I have had anxiety for about 20 years now. I’ve gone through periods where I haven't been able to leave the house, times when I've been medicated, times where I’d have panic attacks, others where it was just general anxiety and then also random spaces in time where I would have some relief. I’m now in a place where the only thing that really sends me in a spiral is my hormonal cycle – and even then it’s only for a couple of days a month and instead of feeling like it’s uncontrollable, it’s basically just unpleasant. A lot of what I have learned in books and in therapy has been really useful in getting to this place where my anxiety is managed. By managed I mean it still exists. It is there, almost like a dormant volcano, and if I do the right things it stays that way. If I do the wrong things it can affect me dramatically.
Here are my top 10 things that I do.
1) Exercise. No matter what life throws at me, life is better after I exercise. I have used exercise as a way to fix my insomnia and a way to get rid of the nervous tension. Science has proven that exercise is a more effective treatment for anxiety and depression than prozac. While I know first hand how hard it is to get your arse in gear when you’re depressed, if you’re willing to do what it takes to actually start feeling better THIS is my number one port of call. Just 10 minutes a day is enough to start making a difference, and I am sure that I will do a blog on ways to incorporate more exercise into your life and why we as a human race are suffering because of our lack of activity!.
2) Journal. When anxiety hits I tend to feel overwhelmed about EVERYTHING. My stress thresholds are low – almost everything pushes me over the edge. If I can just write down a bit of what’s going on for me, it takes it all from the inside of my head and gets it out. It means that sometimes I can see it for what it really is, instead of a giant hurricane in my head.
3) Meditation. In the same way that exercise works, meditation changes the way your brain works. If you’re suffering from anxiety, or PTS it’s highly likely that your sympathetic nervous system (the part of your brain that works with the whole fight or flight thing), is in total overdrive. You want your pre-frontal cortex and your para-sympathetic nervous system (the part of your brain that does the more cognitive and aware thinking) to do the driving. The way to do that, is grow it. Expand that part of your brain. Literally re-shape the pathways in that grey matter. If you’re exercising AND meditating it’s a killer combination. Just don’t expect overnight results. You will get small results short term and MASSIVE results long term.
4) Eat right. If I have a good look at the worst stages of my anxiety it’s pretty easy to see the link between my crappy diet and the way I was feeling. I think back now and still remember my cousin getting in the car with me and saying “your car smells like a combination of KFC, pizza and McDonalds!”. There was a good reason for that. I have also recently discovered that I have a number of food intolerances. If you’ve never looked into that I highly recommend it. Putting stuff into your body that your body hates is going to send your system into a spin. You want to give yourself the best chance to be well.
5) Lay off the turps. I know, I know. When you’re stressed, you drink more. Well, not me (anymore). Alcohol is a depressant. I’m not telling you anything new here, but it’s so important to realise that alcohol might be a little bandaid for the night but it will just make things worse the next day, so use some of these other natural tools instead and get your head in a better place naturally.
6) I manage my time. I try to make sure I don’t put too much on my plate. I used to overwork myself into a state. I would manage my time poorly and then panic. Or I’d keep working and working and working until I was about to fall to bits. Now I make sure that I have scheduled blocks of time in my diary where I do what I meant to be doing and that includes work, family, me time and turning off my technology and unplugging from the world and work.
7) I manage my energy. Dealing with Fibromyalgia as well as anxiety and depression means I need to be really careful with how I spend my energy. For example, if I have something that I know is going to be huge, then I make sure I don’t put anything huge on that night or the next day. Things like filming for me, I make sure that I actually do at a particular time of the month when I know what my hormones are doing. Adrenalin is a big thing and if I get too much of it too often it can be a big trigger so I make sure I really look after myself in times of stress. Think about the last time you had a job interview or a first date – anything that gets that adrenalin pumping can make you very tired. I’m certainly not saying avoid these things! It’s important to get out of your comfort zones – but do it knowing that you might be affected afterwards and allow for that.
8) I know myself. This is huge. I highly recommend taking one of the number of Myers-Briggs type tests online and reading the results. Knowing your strengths and weaknesses and your personality type can help you to work with what you’ve got. Knowing that people wear me out I can make sure that I have alone time afterwards. Knowing the way my mind works means I can use the things I am good at and get help for the things that I’m not so good at. Knowing what actually suits my personality type has helped me to forge a career that really fits me and has really contributed to my overall happiness (which in turn, is good for anxiety). It also helps me to know the things about me that I am proud of so when I do have a bad day I don’t beat myself up too much.
9)Have a support network. I still see a counselor. Not as often as I used to, but often enough to just check in with someone and unload if I need to. I also see a life coach and a business coach! I also have friends I can call when I’m having a bad day who won’t let me wallow in self pity but will pull me up and tell me to do what I need to do to make myself feel a bit better. I think the last text from a friend like that was “Get out of f*&^ing bed! You know you are capable – we all are, it’s just our mindset that stops us!”. Friends like that are GOLD. Find them and keep them.
10) Check your inputs. By this I mean, have a look at what you’re putting in your brain. Are you listening to negativity? Watching the news? I’m not saying be ignorant but there are ways to be informed that don’t require watching sensationalised drama. Who are you spending time with? What are you consistently talking about? Everything that you do, every thing that you allow in to your space and your mind, has an effect. Don’t avoid everything but at the very least start to be aware of how things are affecting you.
11) Get off your phone. Unplug. I know when you’re anxious and depressed, the quickest way to distract yourself is by logging on to social media and mindlessly trawling through other people’s crap. Set limits with yourself. I’m pretty hopeless with this so I have an app that I use called ‘Moment’ that lets me know how much time I’ve spent on my phone and you can set it to literally shut your phone down. I can tell how much time I’ve spent on my phone by how agitated I am at the end of the day. It’s full on!
12) Go easy. You are exactly where you are in your life as a result of many things. There’s no point expecting yourself to be anywhere else than where you ARE. This is your starting point – like it or not – and if you can just accept each day your own faults and weaknesses and promise yourself that you will continue to grow, then it doesn’t matter where you are, it matters where you’re headed. So if you have a bad day, give yourself some love, acknowledge that you’re doing the best you know how to with the skills and knowledge you have right now, and you’re going to continue to grow those skills and knowledge and get better. Two steps forward, one step back still puts you one step forward. Just keep putting one foot in front of the other and eventually you’ll get there.
I know that’s 12 and not 10, but I just couldn’t stop at 10 when the last two are huge. Oh yeah, and by the way, don’t stalk your ex on facebook. Sooooo not helpful. That’s what the block button is for. Use it. Until next time! Look after yourself!!!