I was diagnosed with 'anxiety' a number of years ago. I had been suffering from continual tiredness, achey muscles and a general feeling of being 'just not right' for a long time before that. Physically, I've generally been very healthy throughout my life so feeling unwell for such a long time, and not being able to put a finger on it, was a worrying development.
The diagnosis of anxiety was, to a large extent, a relief. It was a problem I could solve myself so I accepted all the literature that the doctor gave to me and I began to research the condition. Page by page, article by article, things fell into place - physical conditions, emotional reactions. It all made sense and moreover, I could see when the anxiety began too.
I've been coping with my anxiety ever since. It doesn't ever go away completely but that's ok. I've developed a number of ways to manage it, to ensure that it doesn't rule my life. I'm not medically qualified in any way but I know what anxiety is for me, and what it can do to a person.These methods may not work for everyone. We all cope and react in different ways to what life throws at us. They work for me and I'm sharing them in the hope that they may help other anxiety sufferers too.
1. Prepare. Anxiety can cause me to feel very scattered and distracted, which in turn leads me to forget things. This then goes one of two ways. I either do forget to do something or take an item with me, or I have to check and recheck until I'm sure I've picked up my keys or locked a door. To avoid that situation, I do my best to prepare for events that could cause my anxiety to flare up. A while before, maybe even the previous night, I check that I have everything I need. I think ahead and make sure that tasks are done (my children's school uniform washed and ironed, the information compiled for my tax return, the lounge tidied in case we have visitors). Knowing that things are in place allows me to relax.
2. Worse Case Scenario. This can make me anxious in itself but again, it's part of being prepared (see point 1). If I can think up the worst possible outcome to an event, then I can solve (hopefully) all the things that could go wrong. Most times, it's really nothing very serious (having to wash knickers on holiday because I haven't taken sufficient) but facing the possibility of things going wrong means that I can not only prepare but that I also know how to react should it happen.
3. Have a safe person. I know that when my anxiety flares up, it can affect my emotions. My reactions can become irrational, dramatic and blown out of any kind of proportion. That's when I check in with my safe person, my husband. I know that if I ask him whether my reactions are reasonable, he'll give me an honest reply. Yes, that's completely reasonable, or no, you need to sit down and have a cup of tea. Anxiety can narrow our view of life. Sometimes, we need someone safe to take off our blinkers.
4. Be in the moment. I mention in point 1 that I can become scattered and distracted when my anxiety flares up. What I do, when this happens, is concentrate on what I am doing at that moment. If I'm leaving the house, then I give all my attention to locking the door. If I'm driving, I concentrate on the road (rather than letting my mind drift off to what that character should be doing in my novel). What this does is slow my thinking down, which in turn, slows my breathing. Deep breathing is a wonderful way to ground yourself in the moment. There is rarely a situation when you can't just stop, for thirty seconds even, and take a few deep breaths. Being in the moment means that I don't have the 'head space' to worry.
5. Recognise physical signs. Long before my anxiety affects me emotionally, it is evident in my body. My muscles become tense, especially around my neck and jawline. I sometimes develop stomach ache. I often feel light-headed. Eventually, the tenseness in my muscles will cause them to ache. By listening to my body, I can stop the anxiety from becoming worse.
6. Food and drink triggers. There are certain foods and drinks that I avoid, and there are others that I partake of only occasionally because they exacerbate my anxiety. I love a good latte but too much caffeine can send me up the proverbial wall. I therefore drink decaf coffee and save the real stuff for an occasional treat. The same goes for tea - I'm a firm fan of decaf PG Tips. I don't drink pop (coke, pepsi, lemonade) because the mixture of caffeine and sugar causes my anxiety to flare up. I only eat a small amount of sugar of any kind because again, for me, it increases the effects of my anxiety.
7. Keep big decisions for when you're calm. I know full well that if I try to make big, important decisions when I'm feeling overly anxious, I'll probably mess up. Now on occasion, I may not have the luxury of waiting (burning building, tyre blow out, fashion house sale stampede) but overall, most decisions can wait until I am calmer and more clear-headed. This is another time to speak to that safe person.
I suffer from anxiety but I don't let it rule me. It's just another factor of what it means to be 'me'. I have children, I have an overactive imagination and I'm affected by anxiety. I cope, just like we all do. Thanks for listening.