How I got my anxiety under control
I’ve had lots of requests for a post about this + it’s taken me a little while to get everything down on paper. Turns out I have a lot to say on this topic (no surprise there). As you’ll see, it was not a straight line to recovery. It was probably the opposite of a straight line.
So here goes…
Getting the diagnosis
I’ve been anxious throughout my life since I was a kid, but it really ramped up when I was 17. I had all sorts of tests but no-one could tell me what was wrong with me. I got diagnosed around age 21, after I went to the doctor to get help so that I could finish my degree, so that was a long time not knowing what the F was up with with my body! I felt completely out of control and I didn’t know what to do to help myself. Ignoring the anxiety did the opposite of helping, so I started to tune into it instead.
A big chunk of my 20’s was spent coping. This was between age 21–24. I was very much in my own bubble because I didn’t want to keep going on about my anxiety as it was with me all day every day. I felt sick constantly and was always attempting to keep panic attacks at bay (unsuccessfully). All I could do was get through each day. I was careful with food, I forced myself to do 10 minutes of yoga and meditation every day, and spent most of my evenings in bed watching TV trying to remain calm. So not much fun!!! Coping mechanisms are important, but when your entire life is just coping mechanisms, you aren’t really living.
Not giving up
I tried EVERYTHING in hope that I could fix myself. Counselling, CBT, hypnotherapy. Elastic band on the wrist. Essential supplies in my bag. Gratitude lists. Essential oils. Writing down my panic attacks. No coffee. No sugar. Staying busy. Breathing exercises. Running. Yoga. Calming music. The list goes on. I think the most important thing though (looking back) was that I never gave up. I still went to festivals, travelled by train, met with my friends, went out for dinner, moved out, went on holiday. All which gave me major anxiety (I’ll talk more about this).
Allowing myself to be helped
I spent all of these years dealing with my anxiety on my own. I felt it was my job to fix it. I think a big shift here was making the decision to pay for therapy with my own money. I finally decided I needed to do something about my anxiety, I needed professional help, and I couldn’t wait to get it through the NHS. So I found a therapist that was 2 mins walk from home, which made it very easy to fit into my schedule. I told her everything and took on board her advice, continuing the work at home. I went to therapy every week until I had my first anxiety-free week in about 5 years.
One of the biggest things I learned was how important it was to accept my anxiety. I had let it rule my life and it’s really bloody hard to break that cycle. Having anxiety is scary. Being anxious about your anxiety makes your anxiety worse. So, if I felt panic rising, I would calmly tell myself that I was okay, that this didn’t mean I was going to have a panic attack. I would take myself off for 10 mins to focus on getting my thoughts back under control. I’m still working on it, but I’ve learnt to accept my anxiety and to know that it doesn’t have to be my entire identity.
I mentioned in my last post about continuing to do the things I wanted to do. And even with this, my comfort zone got very small and my routine was very rigid in order to ‘keep myself safe’. I needed things to be as expected so they didn’t throw me off balance. I vividly remember one day, going into Sainsbury’s and one of the aisles having boxes stacked on top of the shelves which meant the lighting was different to usual. It triggered a panic attack. How mad is that! But anxiety means your brain is wired differently.
Reading that back, it’s unbelievable that I’d allowed my mental health to get that bad, and thought I didn’t need help. I remember that on the first page of a notebook I wrote a list of simple things that made me anxious. It was my goal to tick each thing off when I managed to do it without anxiety. I had a LONG way to go but it gave me something to aim for.
Now y’all KNOW I love to talk about self-care, and I do that because it had such a big impact on my life. It also helped to give it a positive name, rather than thinking of it as ‘things I have to do so I don’t have a panic attack’. I stopped treating yoga and meditation as a chore + they became life-savers. If there is one aspect of self-care which has gone above and beyond, it would be breathing. It’s true what they say about the breath!
Won’t go into too much detail here but I don’t think I’d be where I am today without anti-depressants, and I’m not ashamed to say that. I had to do a lot of other things to help myself, but I think medication was what really helped me move forward with my recovery. I’ve found that GPs aren’t always great when it comes to mental health, so keep pushing if they don’t give you the help you need.
Turning my experience into something good
Before I decided to become a coach, I wrote a blog about my anxiety in the hope that someone might find it helpful. And the writing itself was therapeutic for me. It’s the thing I’m an expert at because of my own life experience. When someone comes to me for advice, that lights me up. It makes those years of struggle seem more worth it. And now, I get to help people feel good AS MY JOB which almost supports me as much as it supports them
Quitting my job
I don’t know whether it was the job I was in or the corporate ladder itself but as soon as I handed in my notice I felt better. I didn’t have to impress anyone anymore. I wasn’t trying too hard. That pressure lifting felt so easy & told me I was doing the right thing. Having my own business(es) is difficult in it’s own way but I enjoy the challenge and I’m doing things that I love, so when I get stressed I can remember the bigger picture.
I only have people in my life who support me, and who I support right back. Being able to talk about mental health is so important, and especially for me. I don’t ask everyone to understand the ins and outs of it (would take too long to explain!) but they have to be open and understanding. To be honest, I think I’d want my people to have those values even if I didn’t have anxiety. If you’ve been bottling things up and are afraid to share how you’re feeling, I promise you’ll feel better for building that support system.
That's everything in a nutshell. A large nutshell! I know how impossible it feels to fix your anxiety. It feels like there is no way it will ever get better, like you are not in control at all. It almost requires a bit of reverse engineering – to cure your anxiety, you have to relinquish control, let it be. When my anxiety and panic were at their worst, it felt like I was holding on for dear life. That tight grip only made it worse. Learn to let go, finger by finger. It's terrifying & feels like you might fall into the centre of the Earth, but you won't. Give yourself that freedom you so desperately need. Remember, deep breaths, and know you will be okay.