Monday, 13 October 2014

Coping with Anxiety

To many who know me it's no secret that I've struggled with Generalised Anxiety Disorder since my mid-teens. It's something that has ups and downs, good days and bad days, and it's something that I feel I've finally learned to manage as well as I can. I thought I'd share with you some top tips for coping when anxiety and panic try and get the better of you.

Take a step back - Worried about a particular situation? Take your mind off it for a while and give your nervous system a rest. Whether it's stepping away from your desk for a solo walk, reading some fiction for an hour, going for a run, anything goes. Just do something that will clear your head. Whatever you do, don't just sit there. I find that if I can break the cycle of anxious thoughts in my head by distracting myself with something else for a bit, when I come back to the issue again I feel a little calmer and can look at things more rationally.

Talk it out - It can be really, really hard to talk about anxiety and the things that make you anxious. In the past I often felt that people would think I was silly or weak, and give me the dreaded 'buck up and deal with it'/'there's nothing to worry about' response. Get around this by telling a few close friends and family members about your struggles. If they know how you think, they can talk through it with you step by step and reassure you, as well as getting to understand what you're going through. You don't have to suffer through anxiety alone.

Do the things that scare you - Sometimes jumping in head first can change you. A few months ago I got into a bit of a state over my future and wasn't happy in my job. For a year I had just let things happen. I had become stagnant and vegetative and felt helpless to change the position I was in. Eventually, after I realised how much it had damaged me, I decided the only way I could make my life better was to just get out there. I applied for one job that I really wanted, brought as much energy and confidence as I could muster to the interview and boom. I'm now back on track in a job I love and gaining confidence. It was scary and I definitely panicked about the whole thing, but biting the bullet and moving on to something else was well worth it.

Get off the internet - Google, WebMD and are my worst enemies. I'm prone to being a huge hypochondriac. Headache? Brain tumour. Feeling sick? Tropical flu. A bloodshot eye? Definitely Ebola. I have trouble resisting the urge to look up even the most minor symptoms. For me this stems from horrible migraines that I've suffered with for over a decade that slightly resemble a stroke. It's meant I am never convinced I'm OK until something has passed, and I've developed a bad habit of Googling the crap out of things to try and reassure myself. I still take some reminding but resisting this behaviour is key to not getting myself in a panic. Anxiety is often the product of maladaptive, obsessive thinking and breaking the cycle and changing bad habits are key to managing it.

Write it down - This is one I don't do very regularly, but when things get really tough I find that spilling my worries onto the pages of a private diary make them seem a little smaller and more manageable. I don't just write a list of concerns or worries, I also match them with baby steps I can take to tackling or getting over them.

Look after yourself - It can often be easier to just get busy and let life sweep you along than to slow down and deal with things. Just remember that you only get one life, there's only one you, and you need to take care of your wellbeing. Pamper yourself once a week, eat well, eat naughtily at times, watch funny films, see friends. Just don't let your happiness become a secondary citizen to your anxiety.

If you're struggling, don't forget that there are organisations out there like Mind that are specifically dedicated to helping people through difficult times with mental illness. I hope these tips go some way to helping you cope in the long run, wherever your anxiety stems from and however bad things are. I see my anxiety as something that will probably always be there, but as something I don't have to let rule my life.


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