I was watching ‘24 hours in A&E’ the other week and there were three women brought in who had all been stabbed by the same man in a Sainsbury’s car park. Completely unprovoked and completely random attacks. In the following weeks I have never been more aware of who was around me or near me. I would feel nervous being in crowds of people, I would feel uncomfortable if the kids wanted to run off in different directions at the park and the whole scenario of what would happen if I died that way played in my head like a broken record for days. Having lost quite a few people very close to me now, I have a fear of dying, because I know how much it hurts being the one left behind. I never want my children to feel the pain that I have, and to some extent, I think we all feel like that once we become parents, especially mothers, but my anxiety ridden brain takes it to the nth degree and plays out the worst possible scenario! It made me want to write again about my own struggles with an anxious mind and give you more details of how I manage it (or occasionally don’t!!!).
After my last blog on anxiety, I was both moved and heartbroken that so many people got in touch to tell me their stories of how it has affected their lives and their families. It made me want to continue the conversation and I want to shout from the rooftops that ‘IT REALLY IS OK NOT TO BE OK!’. I know it’s a cliché and an overused hashtag #itsoknottobeok, but I feel it’s a vital one that we all continue to talk about and normalise, because mental health matters. It REALLY does. Life is hard enough without having to feel alone and alienated.
It had been decided by an archaic society that any form of mental illness was a sign of weakness and you should therefore be locked away for it, but it’s really not. I know many very successful, career driven people who live with, and manage, high functioning anxiety. Our society seems to want to move with the times where technology is concerned, but not so quickly in accepting the thought that mental illnesses are not things we should brush under the carpet and not talk about through fear of being judged. I think there is a definite shift over the last couple of years, but is it happening quick enough and are enough people are talking about it? There are an estimated 18 million people living in the UK with some form of anxiety disorder, so it is clearly more common than you may have thought and you are certainly never alone.
Anxiety is a human trait which is deep rooted in all of us and harks back to the days of living in caves and fighting sabre toothed tigers! It’s the fight or flight response that pumps us full of adrenalin. Everyone has some form of anxiety and it is designed to keep us safe, for example, we are all anxious when approaching a main road, and it stops us from walking straight into it, but anxiety takes many different forms and people deal with all sorts of different symptoms. Sleeplessness, panic attacks, the feeling of having a heart attack, a ‘brain fog’, sweats, a raised heart rate, feelings of utter hopelessness, some lose the ability to reason things out, these are just a few. Some have all of these symptoms, some have one, but does that make one sort of anxiety more valid than the other? The simple answer is no!
I was talking to a close group of friends recently and we got onto the subject of our anxieties. I asked if anyone had or would see a professional about it. One of the group said she wouldn’t as she felt like a ‘fake’ as “my problems aren’t real anxiety. Not like people who have full on panic attacks and need to take medication. I’d feel like I was wasting their time” she said. This shocked and saddened me and this is why we need to keep talking about it, because anxiety takes many shapes and forms and you should never feel like a fake! One form of anxiety is not more or less acceptable than another, they all suck and if you need to seek some help to manage it then you are just as entitled as the next person.
I think I am becoming more aware of my anxiety the older I get and am able to manage it in a few different ways. This got me thinking about how other people manage theirs, so I did some research and there were a lot of similar ways people seemed to deal with it. Reading all of the comments were fascinating and I have summarised a few of the most common answers below. If you are an anxiety sufferer to any degree and haven’t tried any of these, give them a go. I’d love to hear how you found them, but remember, what works for one won’t work for another. If you use a technique not on my list below then please get in touch, I’d love to hear it.
- Fresh Air – being outside with fresh air in your lungs appears to help relax and de stress our minds. Whether you are walking for 5 or 10 minutes or just sitting and appreciating the view in a café, getting out can help balance us.
- Quit the caffeine and alcohol – Ditch the daily cappuccino for a chamomile tea (or other caffeine free drink) or ditch the gin for a ginger ale (easier said than done I totally appreciate!) and reap the benefits.
- Exercise – a gym session, pounding the pavements, a dog walk, working out at home, running around after the kids, it’s a natural way to fill your body with endorphins and get the feel good factor!
- TALK – talk to a friend, partner, parent or a group of friends that you absolutely trust and be open and honest about your thoughts and feelings.
- CBT or NLP – after an initial chat with your doctor, they may refer you for some help in the form of Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) or Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP). These are said to be amazing for some at helping to develop coping strategies and identify key anxiety triggers for you.
- Say NO! – stop doing too much! Focus on you, don’t feel pressured into saying yes to every little thing going, take some time for yourself because self-care is NOT selfish!
- Breathe – when we get anxious, we breathe in short shallow breaths and therefore don’t take in enough oxygen which in turn creates more anxiety. Stop, breathe in slowly through your nose and fully out through your mouth for a few minutes. Be mindful and try pushing your stomach out as you breathe in and relax all your muscles.
- TALK TO YOUR GP – don’t be afraid, they will not judge you, but do try and see the right doctor, one that you feel completely comfortable with.
- Meditation – find a quiet space, slow your breathing right down and clear your mind. Some people who noted this used apps such as Headspace and Calm.
- HUG – (I loved this one) Whether it be a big hug from a family member, a partner, a friend or your kids, hugs release oxytocin and serotonin into your body and can sometimes make the world seem ok again!
- Step away from your phone – we are so reliant on our phones and computers these days and a lot of social media can add to anxiety, so leave your phone turned off and enjoy the freedom.
It really is ok to not be ok. If you need medication and professional help to manage your anxiety or a walk, a cuppa (caffeine free of course) with a friend and a hot bath will heal your woes, then just do whatever works for you! We are our own worst critics at times, so please, be kind to yourself and remember, you are an amazing human being.
A Guest Blog From Victoria Seyforth
Victoria is a busy Cheltenham mum of two small people (who are 7 going on 17 and 4 going on 14) who runs Baby Prints Cheltenham, a local company taking imprints of baby and children’s hands and feet. She is just about to embark on a month of no chocolate and no refined sugar, so if you see her rocking in a corner somewhere, please be kind to her. You can learn more about her or keep up to date with the exciting work she does on Instagram or follow Baby Prints on Facebook as she’d like that very much and all the likes and follows help small, local, independent businesses more than you know!