Something as small as a presentation or working in groups, that others seemed to manage and take in their stride, would send me quite literally over the edge into full on panic mode.
I went through an entire year where I couldn’t sleep on a Saturday night (Working week in Dubai starts on a Sunday) knowing that school was just around the corner.
I remember coming home from school, wondering up to my bedroom and crying for 5 or ten minutes because I felt too stressed by everything I needed to achieve that afternoon.
I stood at the front of my French class when I was 17 to give a presentation and burst out in floods of tears.
When I went to university, living on my own and being 3,500 miles away from my family meant that I suffered with acne, hair loss and borderline depression.
When all of this was happening, all I knew was that something felt ‘off’. That I didn’t feel like myself. It was only after I started seeing a therapist at 21 that I realised it was anxiety. All of a sudden it all made sense – it was like this one word ‘anxiety’ somehow made everything more manageable and OK. When I felt overwhelmed, rather than letting my inner mean girl tell me I was ‘too sensitive’ or just ‘being a baby’, I allowed myself to feel it all because I knew it wouldn’t last and that everything would be OK. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t like using anxiety as an excuse or even allow other people to brush off my behaviour or feelings as though they’re driven by anxiety. It just made more sense why I felt the way I did AND most importantly it gave me the opportunity to explore ways to cope and move past my anxiety so that I could live my best life ever!
As with everything in life, if you suffer with anxiety, it will most probably be a completely unique experience to you. Everyone feels in different ways and anxiety is no different – it will be a completely different experience for you than it is for me. Yes, some of it might be the same – maybe you feel a tightening of your chest too, a shortness of breath or even blurred vision. For me, I just end up in floods of tears, unable to articulate my words or sentences properly and my brain spirals into complete panic mode. I usually compare the way I experience anxiety to a hamster on a wheel – constantly running faster and harder but never getting anywhere.
Just as we all may feel anxiety in different ways, there are different coping strategies that may be better suited to you than others. Like I said, as soon as I found out I had anxiety, I spent as much time as I could working out what would help me and what to steer clear of. Although anxiety might always be lingering in the background, ready to pounce at any overwhelming moment, I do believe that by finding and implementing coping strategies, you’re able to thrive and live your best life ever without letting it cripple you.
Those two important questions are so unbelievably useful when it comes to developing anxiety coping strategies. Although they seem pretty simple, they can also be quite challenging to answer.
I’m so old school when it comes to writing lists and I love to grab a pen and paper, but feel free to write these lists down on a notes app on your phone or even your computer.
This can be quite hard, especially if your anxiety attacks feel like they come out of nowhere – but trust me, there’s always something that triggers them and even if you can only write down one or two words at the beginning, that’s still an amazing start!
This list might be a little easier to write (although I do know some women that find this even more challenging than the first list!). Make sure that when you write this list, that it’s coming from you and that you’re not ‘borrowing’ from other people. What I mean by that is that there is so much noise out there on what you should do to relax and what not to do that it’s easy to neglect what is true to us and instead focus on what we feel we ‘should’ do.
Once you have these two lists, you not only know what to look out for that might trigger you or need you craving a bit of extra TLC, but you also have a list of things that you can do to relax and calm you down when you need it. You’re starting to understand what makes you tick as the unique individual that you are.
This is my number one go-to for almost any time I don’t feel like myself. Burn out? Practice self-care. Stressed? Practice self-care. Sad? Practice self-care….. Anxiety? Self-care is most definitely needed! In this case, I create a little routine that is specifically designed for when I get anxious.
Think about when you were a child and it was time for bed. In our house, it was bath at 6pm, followed by dinner, books, story time and songs. That daily routine was put in place to prepare us to relax and fall asleep quicker and easier. The same is needed for when we feel anxious. It’s an all-consuming and horrible feeling to go through that requires that little extra bit of TLC than we normally need.
For example, if I’m short on time, my routine is: Take 10 deep breaths, roll on some essential oils and write a list of everything that’s going on in my head. If I know I have a longer time to spare, I run a bath, read a book, switch off my phone and take the time just to breathe in that warm water.
Self-care isn’t as selfish as some might think and in fact, it might be the most self-less thing you do.
I’ve mentioned this already in ‘self-care’ but I can’t emphasise enough how much of a game changer this is. When you’re anxious, your breath is short, shallow and only fills the top half of your lungs – this is in response to that ‘fight or flight’ scenario going on in our bodies at that time. It’s time to switch that up and to almost trick our bodies into a state of relaxation.
Deep belly breathing is a quick and effective way to not only calm your body but your brain too. There are many different breathing techniques that are wonderful for relaxation, so I would suggest experimenting with a few and finding out what works for you.
As a general guide though, start shifting your breath towards your belly and making them as big and deep as possible.
Rather than staying still and being paralysed by that anxiety, try and get up, take yourself out of the situation and start to move your body. Movement is a fantastic way to change your state. I always say that your body is like a snow globe. If it’s still for too long, it will become stagnant, dull and tired. However, if you shake up that snow globe and move your body, all of a sudden, you’re filled with new life and energy and your state of mind will change too!
Moving your body can be anything from walking, some gentle yoga or swimming to a HIIT class, gym workout or a run. It should be something that doesn’t stress you out even more – something that you know will help you to see things that little bit clearer.
Anxiety happens when we are worried about something that has happened in the past or future. That’s why writing lists has always been something I’m drawn to – again, I mentioned this in my ‘self-care’ section. Personally, my mind is always working and I can’t remember the last time it took a holiday (however, I will admit that pregnancy brain has started to show!). When I feel anxious, I have a lot going on in my mind and sometimes it can feel like a challenge to even try and articulate what I’m thinking or how I’m feeling. That’s where lists come in handy.
The list is endless!
I write a list of everything that I need to do at that given moment. If it’s not a priority then it’s ok – I’ve written it down and can come back to it later if needed. Otherwise, I have a set guide of what to do next and it takes a little bit of that overwhelm away from everything.
If you’re a list maker and planner like me then be sure to give this one a go! It might sound time consuming, but trust me when I say it doesn’t take that long to do and that you end up being all the more productive for doing it.