It’s been almost two months since my anxiety “blip” which left me floored for two weeks with intense frustration, anger and anxiety that I lost control of. I wrote a letter to my Fricking Flamingo and kicked it out of the door. Before this blip I thought I was ok, in the safe zone, and had let life jump back on board making me forget about the ways I manage my anxiety.
You see, the thing is, anxiety is not something that disappears. It hides away. And it reappears when you least expect it. Which is why managing anxiety is important even if you think that flamingo has stuck it’s head behind a rock and gone to sleep for a century and a half. Since my blip, I have gotten myself back on track with the coping and managing mechanisms that have proved to keep me focused in the past.
With so many people contacting me on Facebook and Twitter and here on the blog, to thank me for sharing my experience, I decided to share how I manage it. Most of what I learnt, my counsellor helped me with. I sometimes wonder, if I hadn’t invested in seeing her, would I be in such a good place at the moment? She was the starting point to my recovery and although blips have happened, she gave me the skills which have led me to being effectively anxiety free for much of this year.
1. Recognise What You’re Feeling
Anxiety leads to panic and stress in an incredibly short time. It’s a flip of a switch, a lighter being flicked, a fuse box blowing.
When that millisecond happens and the world is turned upside down with no meaning or method of escape, we run. Like the wind. But its highly possible we’re running in the wrong direction, into the eye of the storm. Quite like fear, we have an instant fight or flight reaction which can be incredibly easy to lose control of.
I’ve learnt to recognise what I’m feeling and not attempt to instantly bury it, fear it or run away from it. Often my anxiety can leave me panicky and in floods of tears. And I lose control very quickly. An attack can last minutes, hours or bubble at the surface for days unless I regain control.
When all of this started for me, anytime I was under the surge of anxiety, the panic at the thought of losing control left me floored. The attack was prolonged because I let the panic take control without understanding why it started in the first place. If I fight against the frightening feelings and attempt to stamp them out like a hot piece of coal, I’m not recognising why those feelings and reactions came up for me. If I recognise them, I can somewhat rationalise it by allowing myself to feel the fear, hurt, pain, anger and ease my out of it.
Attempting to quell the storm without hearing what the storm has to say first, means I can’t understand where the storm came from. Despite not having an attack in two months, I still do this when any unwanted feelings creep in. It helps me to preempt anxiety and understand what I’m feeling. More importantly, it helps me to see why I’m feeling that way and how I can avoid or combat feeling that way in the future.
Recognise what you’re feeling.
2. Breathe Deep And Slow
It’s an obvious one, I know, but when an attack strikes slow, deep breaths are the last thing on your mind. Focusing on our breathing slows us down and centres us. When I first started talking about anxiety on Twitter, a lot of people sent me the below gif which was a life saver in those intense first few months of not understanding what I was going through.
Even though I rarely have this gif to hand during anxiety attacks, I can visualise it and it acts as a starting flag to calm my breathing down to get through the attack.
Taking deep breaths and counting slowly is one of the best killers of anxiety. Slowing down your heart rate, regulating your breathing and focusing your mind breaks the pattern that anxiety and panic takes. It sounds easy. Just breathe. But in reality, when you’re having an attack, it takes quite a bit of mental energy to breathe in a fluid motion to calm yourself.
There is a method called 4, 7, 8 breathing which, admittedly, took a while for me to perfect but it does help, so it’s worth a go.
- Place the tip of your tongue on the roof of your mouth, behind your front teeth
- Breathe in through your nose for a count of 4
- Hold your breath for a count of 7
- Release your breath from your mouth with a whooshing sound for a count of 8
- Without a break, breathe in again for a count of 4, repeating the entire technique three to four times in a row, then resume normal breathing
3. Be Mindful, Not Mind Full
I’ll admit that I hadn’t heard of the term mindfulness until I saw a counsellor who encouraged me to focus on this concept as much as possible. In essence, mindfulness is meditation.
The last time I properly meditated was when I was in my teens and had an abundance of time to sit in my room, crosslegged on the floor with a few tealights and incense wafting around me. With a baby and four year old, meditation was a skill I had to relearn whenever I could find the time and space to do it.
Mindfulness is the psychological process of bringing one’s attention to experiences occurring in the present moment, which can be developed through the practice of meditation and other training. – Wikipedia
Mindfulness, however, is much easier to achieve as it keeps us focused on being in the present in a positive way. By being mindful we are simply being conscious and aware of our surroundings, our achievements and our emotions.
It can be incredibly easy to tumble along with the numerous lists we feel we need to complete throughout our day. We can lose track, fumble and fall flat as stress, panic and anxiety take over. Mindfulness when practiced daily, (hourly even!) encourages us to recognise how well we are doing and how well we are coping with the stresses which can ordinarily knock us back.
I made a list of everything I wanted to achieve in my day. I ticked off everything I managed to do and then added everything else I did which wasn’t on the original list to my list of achievements. The list was long, oh so very, very long, which surprised me. Had I really managed to do all of that in one day? Yes, absolutely. But for the first time, I was mindful of just how well I managed the day, how I coped through awkward and difficult situations.
It made me realise that I needed to give myself an almighty pat on the back and the kudos I deserved for doing so much for myself, for our kids and, feck, I also had a pot of curry on the stove for our dinner. At the end of the day, being aware of my achievements, remaining positive and going to bed feeling … no, knowing! … that I was coping, better than I ever imagined, is the perfect way to keep anxiety at bay.
At the end of the day, You’ve Got This! Stay mindful and never forget that.
4. It’s Good To Talk
Again, another very obvious statement but I was unable to manage before speaking to a counsellor. I was unable to understand what I was feeling and I certainly had no idea how to manage the stress, panic and anxiety that bubbled over the surface.
Speaking to relatives, friends, your partner is all well and good but it can happen that they don’t have the time, energy or understanding to appreciate what you are saying. A wrong word to someone with anxiety can be almost as damaging as an attack.
I was unable to be open and honest with family and friends until I was able to confront my feelings, understand my anxiety, and put the attacks into perspective with a counsellor who was able to guide me appropriately in managing anxiety.
Trained professionals are not the 1980s psychiatrists with the clicky pen and clipboards analysing your dreams which we used to see on tv. They are genuine, honest practitioners who understand what you’re going through and can guide you through managing it.
Finding a counsellor or therapist is not difficult. Being open to talking to someone, is the first step. I had five sessions with a counsellor. I will admit, it was hard. Quite a lot was brought to the surface in order for me to control what I was feeling and understand why. Every conversation I had with her was worthwhile and brought me closer to managing my fricking flamingo. She taught me strategies to find balance and focus my mind which worked.
But that does not mean there is a quick fix.
Daily, sometimes hourly, I have to work hard to stay mindful, be positive, breathe, recognise my feelings and avoid being overwhelmed. I’ve learnt to let go of certain situations, be kinder to myself and pat myself on the back for everything I have achieved. It takes a lot of mental effort but I’d rather that over an anxiety attack any day.
Please do get in touch if you need someone to talk to. I’m here and I will listen.