I’ve recently turned 30 and I thought I’d take a moment to reflect on my misspent youth – more specifically, on the moment I decided to slap the ugly mug of anxiety with my glove of self-belief! I’d like to think that I handled this duel with the wit and finesse of a young Cary Elwes ala The Princess Bride, but if I’m honest it probably looks more like an ungodly montage of Mr Bean and Bridget Jones’ Diary – complete with binge eating and drinking, ineptitude, embarrassment, and clumsy attempts at fitness.
Anxiety is one of the most common mental disorders in the world, and according to Beyond Blue 1 in 4 people will probably experience it at least once in their life. For some of us, this monster will be ever-present and it takes considerable energy to keep this beast subdued and chained up somewhere to keep it from hurting us, our loved ones and even our professional aspirations. At the time, I had no idea anxiety was even a ‘thing’ and completely thought that there was something physically wrong with me. Fortunately, I sought help and have since learnt a thing or two about making this condition sit and play dead. Of course, everyone is different and you’ve got to tailor your own approach, but if you’re reading this at 2am and feel like your head is rotating like that girl from The Exorcist, don’t start climbing the walls just yet!
1. The old switch-a-roo! Stop, breath, distract, relax
You want to be loving life like a mighty Gyarados, but instead you’re a Magikarp hyperventilating on the floor. We can all agree that panic attacks are the worst. The important thing to remember (unless you have been medically diagnosed with heart condition!) is that you’re not having a heart attack – you’re just having a crappy moment. One of the first things my psychologist told me to do was take care of my physical symptoms first. Stop for a moment and take slow, deep breaths so you don’t feel light-headed. Once the world has stopped spinning, pop on your favourite tune, or do some light domestic task – basically anything simple that will distract your brain from freaking out. When you’ve got this technique down pat, you’ll feel like Houdini! Your brain will be tricked into thinking everything is fine and dandy (at it will be!), your heart rate will regulate itself and you’ll start to feel normal again. At this point, choose a safe activity that you find relaxing and treat it like a mental reward for getting through it.
2. Get a little help from a friend
You’re never alone, and remember that you are surrounded by people who care about you! Some people are better at understanding and talking you through your bad days than others. Reach out to a good friend or family member who has this gift of empathy to help you get back on track. Surrounding yourself with positive people who have a balanced and chilled out view of life will also help you get perspective. If you’re convinced that nobody you know can help you or you don’t feel comfortable talking to someone close to you, ask your GP to recommend a psychologist. Many healthcare schemes can offer a certain number of sessions at a reduced rate depending on your circumstances. There are also a growing number of online resources to help you understand what may be causing your anxiety or depression, and what steps you can take to control it.
3. Don’t focus on yourself too much
When you’re constantly facing a barrage of things to worry about, you can easily become self-absorbed or use it as a crutch to avoid getting out of your comfort zone. This is not to say you’re a self-centred or weak person for having anxiety, but you can affect others by constantly finding nothing positive to talk about or focussing only on the negatives. These thought patterns don’t help anyone, least of all you! I’m guilty of falling into this trap, and it was only by recalling past conversations to my psychologist that I began to see that I was becoming a person I wouldn’t want to hang out with. You can turn things around simply by being kind to yourself and others – post or tweet about something inspiring or beautiful, keep tabs on your nearest and dearest; organise a dinner, catch up over coffee or suggest a group activity you haven’t tried before. Alternatively, you could try volunteering for a cause you feel passionate about. When you hear news of your friends’ successes or tales of daring-do, don’t be envious – be happy for them! This proves that if they have the power to create their own happiness, so do you.
4. Don’t let anxiety define you
When I was younger, I let my anxiety stand in the way of a lot of my goals in life – namely to travel overseas by myself. Well, I’m happy to say that I have now completed 5 months’ worth of travel around Europe with my sister and on my own! While it wasn’t completely anxiety-free, it all worked out fine in the end and I am a stronger person for it. Each year since being diagnosed with anxiety at 24, I’ve set myself challenges to help me develop and broaden my perspective. Take a look at what’s blocking you from your goals and start taking action by breaking those goals down and assessing what’s really stopping you from achieving them. If you’re worried about how anxiety might prevent you from a rewarding career, consider this – all the people I know with anxiety have been some of the most talented and hard-working people I’ve come across. Anxiety still has an unfortunate stigma attached to it causing some ill-informed, upper-management types to think that an employee with anxiety can’t handle pressure. Think of it this way – you’re already lion-taming this beast and compiling that end of year report due Friday at the same time. Pressure? You eat it for breakfast!
I hope these tricks help you calm the farm! However, any mental disorder can and should be dealt with before it takes over your life. There are a number of ways you can address the effects of anxiety and no two journeys to recovery will be the same. To find out more about this condition, there are few great online sites such as Beyond Blue, Headspace and Mind.org that will help you understand the symptoms and causes and where you can go to find help. I hope you make 2016 the year to kick arse!