My experiences of anxiety and what helped me, by Caroline, member of No Panic.
This is what helped me and I wanted to write this in the hope that it will benefit others in the same situation.
I have suffered on and off with bouts of anxiety for nearly 30 years. Most of the time I’m OK, and then life and stuff gets in the way and things go wrong.
First of all I’ve identified that what happens to me when I get anxious again is a subtle build up of little worries. Such is life. This happens, then that happens, then one day, the knot in my stomach appears for no apparent reason. Except what has happened is that I haven’t been looking after my mental state carefully enough. But nowadays I’m much better at not blaming myself for that. Sometimes life runs smoothly, sometimes, like the no 10 bus, 5 worries come along at once. It can’t be helped and it’s all part of life’s rich pattern.
Once I realised I was not obliged to be relaxed and happy all the time and that life was fulls of good bits and less good bits, I started to try and ride them, rather than push down the bad bits.
The main thing I do to help myself in the “less good bits” is simply this: I do my relaxation exercises and my breathing. There are a million tapes out there you can listen to, apps galore, stuff on You tube iTunes etc. For me the one that really helps me is the No Panic tape by Margaret Hawkins. This is genuinely not a plug for No Panic – it’s just what works for me! – hopefully it will help you too, or if not, then find another one that does. I’m sure Margaret wouldn’t like me saying this (!) – but I do the tape that starts with the words “Quick Relaxation” and then I stop when she counts back 4,3,2,1. That’s about 8 minutes. Often I will do just that part twice in a row. That’s only 16 minutes of my entire day. That’s what works for me – everybody is different so find what works for you.
Anyway, here’s 2 things I didn’t understand about the breathing which, when I did, changed everything.
1. You have to do it regularly, day in, day out. You can’t just do it once and that will sort everything out (as I had previously thought as I like everything to be cured instantly!). Each time I do a little bit of relaxation (and you can do it more than once a day), I’m “putting a little bit in the bank”. Each time, it just takes my anxiety down a notch, even if I’m unaware of it at the time. The next time it will go down another notch. And so on. It doesn’t happen instantly, so just trust in it and go through the motions of doing it anyway without expecting instant results.
2. When I first started doing relaxation, sometimes it would make me feel worse than I did before I started! I could feel strange feelings of panic and have even had a bit of a panic attack in the middle of doing it! Initially, I immediately stopped, decided it was worse than useless and didn’t try again. Until a very helpful No Panic volunteer explained to me that after a period of anxiety with excess adrenaline coursing needlessly round your system, your body is a bit “surprised” that you’ve suddenly decided to relax – and afterwards, the excess adrenaline is completely confused and doesn’t know what to do – so wanders round your system aimlessly making you feel peculiar. What you have to do then, is simply ignore it. Ride it out. Laugh at it, if it helps. It’s not going to do you any harm, and just like the playground bully, the more you ignore it, eventually it will give up trying to make your life horrible and just go away! So ignore any weird feelings you have during relaxation – it’s all good, it’s nothing to worry about and it’s all part of a process which involves you moving forward and feeling better.
They generally told me at No Panic that is would take about 2 weeks before I would notice a difference in my anxiety. Of course when you’re feeling anxious that seems like forever, but if you start today, then 2 weeks is closer than if you start tomorrow. Plus, for me, I noticed a difference after only a few days – and the other thing I noticed was that each time I started doing my “Margaret tape” – as I call it! – I found it easier to get into and relaxed a little more quickly each time. It was a bit Pavlovian – every time I heard Margaret’s calm voice, I started to feel calm immediately.
If only I had taken less time to realise that the breathing is absolutely the key to relaxing and feeling better. I can now recognise when my breathing has “gone wrong” and I’m breathing from my upper body and fast, rather from my lower body and slow. Oh my goodness what a difference it makes! Yes, it doesn’t happen immediately but stick, stick, stick with it every single day. From my own experience it’s the one single thing you can do to help your anxiety. As your body becomes more relaxed, so too does your mind. Oh and that’s another thing. Sometimes, as a result of doing the relaxation regularly, my mind starts to feel a lot more relaxed but my body is a day or two behind the curve. So I’m feeling relaxed in my head but my body is still pumping away the adrenaline – and if I’m not careful I let that make my mind feel anxious again. Hold on in there. Clearly – as it seems to me, my body takes a little longer to get the hang of it and realise there’s really nothing to worry about. So for a day or two you have to ignore what your body is doing and listen to your mind. That can take a bit of gritted teeth but you can get there!
I just wanted to share that with you because No Panic and its fantastic volunteers have done wonders for me over the years. Every so often when I have a blip (and as I said, life throws those at you from time to time), I ring somebody at No Panic and just try and talk it through to get back on track. I know what I need to do really, it’s just helpful to have someone say it back to you and just feel you’re not alone. They’re a fantastic band of people as we all know and what they say really does help.
I confess that I don’t always practise what I’m preaching here! When I’m feeling fine, I fall off the wagon and don’t do my daily breathing tape – I get told off by the people at No Panic and rightly so! (Although they also understand that is very common – and I bet they’re not perfect themselves!!) It’s important to do the breathing every single day, in good times and bad – and when I go through a bad time, I know I haven’t helped myself by keeping up with the breathing in the good times – so I haven’t got enough stored in “the bank”.
While persevering at the breathing is the absolute key for me for lowering and eventually ridding myself of my anxious feelings, I have other things which I’ve realised from experience have worked for me and I just wanted to share them too in case they are of benefit to anyone else.
In no particular order:
1. Keep occupied. Don’t stare out the window and ruminate on stuff. Empty a drawer. Go for a walk. Clean the bathroom. Sort out the filing. Tidy up. It doesn’t really matter what it is, I feel so much better afterwards for having achieved something however small. And it helps to distract me from my anxiety. Especially cleaning out that drawer you’ve been meaning to do for ages and finding all sorts of things in there you’ve forgotten about and going off on a sea of nostalgia or something.
2. Keep distracted from your own anxiety and anxious bodily sensations. That involves keeping occupied obviously but every time I find my mind wandering back to it, I try to force myself to think of something else. If I do it often enough, it get easier.
3. Get interested in other people. However bad I’m feeling there’s always someone with a worse problem or someone who needs help. I’ve found thinking about other peoples’ problems is much better than thinking about my own! Anxiety does tend to make me a bit self-absorbed and I’ve realised that thinking outwards rather than inwards helps a lot.
4. Do things you enjoy. Give yourself something to look forward to. I like knitting for example (all sorts of evidence to suggest knitting in particular is helpful with anxiety) or embroidery, but it might be art, sport, gardening – whatever floats your boat. When I’m in a state of feeling anxious it’s sometimes easy to only think about negative things – so I try to find something I enjoy and lifts my spirits.
5. Laugh!! Watch something funny on the TV (Frasier has done wonders for me!). Find the silliness in life. I try not to take life too seriously and shrug my shoulders a bit more, care less about stuff and say “WhatevAH” a bit more often. Don’t watch the news too much (when are they going to start studies into how 24 hour news about things we cannot change and are out of our control don’t do us any good at all?? – I’ve got sucked in worrying about things like that before. My wonderful caring mother in law once said to me many years ago “I’m worrying about this, I’m worrying about that, I can’t take on Bosnia as well! And she cared about everyone! But I realised there are some things I can’t fix.
6. There are a number of good organisations to follow on Twitter, from which I’ve derived a lot of sense. Apart from following No Panic (very good), there’s also others, such as Action for Happiness, Motivational Quotes and Great Minds Quotes amongst many others. I find a few words of sensible advice very uplifting.
I hope this will help someone. Of course not every day is great and I still have bad days and times, but the breathing is my starting point (did I mention that at all??) and the rest just helps me. Keep going, listen to the wonderful people at No Panic and just persevere. You’ll get there!
Would you like to help No Panic help other sufferers? Then please consider donating.