Feeling anxious can be a normal part of life – when we worry about something, when we are preparing for something major but ongoing anxiety – when we can be consumed by worry, tension and fear – can be crippling.
For some women, anxiety can appear in pregnancy, or it can hit as they begin their life as a new mum. It can be in response to trauma or it can just appear because maybe we feel out of control, maybe the change we are experiencing is scary and stressful and we could be in a constant state of worry.
Ongoing anxiety can be hideous, it can affect how people live, think and act and it can sometimes make us feel like we are going insane. So it can be important to get some support and to know how to handle it when it hits.
signs of anxiety
- a rapid heartbeat
- feeling on edge, unable to relax
- stomach churning
- dizzy or light-headed
- restless, unable to sit still
- aches and pains including headache or backache
- fast, shallow breathing
- sleep issues
- teeth grinding
- feeling sick
- feeling nervous
- feeling panicky
- unable to think clearly
- feeling unsafe
- difficulty swallowing, choking sensation
- chest can feel tight
People can experience a variety of anxiety symptoms – not all of these symptoms may be present but there may be a combination of some of these.
thinking & feelings attached to anxiety
- worry about losing control
- thinking that you might die
- you may think you are ill – about to have a heart attack, have a brain tumour, have cancer
- people are looking at you
- you might feel detached from your environment and the people around you
- you might want to run away
- you are on alert
- sense of dread, catastrophising about bad things happening, worrying about the future
- worrying about the anxiety and having a panic attack
- paranoia and thinking that other people are upset with you
- lack of confidence and worth
- feeling that you are not good enough
- in need of reassurance
- feeling overwhelmed
- feeling exhausted
actions attached to anxiety
- avoiding certain situations – this could be work, it could be avoiding somewhere with too many people, with too much noise
- needing simplicity – it could be that doing too much in one day is too much so you need to slow things down and focus on one thing at a time
- avoiding people – or maybe certain people especially if you feel you have let them down or that they could be angry and upset with you
- hiding away – all of this can mean that we don’t go out much, we can’t attend social occasions even with people we know and trust
- needing to feel safe – this can be the most important feeling, which can impact what we feel comfortable doing when anxiety takes over
- overthinking – so we over analyse scenarios, what people are thinking, what people are doing
- protecting ourselves so we put up barriers so we don’t have to talk and so that people think we are ok
coping strategies for anxiety
these can be varied and not all prescriptive – different things can work. There are a range of self-care methods, as well as more formal treatments.
- talk & share – especially with the people around you, who may need to support you and you may need a greater understanding of what you are experiencing
- write – focus on worries, pour your thoughts on to a page and see if that helps them to feel more manageable. It can help to provide you with clarity, it may help you learn what your triggers are and it may even ease the worry because seeing your worries on a page can make them seem irrational or more manageable
- sleep & rest – allow this to happen, you could well be exhausted and need to sleep more, or just curl up and rest
- exercise – see if you can do your normal exercise routine or a modified version of it. If that is too much, getting out for a walk will be beneficial
- get out the house – your anxiety may make you feel agoraphobic but getting out of the house for some fresh air and some exercise will give you a boost
- eat well – your appetite may be off, as can your motivation to cook but try to eat something healthy
- breathing – know how to use your breathing, to slow it down, to focus on and to head off any panic. This will give you a greater sense of control
- counselling, CBT and relaxation therapy – your GP can refer you for therapy and you can also see a private therapist to work around waiting times
- medication – your GP can also prescribe medication to help to manage and ease anxiety when it is ongoing, hard to manage and having a severe affect on life.
- mindfulness can also be mentioned as a strategy – this can be useful for some people but it doesn’t work for everyone, especially if you experience social anxiety.
- find a positive focus or mantra to help when you feel anxious and panicky
- use headphones and music as a distraction and focus
- cry when you need to – let it out rather than bottling it up
my experience of anxiety
When anxiety hits, I tend to try to keep going and to work through it – it has kept me company for several years now so I have a better handle on it. It doesn’t make it easy but I know it will pass and I know how I am when it is around.
The outside world is not my friend when I have anxiety – it is too noisy, there’s too many people and there is too much going on. I still go out but my brain is on alert to keep me safe, to keep me present and to help me keep putting one foot in front of the other. Normal things like getting the metro into town can feel huge and I need to think about it and break it down so I know exactly what I am doing and where I am going.
I can feel overwhelmed when I have a lot on, so I sometimes reduce my schedule or I just make sure I have time for me at some point in that day when I can breathe and rest. I will be exhausted so I will need to allow myself to sleep.
I can feel panicky and teary – mainly when I am out. And I am less able to make decisions.
Music and headphone helps me when I am anxious and I need to be out. This stops me from focusing on and worrying about the world around me, it’s a good distraction and it keeps me calm.
I am constantly on alert, ready to flee and this really messes with my appetite and my digestion.
My kids don’t leave me alone – they can be like limpets, cuddling me as if trying to de-stress me, the way I used to cuddle them when they were small.
I don’t drink alcohol when I am not well – it clouds me and it affects my coping strategies so I can feel more panicky and out of control.
Mindfulness doesn’t work for me when my anxiety hits – it can make my anxiety worse and it can make me feel panicky. I use my breathing to recalibrate and to take back control but mindfulness makes me more aware of my panic and my fear.
My triggers can vary – it can be feeling out of control, it can be stress, or sometimes it is just there.
All in all I can be a mess – but I am mainly an internal mess. I talk myself around, I do things that are more familiar and safe, I can prefer my bed and I aim for a balance of safety and cosiness and just cracking on.
be kind to yourself
Anxiety is tough, it is draining and it is lonely – look after you and your recovery may need to be about learning to manage it and to live with it rather than beating it. And that can be a tough thing to accept because anxiety can be scary.
It can be beneficial to learn how to manage it and to work out what support you need. Support from other people can be vital but you also need to learn how to manage this on your own as well because this is all about you, your triggers and your coping strategies.
Take a deep breath – you’ve got this…
For more information about anxiety…
Janine Smith – a specialist in pregnancy, birth & parent support | a mum of three | living with anxiety for many years