I have always been really open about my mental health, especially when it could be relevant and helpful for other people. Anxiety is a huge part of who I am but anxiety makes me feel weak – I would never feel that about anyone else who experiences it but I feel like it is a flaw in me that I am desperate to control.
If I let it control me, I would never do anything. My safe place is home, my safe people are my husband and my children and I can struggle to leave the house when it grips. I am able to work, I am able to parent, I cook, I live but I have to talk myself through it all.
Travelling on my own can make me anxious – not short journeys in the car or on the metro but if I need to fly or take the train. When I explain that I am an anxious flyer people can assume I am scared of crashing – I’m not at all – it just makes me feel claustrophobic and trapped.
I went to a brilliant event in Manchester on Saturday – I was anxious about it and was on the verge of deciding not to go several times. It’s just getting on a train, finding where I was going, attending an event and coming home again – stuff I have done hundreds of times throughout my life with relative ease. The event was brilliant – and maternal mental health was featured – but I met up with two friends and they were my safety blanket for most of the day. I enjoyed the day, I was so glad I went – it boosted me in so many ways – but I was glad to get home when I was able to totally relax.
I feel stupid even writing this but I have to treat an anxiety flare up in the same way as someone would treat an arthritis flare up or a migraine – I manage it. I am still able to push myself out of my comfort zone and I know I have the breathing skills and headspace to keep calm and to head off panic. My vulnerability comes from the fear that one day I might not be able to do this. I am also able to reach out and to ask for help – which has made a huge difference to me, I feel less alone.
Anxiety will affect everyone differently – mine comes and goes, sometimes with a trigger but more often without one. Some people live with is constantly, every day it is there. Anxiety can range from general to severe debilitating anxiety with paranoia. The more I read about anxiety, the more I speak to people, it is really present in the lives of many people. MIND states that 1 in 6 people will experience anxiety or depression in any given week: with 6 in 100 people having general anxiety and 8 in 100 having mixed anxiety and depression.
Different strategies will work for anxiety, here’s what helps me until it passes…
- breathing – slowing it all down and focusing on my out-breath
- telling myself it will all be ok – what’s the worst that is going to happen?
- listen to a podcast/music – it is a distraction but it also focuses my brain on one thing
- rescue remedy – it seems to take the edge off
- reaching out and telling people close to me
- being aware of the signs of being anxious and trying to manage it early on
- not drinking strong coffee
- get outside for a walk
- resting/sleeping when I can and when I need to
- no alcohol – it really doesn’t help when I am anxious
- step away from my phone and social media – not because of the content but to prevent the endless scrolling and switching between Facebook and Instagram
- become grounded – holding on to something or someone, speaking to someone I trust, sitting quietly and being aware of feeling connected to the ground.
My brain can feel like a laptop with all the tabs open – it flits from one thought to another and I have to calm it all down and slow my brain down to be present again, to stop my heart from racing and to prevent a panic-attack.
The steps I take to prevent anxiety…
- sitting on the end of a row when possible at the cinema, theatre, on a train, on a plane
- exercise and getting outside
- eating well
- drinking plenty of water
- writing and making lists
- not overloading myself commitments and juggling too much
- relaxed breathing practice every day
- planning when I am going somewhere unfamiliar or somewhere I don’t feel comfortable
- trying to get enough sleep
If you are struggling with, managing, living with anxiety you are not on your own, although it can feel like a lonely place. My advice is to reach out to someone you trust and to try different coping strategies to find what works for you. Make changes where you can and if it is affecting your life, speak to your GP – you can be referred for therapy, you may need to be referred to a mental health team and it maybe that medication can also help you. If you can afford it, I would also consider private therapy as the waiting lists can be long and you may need more immediate support.
Anxiety can affect everyone. It can start to make itself known in pregnancy or it can affect women when they have a baby – it can be triggered by hormones, by stress and by the pressure that comes with being a parent. It can be affected by experiences of babyloss & miscarriage or previous trauma.
Please don’t think it is silly. Please don’t think you can just ignore it. Please don’t struggle on your own. Please don’t think you are doing anything wrong. Please find what works for you so you know more about what you can do and what you can’t. Please reach out, you don’t need to do this all on your own.
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