Anxiety warriors

I’m all for being a strong woman, but battling anxiety is a concept that I need to let go of. There’s a lot of talk in the mental health community about being a ‘warrior’, which is kind of cool, (I’m picturing myself wearing Vikings-style makeup and waving an axe around,) but sometimes fighting can be counterproductive.

Because let’s face it, these warrior battles take up a lot of energy, and I don’t know about you, but I don’t have much of that right now. Instead of charging into battle, try to put down your weapons and let anxiety do its thing. Observe how it feels and notice the thoughts going through your mind. There is a lot of power in accepting things as they are.

You can still be a badass warrior, but pick your battles. Consider when it’s a good idea to push yourself and when to retreat. It can be frustrating, because I forget this all the time and fall back into bad habits.

I started overthinking. I was wrapped up in worries about the third lockdown currently underway here in England. How would I manage the next few months without going anywhere or seeing anyone?

But I realised that I’m thinking too far ahead, my inner warrior is pacing for battle, when what I need to do is focus on the here and now. So that’s what I’d suggest to anyone reading this – take life one day at a time. Sharpening your axe in preparation for a fight may feel productive, but it takes away from the many good things in the present moment.

Keeping with the theme of Vikings, I was looking at some Norse proverbs and quite liked these:

The unwise man is awake all night, and ponders everything over; when morning comes he is weary in mind, and all is a burden as ever.  

Poetic Edda

Not every cloud which darkens the day brings rain.

Heitharvega Saga, c.7

How to stop being your own worst critic

I’ve been thinking a lot about self-image and how I give my more ‘negative’ traits more attention than the positive ones.

What is seen as negative will vary from one person to the next, some of us struggle with body image, and others might be critical about aspects of their personality. I know I get very preoccupied about how I’m coming across to others, I worry that I’m too quiet, or too anxious, which then makes me feel more anxious! It’s easy for these thoughts to spiral and before you know it, you’re making absolute judgements about yourself.

Stop assigning meaning to the judgements

This leads you to believe things that are exaggerated or distorted. Dr Ronald Alexander wrote in Psychology Today: “The object is to stop assigning meaning to these self-judgments, because once you start to give them weight, they begin to weigh you down… Often, the rational mind will string together a series of distortions. Instead of simply noticing “I am shy,” the mind will generate the thought, “I’m shy, which is why I’ll never find a romantic partner; my shyness makes me unattractive.” https://bit.ly/39vWNlp

This is a pattern that I’m noticing a lot; I attach meaning to all kinds of things. I feel anxious so that means I’m going to lose the plot and end up making a fool of myself. My neighbour didn’t say hi to me today, it’s because he dislikes me and doesn’t want to talk to me. It makes me feel so much worse!

It’s not about lying to yourself either, but simply seeing things for what they are. For example, I’m a socially awkward person, and I could try and tell myself that isn’t true, but I wouldn’t believe it. Because it is true, and there’s nothing wrong with that! Using mindfulness techniques is a good way of gaining some distance from your thoughts, and hopefully making it less likely that you’ll jump to the judgements.

Spoiler alert, I have loads of things to offer the world – and so do you

Instead of judging myself, I wrote a list of everything positive I have to offer other people. It’s a good exercise for anyone that struggles with self-judgement and I highly recommend it. It can be anything, examples of situations that you felt you handled well, what you like about how you look, things you appreciate about your personality. You might be surprised at what comes up.

Forget resolutions – try personal themes for the New Year!

I have a love hate relationship with New Year’s Resolutions. I enjoy having goals to aim for, but dislike putting pressure on myself, because let’s be honest it’s easy to get carried away with a list of things that you want to change, but it isn’t always possible.

I’m someone who finds it hard to stick to a routine, particularly at the moment during Covid, where the rules of what we are and aren’t allowed to do keep changing. I live with my Mom, who usually works full time, but has been off recently for health reasons to keep herself safe – (we’ve just entered another lockdown as the cases are out of control in the UK.) So as I’m easily distracted, I have to adapt to her being around, and then again when she’s back at work.

I saw a post on Instagram which appealed to my scatterbrain. They suggested that instead of resolutions, you think of ‘themes’ that you would like to focus on. It’s easier to have some general aims in your mind, compared to the dreaded lists.

I decided my themes this year will be intention, health and connection.

Intention

I often get swept along by life, so I would like to try to live more intentionally. Instead of mindlessly scrolling on my phone, I’d like to do more of the things I find meaningful – which could be studying or simply enjoying my hobbies. Writing is one example. It can be hard for me to get into the flow, but when I do it’s a lot of fun and very rewarding.

Health

I’m pretty good at taking care of myself but having a chronic illness can make that difficult, and there’s definitely more I could be doing. I love the invigorated feeling I get after going for a walk, and I know it’s talked about a lot, but it really does help your mental health. (And let’s face it, walking is one of the few things we can do at the moment!)

Then there’s my nemesis… sugar. I have a fast metabolism so I’m usually hungry, and when I get hungry I snack on all of the sweet stuff. But then of course I get the inevitable energy crash afterwards which leaves me feeling rough. I’m not a fan of diets as I don’t think they work, but I’ll try to be more mindful of what I’m eating.

Connection

I think we’re all looking for this one. I don’t find it easy but I’m going to try and reach out to others a bit more this year. When the restrictions ease up, I’m going look for ways to meet other people. I’d planned to do this last year but any opportunity to do so in person was extremely limited. I can’t bring myself to socialise on Zoom as I find it painful having to watch myself on a screen. But if I can make a connection with at least one person then I’ll be happy.

I’m sure there’ll be plenty of times I won’t live by my themes, but that’s not the point. I want to take small steps towards where I want to be, and the beauty of it is there’s no pressure!

What would your themes for 2021 be?

Struggling with motivation

I’m not feeling great. And when I don’t feel great, I want to withdraw, and much of my motivation goes out of the window. Ordinarily I’d give in to feeling crap and so wouldn’t bother writing this post, but I’m trying to improve my resilience.

I listen to a lot of podcasts with successful people, and many of them say that the secret to that success is to carry on when most people give up. I think there’s a lot of truth in that, as everybody has times where they feel rubbish and can’t be bothered – it’s the showing up that counts.

The thing is, I hold myself up against these people which only leads to me feeling unhappy. There might be thousands of people just like me, but I feel sad because I don’t have the get up and go of some motivational speaker! I know that I have a lot of potential, which winds me up even more because I never achieve the things I want to because I’m scared.

I’m scared of how anxiety makes me feel, and the sensations of discomfort that I experience. I’m scared that I won’t have the energy as I always seem to be tired. Sadly, the course of recovery doesn’t always run smoothly. I have a folder full of printouts of techniques I could try, but it’s having the ability to do them. Sometimes that feeling of progress and motivation is there and others it seems to slip through my fingers like sand.

I know that I’m hard of myself. It’s difficult not to be, because I’ve had other people be hard on me too. We live in a culture where it matters what we do and how we contribute to society, and so It hurts that I can’t seem to find a place for myself.

If I come back down to earth for a moment, I know that I have the therapeutic tools that I need to feel better, and that this dark cloud will pass, but it’s still hard in this moment. The joys of being human!

Loneliness at Christmas

I usually really enjoy the Christmas season, but sometimes it can amplify feelings of loneliness. My Mum loves watching those cheesy American Christmas movies where the main character falls in love, finds her happily ever after and is surrounded by friends and family. Which is quite the opposite to our own Christmas experience!

I try to make light of it and joke that I’m not bothered as I’m antisocial anyway, but it does make me feel sad that we don’t have much family left. Most of the relatives from my childhood have died. I know I’m not alone in this, and many people struggle to cope with loss at Christmas time.

Pandemic loneliness

The pandemic hasn’t helped matters either. “2.6 million UK adults reported they felt lonely “often” or “always” between 3 April and 3 May 2020, about the same proportion as pre-lockdown.” UK Office for National Statistics.

This reflects how I feel about loneliness. I can usually busy myself and get by okay, but it’s when things go wrong that I feel it the most and I wish I had more people to call on. These times of Covid have added a lot of stress to our already stressful lives.

I do try to count my blessings. I feel lucky to have a wonderful friend that I know I can rely on, and my Mum of course. Friends mean a lot to those of us without family, and I really want to make more effort with meeting new people in 2021. I thought this year was going to be ‘my year’ for socialising, but Covid has meant everything that I wanted to do is cancelled!

Socialising with mental illness is hard

Mental illness makes it tough connect with people and maintain relationships at the best of times. I have spoken to people online with social anxiety who are completely alone. My heart goes out to them, as we might traditionally think it’s the elderly who are most isolated, but many young people fall through the cracks in society too, and it doesn’t take much to end up in that situation.

So if you usually find Christmas Day a struggle, then try to plan ahead. Could you call a friend or family member for a chat? If you’re on your own could you look into volunteering? Or you could log on to Twitter and follow the hashtag – #joinin to chat to others also in need of a bit of company. It’s a lovely idea started by the UK comedian Sarah Millican.

Above all please be kind to yourself. The reality is, even people with family don’t always have happy lives. Drunken rows over the dinner table don’t feature in the soppy festive ads, funny that!

When someone tells you who they are – listen

After I split up with my ex, I realised that I had a problem with boundaries. I was only 17 when we got together, some people are quite worldly wise at that age, but I was not. He never treated me with much respect, or even made me feel particularly special. I remember asking him once, after I saw another girl dressed provocatively, do you wish I were her? And he said yes!

Then there was the cheating, I found conversations on his computer between him and other women we knew. When I confronted him, he’d always be in floods of tears and would come up with all kinds of excuses for his behaviour. I fell for it and even felt sorry for him… As I got older, I realised that was just who he was.

When someone tells you who they are, you should listen. He cheated on me and went behind my back many more times. I regret wasting so much time on him, but the relationship taught me that actions mean more than words.

And when you realise this, you start noticing it everywhere, people say all kinds of things, but their behaviour doesn’t always match up. Sometimes people have an image of themselves that just doesn’t reflect reality.

Beware people who tell you how great they are

In a similar example, I met a guy at a local group who I got on with. I told him I’d only joined the group to make some friends, I wasn’t looking for a relationship, which he seemed fine with. He told me a lot of things about himself. Such as how he wasn’t an angry or argumentative person – he didn’t have the energy for that.

A few weeks later he got into an argument with another group member who he felt was behaving inappropriately, when he could have just told the group leader what was happening. That was one red flag. He also told me that he respected my boundaries, but then kept trying to hug me and repeatedly sent me messages when I asked for some space. Past me might have given him the benefit of the doubt, but I put myself first and cut off contact with him. He showed me who he was, and I listened.

It’s important to know what you want out of your relationships with people. Figure out what your dealbreakers are and what’s important to you. If someone makes you feel uncomfortable you don’t have to put up with it, you don’t have to spend your precious time or energy on them, because you’re worth so much more than that.

Nice people don’t need to tell you how great and nice they are, because they just are!

My journal – get to know me!

Journal prompts are great for when you feel like writing, but you aren’t sure where to start. I thought I’d share mine with you, so you can get to know me a little better.

How would you describe yourself to a stranger?

The thing that immediately jumps into my head is anxiety. I enjoy sharing what I know here on my blog to help others, but I don’t want you to think that’s all I’m about, anxiety is just an additional extra in my life.

I’m a person of contrasts. I’m very shy and quiet – as people always say, ‘until you get to know me.’ The more relaxed version of me is pretty blunt, and has a dry sense of humour. I’m a what you see is what you get kind of person who has no time for mind games. In fact, anything that seems inauthentic makes me feel uncomfortable, so I enjoy spending time with people that are down to earth; if you’re quirky all the better.

I can fall asleep at the drop of a hat – no thanks to my chronic health condition, Hypermobility Spectrum Disorder. But hey, I can freak people out with my weirdly stretchy skin!

I’m an introvert, shocking I know!

I love escaping into a book or getting absorbed in my hobbies. I like gardening, jewellery making, photography and I bake the odd cake. I love walking, whether that’s in the woods or just around my local area, but anxiety can make that difficult at times. I’m socially anxious so I worry about small talk with the neighbours!

I’m fascinated in people and also a bit scared of them due to my SA! I love listening to podcasts and hearing about the lives of interesting folk. I absorb what other people are feeling very easily and I have a strong sense of intuition. It might be a little ‘woo’ but sometimes I can feel emotion or a different atmosphere in certain locations. At the same time, I find it hard to connect with my own emotions. I will know I feel a certain way, but it’s like there’s a barrier preventing me from fully experiencing it. When I lost a close family member, I felt numb for a long time, I think it must be a self-preservation thing.

I keep things simple

I enjoy the simple things in life. Having relaxed times with the people I care about, good food, my hobbies, and my cats (who I adore, how could I have not mentioned them!) These things are everything to me, and even though anxiety has greatly impacted my life, I only need a few things to feel content.

Journaling for anxiety

Does it ever feel like the universe is trying to tell you something? My counsellor told me about the benefits of journaling, and then a Youtuber I follow said how much it helps his mental health, followed by a lot of mentions on Instagram too, so I thought OK universe I’ll start writing!

I used to journal last year, but I gave up with it as I often do with these things, so I’m hoping to be more dedicated this time. I write on my laptop, which might not be as romantic as writing by hand in pretty notebooks, but I don’t have to worry about anyone else reading my secrets! I used to have a hand-written diary from my teen years, which I decided to shred as it made me cringe. (Think lots of wittering on about my crushes)!

Get your worries out of your head

If you’re a worrier then you’ll know all about the thoughts going around and around in your brain. It’s exhausting. Writing your worries down is great because it puts them into perspective and allows you to challenge your way of thinking.

I have a fear of losing control, so if I have a trigger come up – like not being able to sleep and then panicking that I’ll make myself ill, I write it down and rationalise what will actually happen. Yes, it might feel unpleasant, but I always settle down into a better sleep pattern eventually and start to feel better.

Express how you feel

I’m a very introverted person that tends to bottle up my emotions. Sometimes I don’t even realise I’m doing it. I’ll have people remark that I seem so calm and laid back… (Thanks, poker face!) So, for me there’s nothing more cathartic than to have a bit of a sweary rant in my journal, complete with CAPS LOCK and exclamation marks!! I’ll reassure myself sometimes too, it’s quite nice to take it as an opportunity to be a friend to yourself, as I know many of us don’t have people that we can open up to.

Life goals

Your journal can also be a good place to keep track of your life and where you want to be. I often write down things I want to remember – affirmations, coping thoughts and strategies. “I do not base my self-worth on the opinions of others,” is a good one. And you can keep track of what you’ve written and see how things have changed.

Some people like to journal before they go to bed, as they find it helps them get out their worries before they sleep. I like to write each day whenever I feel like it. That’s what’s so good about it, it’s your free space to write whatever you like, whenever you like.

Avoidance has come back to bite me

When I start finding life difficult, I withdraw. It’s like I only exist to myself and I get very stuck in my own head.

I’ve been feeling physically unwell, with various things including stomach pain. I called my GP, who went off on a tangent about my anxiety, asking me how I was feeling and going over the top with trying to reassure me that what I was experiencing was “normal”. I just felt completely invalidated. Yes, I know anxiety can affect your health, but I don’t believe in this situation that was the cause. I think I’m self-aware enough to know that!

I wasn’t in the best mood afterwards. I ended up in over analysis mode, going over whether I am indeed ill or if it’s all in my head. So, I fall back onto my old friend, avoidance. I find a lot of comfort in being alone. As an only child, I learned to escape into my books and vivid imagination. It works pretty well as a kid, but not so much as an adult when there’s stuff to get done.

I will listen to my body and rest when I need to, but I want to get back on track with my blog, and the Journalism course I’m doing. Keeping busy helps to distract me from my overthinking. I read something recently about this – people have different ways of thinking and experiencing the world. Some think in pictures, sounds, or emotions and some have a constant inner monologue. No prizes for guessing which I am.

I’ve been consistent with my daily 10-minute meditation, which might not seem like much, but for a terrible procrastinator with her head in the clouds, it’s pretty good! It helps me get a bit of distance from my thoughts, which can only be a good thing. I’m trying to recognise the space between triggers and my anxiety.

In a way my avoidance is a comfort, as I always have a friend in myself. But I need other people too, I can’t let myself forget that, so I thought I’d write this post and put some of my thoughts out there into the world.

Three things I wish I knew about anxiety when I was younger

Medication isn’t a quick fix or a cure

I know that medication can be a controversial subject, and I go back and forth about whether I’d like to give it another try myself. It doesn’t help that my first experience wasn’t great. I was only 17 when I first went to my doctor about my anxiety – he immediately put me on antidepressants and diazepam! He told me that everything would be great, and my family would notice a big change in me. But that just wasn’t the case, I didn’t feel much different and the diazepam just made me dizzy, so I came off them after a couple of months.

Now the doctor was obviously at fault as he gave the impression that the medication would ‘cure’ me. They aren’t a quick fix or a cure, but they do help a lot of people, so it’s really down to the individual. If you think they could be a part of your recovery, try to manage your expectations and do your own research. Don’t be afraid to talk to your doctor about any concerns or questions you may have.

Therapy might not work the first time around

To get the most from therapy, it depends on a few factors:

Are you mentally in a place where you can open up and practice the techniques you’re learning? Are you and your therapist a good fit? Is the therapy itself right for you?

I once had a counsellor that I just didn’t get on with from the start. When I told her I’d already had a lot of therapy, she seemed pretty annoyed by this and said “what do you want me to say that’s any different” and “you shouldn’t be using up these resources,” which made me cry!

Please don’t be put off by this though! I’ve had some wonderful, knowledgeable therapists who I’ve made a lot if progress with. So, don’t despair if things aren’t quite right the first time round, you can request to see another person or try a different type of therapy that suits you better.

There’s no shame whatsoever if you need ongoing support. You do what you have to do to feel better – if you’ve been suffering for years then it stands to reason that it will take time to heal.

There are more people out there with anxiety than you think

When I was younger, I thought I was weird for having anxiety. I’d shake on my way to college and feel sick. I just didn’t understand what was happening to me. But I wasn’t alone, as so many young people experience anxiety, it’s just knowing where to find them as not everyone feels able to talk about it.

I think it’s brilliant that here’s so much more support and awareness out there now than when I was a teen. You don’t have to isolate yourself, reach out to support groups, online communities or anxiety charities. There have been times when being around people was the last thing I wanted, but it ended up being the best possible thing for me. When I first spoke to another social anxiety sufferer at a support group it was an incredible feeling – there were people who understood exactly how I felt. I wasn’t so weird after all.