Firstly I’m going to start with a little disclaimer; anxiety is not a phase or a trend and the fact that more people feel able to open up and talk about it is amazing!
Mental health is the biggest growing health concern, not just in the U.K., but worldwide; combined anxiety and depression is the most common mental health illness in Britain.
I’ve always suffered with anxiety, since I was a little girl. My parents couldn’t tell me things very far in advance because I’d become so anxious rather than excited (even a trip to Disney Land wasn’t divulged to me until the night before). I used to have panic attacks about Father Christmas coming into the house! So it’s something I’ve always had to manage, but as I entered into my teenage years I found it was becoming a bigger aspect of my daily life and preventing me from doing things. I felt really isolated.
Anxiety for me is the overbearing thoughts in my head, arguing with myself about things other people wouldn’t even notice. The nauseas feeling in the pit of my stomach. Talking myself out of doing things I’d love. Suddenly feeling my chest tighten and the inability to breathe and feeling like the walls are closing in on me.
Throughout secondary school it was something I really had to battle with, so much of the ordinary daily routine was difficult. I did think it was something I’d eventually be able to manage, and put a lot of it down to teenage pressures but after leaving school and going to college it just became more apparent and affected me more and more. I knew I had to try something and I wasn’t prepared to let it control my life any longer.
One of the biggest issues I had to overcome before I could start to manage my anxiety was identifying what my triggers were; up until this point I hadn’t been able to pin point any particular things, which made it hard for me to deal with. I couldn’t try and prevent specific things from happening or putting myself in certain situations that I knew would make my anxieties worse.
To start with I tried to manage things myself by using mindfulness apps, breathing exercises and physical exercise. Although these did help me, they weren’t enough of a solution. I eventually went to the doctors, who referred me for Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT). I then did a six week CBT programme, which consisted of weekly 1 hour telephone appointments with a therapist who would then give me new strategies to try for the week. I did find that some of the strategies worked for me and I still use them now. But again, it wasn’t a ‘cure’. Anxiety isn’t something you can just cure… you have to work continuously and it’s about finding things that help me manage and cope with my anxiety so that it doesn’t rule my life.
I’ve been using a handful of strategies for the last few years and I’m now in a place where I’ve changed parts of my mindset and the way I would automatically think. One of the most helpful things I’ve learnt to use is the phrase ‘How is worrying going to help?’ I have to put things into perspective and really think about if/how worrying would help. If a situation cannot be changed then what is the point in wasting your energy and getting upset and distressed about it. This seemed impossible to start with but it’s like anything, it takes time and persistence.
Something I learned from CBT that I’ve continued to use, is to imagine I’ve put the thoughts that are making me anxious into balloons and then let them go; they float off into the air and I can no longer think about them – it’s like a weight has literally been lifted from my shoulders. I also find it incredibly useful to write things down, almost as if now I’ve put my anxious thoughts on paper they’re not whirling around in my head anymore. Lastly, something I’ve had to try really hard to do, but the thing that helps me the most is to talk to someone close to me. I don’t let it consume me anymore.
Like all mental health illnesses, I have better days and worse days; but now the good outweighs the bad. I know I’ve come such a long way and made massive steps to manage my anxiety. I’m proud of myself. I know anxiety is different for everyone and you shouldn’t let anyone tell you ”you’ll grow out of it” or “oh, it’s just a phase”. It’s not and your true friends and family will be willing to help you where they can, but only if you let them.
Thank you for taking the time to read my story, let me know if there are any strategies that you find help you… I’d love to know!
I hope you all enjoy your weekend,
Lots of love