Avoidance is my addiction!

We all have our coping mechanisms, and mine is avoidance. It’s a shame it works so well at the time – you don’t want to do a thing, so you avoid the thing and bingo! Anxiety relieved.

Last week I was supposed to be going to a local support group for a coffee and chat. I wanted to go, I really did, but as the date loomed closer, I started to feel fearful. I had a hairdresser’s appointment on the same day, which is another thing I’m not at all comfortable with. Although wearing a mask has made that a slightly more bearable experience, as I don’t have to sit and look at myself and try not to appear anxious.

My mind kicked in with its usual avoidant thoughts and I decided I couldn’t possibly do two things that made me anxious in one day, so I cancelled it. I felt guilty as I had to book my place and so I might have prevented someone else from going.

But that’s the awful thing about avoidance, you let people down or even end up lying about why you can’t attend something. I feel like I just can’t stop myself. It’s an addictive behaviour. I remember avoiding another past group – I was feeling increasingly anxious about being there, so I decided to stop going. This sudden euphoria came over me and I started hearing a happy song playing in my head as I practically skipped down the street!

I can only keep trying to tackle it, so I’m starting to do some graded exposure with my therapist. I hope that if I start small, I can begin to chip away at it. I have been feeling very sad though as I’ve been here so many times before. I would like to believe in myself and my capabilities, but as I keep repeating the same behaviour, I’m finding that hard. I will just have to keep reminding myself of things I’ve faced in the past.

I used the image of a rabbit for this post as it reminds me of myself, I’m always making a bolt for it!

What’s been on my mind?

I’ve been feeling a bit low and unmotivated lately. I’m slowly completing the Journalism course (that I’ve lost all interest in), as I paid for it and would like to still complete it and gain my certificate. It hasn’t helped that my tutor has been harsh with his feedback – not very encouraging! Only two more assignments left, and then I’m done.

I’ve completely neglected my Instagram page, as I’m questioning my use of social media and if it’s a good way to spend my time. It’s so relentless that I can’t keep up. Even so my screen time is, frankly, horrific! I averaged about 6 hours a day in the last week. Some of that is from listening to podcasts, which I don’t mind too much, but I need to do less mindless scrolling. In a weird way, podcasts make me feel less lonely, and they’re good for learning new things.

It’s thanks to podcasts that I hear from lots of interesting, inspirational people. One person that comes to mind is Gelong Thubten, a buddhist monk who gave up his regular life at the age of 21 after having a breakdown and joined a Tibetan monastery in Scotland. Hearing him speak about mindfulness meditation and what it has done for him is very inspiring. After all the therapy I’ve had, acceptance and mindfulness make the most sense to me. It’s one of the few things that helps me come to terms with my anxiety.

I’m trying to focus on what’s truly important to me for now. I will get back into my blogging routine, but I might be a little quiet for a while.

I’ve you’ve read my other posts you might know that I enjoy an inspirational quote, so here’s one from Gelong Thubten:

“Meditation has given me a different view about happiness. You start to notice that you can make yourself happy and that it’s a moment-to-moment skill, rather than some huge achievement that happens when you get everything in your life right. It’s actually an inside work that is about making your mind strong.”

I need to stop trying to ‘fix’ people

I realised that when people talk to me about their problems, I end up trying to fix them. It comes from a good place, in that I just want to help them not feel sad anymore, but that might not be what they need. Maybe they just need someone to listen and witness how they feel.

Because it’s not like people don’t ever think about solving their own problems. It’s happened to me a lot in the past. I’ve had a family member tell me excitedly that they’d read an article in the paper about how CBT cures anxiety, and had I tried it? If only it were that easy! As much as the government wishes a short-term round of CBT was a wonder cure, for many of us it doesn’t really scratch the surface. But that’s another blog post altogether.

It makes me think about gender stereotypes too. Women are meant to be emotional and supposedly talk about their feelings just to share them. Whereas men only talk about things if there’s a problem to be solved. I don’t fit into that stereotype at all, I’m more of a strong silent woman!

It’s not to say I won’t ever give someone advice if they ask for it, but I’m going to try and make the effort to be more thoughtful in the future. Does the person just need someone to listen compassionately?

It’s not like I’m even talking to a great deal of people right now anyway! Lockdown is still trundling on and I don’t think I’ll be seeing much normality until at least April. I’m someone that copes pretty well on their own, but it’s even getting to me now. I need a new routine, or something different to happen! The UK has had one of the strictest lockdowns in the world and yet one of the worst death rates. I so wish the government had handled things differently. I won’t go on as it makes me feel angry!

I hope that wasn’t too much waffle, and that you’re all doing well.

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.

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!

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.

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.

Is your anxiety a fear of fear itself?

Fear is a funny thing. You might experience it often in your day to day life but not understand why certain situations scare you so much. Or you might know perfectly well but find yourself unable to stop it.

The people closest to you might not understand either, even if you painstakingly try to explain where you’re coming from. I’ve had many conversations with my family, and they’ve asked me, exasperated: “but why do you feel so anxious, you know that nothing bad will happen!” Yes, I do, but how I feel isn’t rational!

I sat down one day and gave it some serious thought. What was it that made me feel so awful – what makes me want to avoid so much of life? Suddenly it hit me; it’s the feeling of fear itself. The overwhelming pounding in my chest, the rapid breathing, the derealisation and the feeling that I was about to lose control. For me, what started as social anxiety evolved into something else.

Anxiety is normal

And as I’m sure you know; anxiety can be all consuming. If someone were to ask me what I wanted above all else, it would be to feel free. To know that I could simply feel calm and never be fearful again. Unfortunately, life doesn’t work like that! I’ve come to accept that I will always experience anxiety because anxiety is normal, the thing that needs to change is how I relate to it.

This fear of fear is known as ‘anxiety sensitivity.’ Noam Shpancer Ph.D writes on: https://www.psychologytoday.com/gb/blog/insight-therapy/202002/anxiety-sensitivity-when-what-we-fear-is-fear-itself “Research suggests that stressful life events, specifically those related to health and family discord, are associated with increases in anxiety sensitivity. These stressful events contribute to the emergence of anxiety sensitivity by leading to the formation of distorted, dysfunctional beliefs about the meaning and consequences of somatic sensations.”

You can break the cycle

My reaction to feelings of anxiety, was that it was unbearable, and I might lose control so it must be avoided at all costs. By thinking this I set myself up in a cycle of fear that has been difficult to break. But the cycle can be broken.

In my experience, mindfulness has been a valuable tool in accepting fear. Observing your anxiety, without attaching judgement to it can give yourself much needed space to think clearly. “This too shall pass” and “fear is just a feeling” have become mantras of mine!

I used to think that I was weird for feeling like this, or unable to change, but actually – it’s normal. A normal human behaviour that lots of other people experience. This anxiety sensitivity is a reaction, a coping mechanism to the experiences you have had in your life. And by gradually changing your relationship with fear, and seeing it for what it is, you can reduce its intensity.

Diary of an anxious mind PT 2

My mind has been very ‘busy’ this week. I try to always be productive but however much I do it never feels like enough. I think it comes from a feeling of guilt. I’m guilty for being unemployed, so I feel like I need to overcompensate to prove I’m not lazy. Added to that, I’m scatterbrained, so I jump from one thing to another, no matter how well I try to schedule my time.

I want to do everything, all at once. Each day there’s exercise, mindfulness, my mental health workbook, writing and housework. Which should all be perfectly do-able but I don’t always manage it! And that’s leaving out all of the books I want to read, and the podcasts to listen to. I know, I know, I should cut myself some slack, particularly as I’m also managing a physical health condition. (I have Hypermobility Spectrum Disorder, which causes lovely stuff like fatigue, joint pain, IBS and a racing heart). I’m not always good at following my own advice though, as I talked about in my post: https://anxietyanswered.com/2020/09/09/why-is-it-so-hard-to-follow-your-own-advice/

I haven’t even mentioned leaving the house or socialising with other humans. I’d like to get out more, as being at home on my own gets old after a while. But if I do go out it means less time for all of the things, not to mention difficulties caused by my old buddy social anxiety disorder . All of this uses up energy, which I don’t have a lot of – particularly if I’m also struggling to sleep. I’ll go out for a walk and feel more cheerful, but later I find myself nodding off at my desk. (Which reminds me, I need to modify my diet as I eat too many carbs – not good for energy levels!)

As you can tell I go round in circles with this, but I think it’s quite common, as we’re all juggling different aspects of our lives.

I might let myself off completing my ‘list’ tomorrow, I think I need to just be.

Are you thinking too much?

I’ve always been a thinker. I tend to get lost in my thoughts, and at times this can be wonderful and positive, but on the flipside, it can often descend into negativity. I mean, daydreams can be a pleasant distraction when you’re hanging around waiting to see the dentist, but not when you’re using them to escape from reality. So, if you’re losing hours to your daydreams, it might be worth thinking about more fulfilling ways to spend your time.

On a more positive note, being a thinker could mean that you’re a great problem solver, with the ability to use your creativity to come up with fresh ideas. I think it’s important to actually acknowledge the things you’re good at! But there are times when us thinkers fall into ‘analysis paralysis’ – thoughts going round and round your mind, preventing you from taking action. I know for me it doesn’t take much for my thoughts to turn into horrific worst-case scenarios.

Know your triggers

There might be certain points in the day when you know you’re prone to this over thinking. It could be during activities when you’re on autopilot, like while you’re taking a shower or travelling to work. For many people, their minds come alive at night when they’re in bed. Once you figure out what your triggers are you can put things in place to occupy your mind. For me, I ruminate when I’m in the shower; it’s incredible how long you can be doing this for without even realising it! I’ve decided that I’m going to incorporate more mindfulness into my morning routine. If bedtime is your trigger, try writing in a worry journal to clear your thoughts.

The mind is a powerful thing and I think it’s easy to fall into bad habits when it comes to worry and over thinking. Even if you only start by taking more notice, then that’s great!

As you might know from my Instagram page, I love a good quote, so I’ll leave you with this:

“Instead of worrying about what you cannot control, shift your energy to what you can create.” – Roy T Bennett