. 6 which is similar in some ways but relies more on your own intuition than the guidance or comfort of a God you may not believe in. Although I would say, if you have any inclination at all to pray, I would certainly encourage you to do so.

 

6. WRITING TO YOUR INTUITION.  This was something I had never done before but had heard about through a podcast I listen to called The Lively Show. It’s basically like writing in a diary but in this case writing down questions that you’re struggling with and then trusting yourself to write down the answer too. It’s about looking into yourself for comfort, wisdom and guidance. It was a lot easier to do than you might think and I found it particularly helpful. I’d suggest giving it a try. You can find out more about how to start here.

 

7. RESTORATIVE YOGA.  This has been a game changer for me. I find Restorative Yoga to be so very relaxing and nourishing. It realigns your body and your mind. It’s very gentle but I’ve found it to be powerful too. My experience has been that taking the time to do this for myself two or three times a week has not only relieved stress, be has actually increased my productivity levels. Projects have moved forward faster than if I had taken the same time spent practicing yoga to work on the projects themselves instead. I hope that that makes sense. It’s something I plan to talk more about in the future. I am a member of The Life Centre in Islington and I would highly recommend taking one of their Restorative Yoga classes if you’re able.

 

8. OSTEOPATHY AND ACUPUNCTURE.  Another reason I’ve found yoga to be helpful is because I have a mild form of scoliosis. Because of this mild condition my body, from time to time, gets quite badly out of alignment. I have an Osteopath and Acupuncturist who I completely trust and who massively helps me get my body back into physical alignment. It took me a while to go to him with reference to the panic attacks but I am so pleased that I finally did. It has been very interesting to hear his diagnosis and suggested treatment having met with me and observed my body. It hadn’t occurred to me that my body being physically out of alignment could trigger such an emotional response in the form of the panic and really quite deep inner discomfort I had been experiencing. I had tried to find the right therapist to help me unpack the attacks so I could better deal with them and hopefully stop them completely but I never found that person. Interestingly, although my Ostepath/Acupuncturist is hugely pro therapy and I would suggest pursuing that too if you feel it’s right for you, his opinion was that my symptoms could and should be treated physically.

 

9. CUDDLING A PET.  Another big game changer was that in January our kitten Mabel joined the family. There has been research done on the calming and even healing qualities of a cats pur and the vibrations that are created by the cat and experienced by the owner. I certainly have found that cuddle-time with Mabel is hugely relaxing and lovely. It feels to me like playing with, caring for and being physically close with her, has completely taken me out of the place I was still teetering on the edge of when she arrived with us earlier in the year.

 

10. TEA.  I thought it might be nice to end on the easiest of suggestions but do not because of that underestimate the power of tea. I had enjoyed camomile or fresh mint tea in the past after a meal for example but had never really gotten into drinking tea during the day or in the evening as a therapeutic act. And let me tell you, it’s made so much difference. Maybe you’re a big tea drinker already but it might be nice to remember to take time over your tea, to take a moment to enjoy the warmth of the mug in your hands, the fragrance of the tea itself. I found that herbal teas blended to help with sleep became an important part of my bedtime ritual when I was finding sleep difficult and I continue to enjoy tea breaks during the day in order to take stock and find a moment in all the busyness to relax.

 

So, to sum up, I have learnt that ‘strong’ or ‘tough’ people who put themselves under a lot of pressure, whether they feel it at first or not, are prone to panic attacks. It’s not just something that people who consider themselves anxious regularly have to deal with. It’s something that anyone might experience at any time in their life. I feel hugely sympathetic to anyone dealing with this right now in an ongoing way. I am pleased to say that for me, it has passed for the moment. But I do feel it is now something that lingers with me some of the time, under the surface. Something I need to keep in check. So the above suggestions are not only for those seeking help or inspiration having found themselves in this difficult place. But also as a reminder to me and even to others who have never experienced anything like this, that it so very important to be kind and gentle with yourself. To take care of yourself and to prioritise your emotional as well as physical health.

 

Even with my business owner, yes person, wanting to make stuff happen hat on, I would say that in order for you to make a success of yourself/your career/your relationships/your life in an on-going and meaningful way, you must work with and to your own rhythm. You must understand yourself, know yourself and take time for yourself and even be okay with your ‘high achieving’ or ‘productivity’ levels fluctuating. I have a lot more to say about productivity and spending time making sure you’re in alignment before taking action but that’s for another blog post. Thanks so much to those of you who have made it to the end of this very long post. It means a lot. If you’d like to be in touch to share your story or leave any comments below please fell free. I’d love to hear from you. Thanks again, Lizzie x