I’ve had anxiety from a very young age, well, I thought I was just a big worrier till 2016, when I was looking at the symptoms for anxiety, and I realised that I do in fact have it, and no, my worrying was not normal.
You see, I’ve always been a worrier, I used to get anxiety about the strangest of things when I was little, such as ; being scared that we would be locked in a shop after closing time, I also remember being around the age of 8/9 and being obsessed with looking out for fire exits wherever I went, in case a fire broke out. Pretty weird stuff for a child to worry about right?
As I’ve gotten older, my worries have of course changed, I’d probably quite enjoy being locked in a shop now, but I do still worry. A lot. My anxiety has never been really severe. But at the beginning of last year, I found it was stopping me from doing stuff and I was quite frankly miserable, so I got help.
I went to my GP who I think was sick of seeing me, as I was also going through a pretty bad health anxiety phase and was in the doctors pretty much each week, worried I had something wrong with me. I was able to self refer myself to a local mental health clinic, and after an initial phone consultation, and being officially diagnosed with Generalised Anxiety, I was advised to have a course of CBT.
I had weekly CBT sessions for about 6 weeks, and I finished this at the end of May, and I do have to say, that it has had a huge effect on my anxiety and how I deal with it.
Now first of all, lets remember that everyone’s mental health is different. So what worked for me, may not work for you and vice versa. My anxiety may seem severe to someone else, or maybe mild to someone else, but for me, it was enough for me to get help and CBT sessions did help.
So what is CBT? It’s short for Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, which is a treatment used to treat a whole range of mental health conditions. It basically teaches you to change your way of thinking and hopefully making you feel better and being able to deal with your anxiety, or whatever you’re having CBT for.
I wasn’t sure what to expect, I thought I’d maybe be sat on a chaise lounge, or hooked up to some monitor, but tbh, it was pretty un- exciting. My CBT sessions were sitting on a chair at a desk with my therapist, and she would get me to do tasks over the week, then the next week we would discuss said tasks, and see if it changed things. A lot of time, she would just explain to me what I’d need to do and gave me examples of how to put it in to practice, then I’d go away and do this over the week.
At first, I was a bit like, ‘how is this going to help?’ But then i realised that you have to make it help, as you can only be the one to help yourself, and although I was a bit like ‘ I can’t be arsed with all this homework’ I did realise that it was really important in helping with my anxiety.
I still have anxiety, but I haven’t had a big anxiety flare up for a while, I tend to get more anxiety when I’m stressed, but I feel like I’m better at managing things now. (Though the past week or so, I have been incredibly anxious about everything, but this has been the first time in months since I’ve felt like this. I’m hoping it’ll pass again soon.)
I’m no longer at the point where I was a few years ago, where I spent weeks not being able to sleep as I was concerned about a nuclear war happening (though I probably should be more worried about this more than ever!) or cancelling trips to London as I was convinced there would be a terrorist attack. So after that very long intro, here is what I do, to battle my anxiety.
Keep A Worry Diary : When I started CBT, this was my first task for the first couple of weeks. I had to keep a worry diary and write down every single worry I had. This was pretty daunting, as I constantly worried, and sometimes I’d worry without even realising. So suddenly I had to become aware and think ‘write that down!’ When I read my worries the following week with my therapist, I felt a bit silly. Some of the worries seemed so insignificant, and reading them a few days later made me think ‘ I literally can’t even remember why I was so worried about this’ – I think this kind of started to nip things in the bud, as I realised I was worrying about stuff that I shouldn’t be. I realised that I should be spending my time more wisely, and I didn’t want to feel anxious about silly little things.
Having A Set Worry Time : This was a bit of a weird one for me, but I was like ‘a worry time?- what on earth?’ But basically, I had to set myself a worry time, so say 7:30-8pm was my worry time, and I’d only worry during that time. If I had a worry pop up say at 11am, I had to write it down and then look at it at 7:30. I soon realised when it came to my worry time, that these worries weren’t worth worrying about. I wanted to be enjoying my evening, not over thinking an email, or whatever I’d been worried about, and would strike it off the list. I think this stopped me from worrying for hours, as I was like ‘nope you can worry in your worry time’ – I found that as I got through my CBT treatment, the worry list was getting less, and I was beginning to realise how much of a drag worrying was- it wasn’t how I wanted to spend my evening!!
Pushing Negative Thoughts/Worries Away: I’m very good at letting a thought take over my brain, and then having it spiral out of control. I can think about one thing, and then before I know it all these negative worrying thoughts/scenarios are in my brain and I can’t escape. I’ve sat and worried about stuff for hours before, and not been able to do anything else. But I’ve been trying to teach myself to completely wipe out negative thoughts/worries. For example, say with my health anxiety, if I was say worried about leg pain, but I’d booked a doctors appointment, back a few months ago, I’d of constantly thought of my leg pain. I’d of been convinced it was a blood clot, or something deadly, my mind would wonder off to my life insurance, dying ( I know extreme) and I’d spend loads of time googling symptoms, and not being in the moment cause I’d be worrying. Now however, I will try to brush it out of my head and say ‘I’ve booked a doctors appointment, there is no point worrying till we see what they say.’ And try and ignore it.
Other little things, like for example, I didn’t get a brand campaign, instead of sitting feeling rubbish, I will try and say ‘ oh well’ and try and use it as a positive. Use it as motivation to work harder, and try and feel good for the person who did get it. I try to visualise an actual hand swatting the thought of my head, and I’ll say to myself ‘nope let’s move on and think about something else’ and most of the time it does work.
Concentrating On What You’re Doing : I thought this was a good tip from my therapist for when you can’t shake anxious/negative thoughts. You think about what you’re doing in that moment. So say you’re doing the washing up, and you’re worrying about something, you stop and you think about washing that plate. How you’re using the sponge, what does the washing up liquid bottle label say, look at how you’re washing away the dirt, you focus on what you’re doing and then you’re not worrying.
I tend to do a lot of worrying in the shower, so I’ll suddenly have to stop and I’ll perhaps stand and look at my shower gel bottle whilst I’m rinsing my hair, and focus on the ingredients or something like that.
Trains are something that are one of my biggest anxieties, so I do a lot of distraction on the train. I’ll look outside the window and think about the scenery or I’ll look at my phone, or a book, and really think about it. I brought tangled jewellery once on a train to an event as this helped me to calm down and I thought really hard about untangling it and focused everything on that. Just use anything that will distract you away from what you’re thinking about and hopefully it will make you feel better, I know it always helps me to calm down.
Doing More Stuff I Enjoy : I did also have some help during my CBT sessions for my low moods as I was quite negative/unmotivated during this time. Something that was a little bit of a breath of fresh air, was being told, that I needed to do more stuff I enjoyed. I’ve always never really allowed myself to do much as I felt bad for not working, or I’d have self employment guilt, or my anxiety wouldn’t allow me. But I started to think ‘fuck it’ if I want to have an afternoon off and sit and watch Gilmore Girls then I will. Making time to go to the gym and doing classes that I enjoy, really helped me, and doing stuff like just going to have a bath, or going to bed to read a book can make a world of difference. It can be the littlest thing that can make you feel happy, and I just tried to include more of this in my daily life. Watching films that I love, giving myself an hour at lunch to watch Netflix, or throwing my phone under a blanket to have a takeaway night with Henry are just little things that I wanted to do more of, and I don’t allow myself to feel guilty anymore. I think that by doing more stuff that I enjoy, this has made me feel more happier which has had an effect on my anxiety.
Realising I Can’t Control Everything : For ages, Henry has told me about this circle of influence thing that he saw at a meeting at work. Basically, its two circles within a circle, one is a circle of concern (the latter circle) then the smaller circle inside the larger circle is a circle of influence. The circle of influence is all to do with you, so it’s where you live, what you buy, what you eat… basically it’s you and all your decisions. The circle of concern is stuff you are worried about; so for example for me, I would have stuff in there like ; terrorists, other people’s opinions of me, what someone may have said that had upset me, etc… now that circle of influence is everything I can personally control and influence, so that’s all choices I make. The circle of concern is all stuff I cannot control.
If we think back to me a few years ago lying in bed worrying about a nuclear war, that is something I personally cannot control. So what the circle method is trying to teach you, is to not waste a lot of time on things that you personally cannot control, because quite bluntly you can’t do anything about it. Its like people’s opinions, you can’t tell someone how to feel about you, it’s up to them and you have to let that be. I’ve tried to let go of worrying about things that I can’t control, because what is the point?
I am a self confessed control freak, so letting go of control is very hard, but it’s something I am working on!
Talking To People : I never used to say anything about my anxiety to anyone. I mean everyone who knows me, knows I am a huge worrier, but I didn’t really let on how it was effecting me. I didn’t tell anyone that the thought of going to London gave me a panic attack, or how I was scared of trains and large cities and how every time I have something wrong with me, I think I’m going to die. I felt mad, so I bottled it all up. The last year, I actually said to Henry and my Mum about it, and they were really understanding, and I thinks seeing a doctor helped me, because it made me realise this isn’t right and you shouldn’t have to deal with this.
These days, I’m happy to openly talk about this stuff. Cause it’s important. I wouldn’t think twice about talking openly about a broken bone, so why not about a broken mind?
I saw this advert at a train station (which actually inspired me to go talk to my GP) which said ‘You’d go to the doctor if you didn’t feel physically fine, so why wouldn’t you go if you didn’t feel mentally fine?’ It made me realise that you don’t have to have severe anxiety, to get help. I didn’t need to just keep trundling along, making myself sick with worry and annoying my doctor with numerous appointments and asking her if she thinks I have something wrong with me.
I do also think that coming off the pill really helped my mental health, and I have to say for the past few months, my mental health has been in a really good place.
I feel that I’m a lot more chilled, and I don’t worry half as much. I do of course have wobbles, and I have cancelled stuff, or said no to things that made me feel anxious, but I don’t think I’ll never not have anxiety cause I do think I’m a natural worrier, but the main thing is that anxiety doesn’t control me anymore. I do actually feel like I have a good control over it, and sometimes I have a freak out about stuff, which I think is totally normal.
So I hope this has made sense, and like I said at the beginning, this is what works for me, it may not be right, or whatever, but these have all helped tremendously. But I wanted to write about this, as I’ve never really touched on it much before, and when I was feeling at my worst, I felt very alone, so even if it makes just one of you feel a bit better, then this post has done it’s job.
Don’t ever be afraid to speak up though about your mental health, I know it’s super scary, but honestly, talk to someone, whether it’s a parent, loved one, friend or your GP.
Have you ever dealt with anxiety and has anything worked for you in managing it? I would love to know.
Also here is a list of NHS recommended charties and organisations who help with Mental Health